If you have ever been deeply challenged by Jesus’ radical compassion and His parables that command justice and mercy toward the poor, this book is a must-read. Jesus asked the rich young ruler to sell everything he had and give his possessions to the poor but the young man turned away sorrowful – he couldn’t do it! Could we? Must we? Should we? In Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road, Timothy Keller tackles the very difficult questions at the heart of giving, charity and social responsibility and he does it with so much grace and clarity. This book defines Christian love in action – it is deeply challenging but has the potential to redirect our action in a powerful way.
It received a 4.1 rating on Goodreads and a 4.5 rating on Amazon at the time of research. It was first published in 1989, and the second edition, reviewed here, was published in 1997 by P&R Publishing.
1. What is the ministry of mercy?
If you can’t answer that question, this book might be for you. I know I needed to read this book to fully understand this term. Timothy Keller explains that Christian giving is unavoidable: the call to look after the poor and needy is a call to every Christian. But what that call may look like in each life is different, according to circumstances. Seeing the need around us can make us feel very overwhelmed, feeling like we don’t know where to begin. He defines mercy as ‘the impulse that makes us sensitive to hurts and lacks in others and makes us desire to alleviate them’. He exhorts us not just to seek ways to give to the needy but to bring them to a place of self-sufficiency, completely alleviating need, which is of course much harder work than giving money here and there.
2. Have you ever felt uncomfortable when seeing someone in need and felt helpless to assist them?
Timothy Keller makes it clear that a ministry of mercy is not optional – it is to be carried out by every person in the church. It is an expression of God’s love to the world that He wants to make clear through every Christian. Jesus offered mercy in the form of healings and miracles, as well as attending to emotional and spiritual needs, even to unbelievers. We are called to follow His clear example.
3. When do we stop giving mercy? Aren’t some people less deserving?
Timothy Keller picks apart the question of conditional mercy. Many cry out that people don’t deserve mercy because they have ‘gotten themselves into’ their tricky situation. Tim Keller discusses appropriate boundaries in assisting those in need – however he points out that it is not up to us to allocate people into ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ categories thereby limiting the assistance that we could possibly provide. Jesus says ‘love your neighbour’: Ministries of Mercy opens with the chapter ‘Who is my neighbour?’ and explains that need is really all around us, all of the time.
4. Do you find this to be a fruitless conversation to have with others?
There is much need in the world and no doubt you have engaged in conversations about social justice ministries with people in your church. It’s difficult to know where to start. What I love about Ministries of Mercy: The Call of the Jericho Road is that Timothy Keller acknowledges this difficulty, the inner helplessness that appears when we are facing the helplessness of others. The second edition prompts discussion with discussion questions, guiding us towards understanding and application of Tim Keller’s incredible teachings.
5. What’s the plan to uplift your community?
In part two of Ministries of Mercy Timothy Keller – mercifully! – helps us to spring into action with a detailed plan for every church to take and form blueprints for a ministry of mercy in its community, detailing how to handle and anticipate hiccups that threaten the growth of the ministry. If you feel challenged by the Holy Spirit to engage in ministries of mercy to the world around you but just don’t know where to start – this book is an incredible tool.
I was personally referred to this book by a recommendation in the footnotes of Don’t Waste Your Life, by John Piper, where he exhorts every Christian to read this book. Truly if you would like to explore God’s calling, and ways that He may want to help you fulfil your calling, you will not be disappointed by Ministries of Mercy.
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