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Orphan Care: A Derivative Ministry

by Dan Cruver Published Sep 17, 2009

As Christians, our ministry to orphans is a derivative ministry. Our care for orphans “depends in every way upon the continuing ministry of Jesus. His ministry is in the present tense. This is good news. He is not Lord in name only, but also in act, and not only in past act, but in present and future act” (Andrew Purves).

When James identifies caring for orphans as one of the three marks of genuine religion (James 1:26-27), he intends that we understand this essential ministry as a derivative ministry. Let me explain what I mean by that. In the verse immediately following verse 27, James refers to Christians as those who “hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory” (2:1, emphasis mine). We are people who believe in “the Lord of glory.”

Do you remember what happened when Moses asked God to show him His glory (Exodus 33:18)? God made all His goodness pass before Moses (Exodus 33:19) by proclaiming not only who He is but also what He does (Exodus 34:6-7). “In this way,” J. A. Motyer writes, “the LORD in effect answered by saying: ‘You will certainly see my glory, for I will come to you myself, reveal my essential goodness and spell out my very nature to you.’ Glory, then, is ‘shorthand’ for the personal presence of the Lord in all his goodness and in the fullness of his revealed character” (The Message of James, 84).

So, when James refers to Jesus as “the Lord of glory,” he is telling us that Jesus is (not was) the personal active presence of God Himself. Jesus is “God himself come among us in all His goodness” (84). What this ultimately implies is that caring for orphans is not our ministry. It is the active ministry of Jesus through us, his people.

Some may think that I am splitting hairs here, but I really don’t think I am. There is only one Savior and Redeemer, and his name is certainly not Dan Cruver. His name is Jesus, “the Lord of glory.” This means that nothing of redemptive significance ever happens apart from him. Therefore, every redemptively good thing we do—like caring for orphans in their affliction—is done by Jesus through us.  Our ministry is always derivative. Since we have been crucified with Christ, “it is no longer we who live, but Christ who lives in us. And the life we now live in the flesh we live by faith in the Son of God, who loved us and gave himself for us” (Galatians 2:20).

Admittedly, what I’m articulating here is difficult to internalize, but internalizing it makes much of Jesus, helps keep us out of the way, and frees us to serve with humility. If I fail to see orphan ministry as a derivative ministry, I will likely think more highly of myself than I ought and think poorly of those who don’t yet “care” about orphan ministry like I do.

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