After being stopped by the Holy Spirit from going into either Asia or Bithynia, Paul and his team landed in the port city of Troas. While there, “a vision appeared to Paul in the night: a man of Macedonia was standing there, urging him and saying, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ And when Paul had seen the vision, immediately we sought to go on into Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”
Notice how Paul interpreted this vision—he interpreted the man’s cry mainly to mean that he should preach the gospel. Like Paul, we should have a heart for the practical needs of people in the world, but we must never forget that the church exists to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. We should feed, but we must preach Christ. We should clothe, but we must preach Christ. We should visit those in prison, but we must preach Christ. We should heal the sick, but we must preach Christ. We should pursue justice, but we must preach Christ.
As for Paul and his team the proof was in the pudding. When they reached Macedonia and made their way to the city of Philippi, Lydia and her household believed in Christ. A young slave-girl was delivered from an evil spirit and believed in Christ. The Philippian jailer and his household believed in Christ. Surely, as Paul got to know these people and others, he cared about their practical needs. But mainly, he preached Christ and therefore the largest issues of life were totally settled. And this pattern repeated in Thessalonica, Berea, Athens, and Corinth. Everywhere Paul went, he cared for people by first preaching Christ.
So indeed, in order to love we must care about people’s practical needs. Both James and John make that clear in their letters (James 2:1-18; 1 John 4:20). However, in order to care for people most deeply we must preach Christ to them.