God just calls us to love people…. right?
For many well- meaning, church going, Christians the outreach of the church is primarily used as a call to inform and convince our unbelieving neighbors that, “Hey, we here at this church… we just love you!”
And it is true. There are many who have a particular, God sized love for those in our communities, known and unknown alike. In fact, biblically, one of the marks of a Christian is the fact that we will love and care for each other in a sacrificial way.
However, we must be careful that while we tell others about OUR love for them, we are not negating the fact that, really, it’s about how much God loves them. He loves them more than we can even fathom. Is it not true for ourselves? We love others because Christ first loved us. (1 John 4:19) Christ came and showed us what it means to love. God proved His love by sacrificing His son on the cross.
To attempt to engage with the culture where the goal is singularly intended to show our own particular brand of love and care for others simply misses the full mission of the Church. It is incomplete, and a subtle twisting of our responsibility as the people of God. Are we called to love others? Yes.To stand for peace and Justice? Yes. To take care of the disadvantaged? Of course!
To do so without sharing the hope that is within us? By no means! Church, we are commanded to share the gospel. The Bible must be the final authority in our lives and the measuring rod by which we live.
As we go out to proclaim God’s love in an unbelieving world we must be careful not to expect that they will act as a Christian ought. Often times there is persecution, hatred, or even a spit in the face in exchange for our heartfelt concerns. Remember, those who belong to the world do not have a rejuvenated heart, thier minds are still darkened to the truth, and they are without the Holy Spirit. Jesus told us we should be prepared to suffer. When our actions do not hinge on the way others receive the message of Christ, there is freedom. WE are called to be salt and light. WE are to be a preserver of the good, a beacon to the path, and the tellers of truth, even when it’s hard. It is a responsibility that can be very uncomfortable at times but comes with blessings beyond measure.
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”” Romans 10:14-15
How will one know that they are deficient? Who will tell the world about God’s perfect and Holy standards? Who is willing to crucify the flesh and suffer with Jesus in order to tell of his great sacrifice? The only ones who can give testimony are the ones who have experienced God’s transformative power of grace, themselves.
In Ezekiel 33:1-9 God warns his prophet that if he chooses not to warn the people of the coming judgement he, himself will be responsible.
““So you, son of man, I have made a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. If I say to the wicked, O wicked one, you shall surely die, and you do not speak to warn the wicked to turn from his way, that wicked person shall die in his iniquity, but his blood I will require at your hand.” Ezekiel 33:7-8
We would be careful to heed this warning. We are watchman on the wall and it is a duty and responsibility that goes beyond all others. We are commanded to share the whole gospel. An important part of that is the understanding of sin and its consequences. It is a fact that even while God loves us He also hates our sin and will one day judge each of us according to His standards. Has our message of an absolute love outweighed our message of responsibility? Is grace preached without an understanding of condition or cost? If so, we are not doing our job well.
In this world you will find many people, from all walks of life, unknown to well-known, who have amazing platforms both humanitarian and environmental. People who have drastically different worldviews to Christianity put in amazing amounts of time, effort, and money for the benefit of others. We can applaud what they are doing, and acknowledge the good that is being done, but it is not the same mission as the church. God’s people have an extra element of faith that the world will never have, and a message of salvation that cannot be found in anyone or anything else apart from Christ.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. Not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.” John 14:27
True Christian evangelism will not stop short at taking care of an individual’s temporal concerns alone. It will always be laced with the testimony of the believer and the gospel. It will naturally move forward and extended itself to that soul’s spiritual well-being and need. How could it not? When someone who has been healed by the love of Christ begins to walk with a transformed heart and mind, they begin to live in the reality of their glorification even while being sanctified. In all this, the converted heart desires for others to encounter the beautiful life-giving change they have experienced.
There are times God may tell you to wait before giving a Gospel account, and times we may be called to give sacrificially where the gospel is not explicitly stated. These instances ought to be the exception, not the rule, and are more often simply the beginning steps in a progression towards the gospel itself. In all things Christ is to be given full reign and discernment through the Holy Spirit is a necessary lifeline in the application of God‘s Word to the believer. So listen to Him. Let us not grow dull of hearing or make excuses for our lack of conviction by ONLY “loving” others, and letting them lie in their own guilt. At its core it is a selfish and cowardly business to withhold the gospel from people. We need to be careful not to answer for another person simply because we suspect the answer to be negative, for in doing so we take away the opportunity for that person to respond at all.
So let us be careful of our focus. Am I sharing the love and sacrifice of God for us all, myself included, or am I bending-over backwards to show those in opposition to the message of the cross that they are catered to? We are to love people in the way that God loves. By no means am I advocating that we be mean or antagonistic. But we must tell the truth in love, and while the person hearing may feel as though we are being insensitive, there is a difference. There is wisdom in telling the truth and looking to God to deal with the subsequent effects.
It is also a good practice to examine the meanings of the words we use, including any pithy Christianese statements, particularly when speaking to someone we do not know well. Always use words that are understandable. Explain theological terms when needed. Realize that the culture and the Church have different understandings about a whole host of words. Words like judgment, tolerance, or even love can be used with very different associations. Take care that you understand well not just the words being used but the ideas and implications behind them.
And use the Words that have authority! The Bible says there is great power in Scripture, even that it will never return void. This means that the Word always accomplishes something. For the unbeliever hearing the truth, we hope that the work is a softening of the heart, a soul coming closer to God. Yet, there are times when the Word does its work and the heart is hardened, and the soul takes a step backwards away from the love of God.
“So shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent it.” Isaiah 55:11
The church is called to go out in faith, not faith in and of itself, but of God. We do not love as the world or share a common, worldly, selfish affection that is ambiguous to the gospel, vague, obscure, or devoid of Christ.
We share of a love we now partake in. A love that is sure and unending, selfless and knowable because it’s rooted in the person of Jesus Christ.
The world proves that given time and circumstance, even the closest of earthly relationships can become suspect…our emotions can turn sour and our resolve grow dim, but this is not so with the yielded Christian heart. Christ followers receive an unending river of love and compassion for others given to them from God, Himself.
In fact, one of the greatest reminders of His love comes through loving others and walking with those who appear to be beyond all hope. In choosing to connect and care for the “unlovable” or “unreachable” we are reminded of our own stories. We were once labeled similarly, lost, and without salvation. But thanks be to God for His immeasurable love, a love not reserved for ourselves alone but for all who will believe.
While we always want to show just how great God’s love is for each and everyone of us, the message can never be ‘look how we except your sin.’ Accepting others’ sins that are unacceptable to God not only proves to be a harmful endeavor, but ultimately skirts the gospel. It is rooted in the fear of man and demonstrates that we want to be acceptable to the culture around us. Are we afraid or unwilling to stand on the standards of the Word of God? Do we want people to be pleased with us more than we want God to be pleased? Are we falling for this subtle perversion of the gospel? Is the goal to reach the lost and show them Christ, or to make those who oppose the gospel comfortable? Are you changing the message of the Bible to make it palatable for the ungodly?
Ultimately, outreach is not about us. God will give each believer a love for others they could not have achieved on their own. Outreach for the church is not to make us look good to a dying world. This would be selfish, not to mention short-lived. If our outreach is about our love it will fail. The gospel is about God’s unending love and our desire should be to make much of Him in sharing what He has done already in our hearts.
May we never be unwilling to share the whole gospel truth!
Written by Melanie Barnfield. Melanie Barnfield is an artist, closet introvert, wordsmith, and lover of Christ. She has been married 14 years to the love of her life, and has been blessed with 4 beautiful children. Residing in Benton, IL, she is an avid reader who enjoys teaching, gardening, and photography.