“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (Jn. 3:16-17).
This is the most quoted verse in the Bible, with the needed qualification added in the next verse. Love was clearly the motivation for God’s great evangelism plan that He brought about at the expense of His Son. We too must embrace this motivation if we are to be in fellowship with God.
The words of a favorite hymn come to mind: “Seeking the lost, yes kindly entreating.” Love expresses itself in kindness and compassion when its object is downcast and in distress (Matt. 9:36-38).
Therefore, when we consider approaching our friends and neighbors with the gospel, we must understand that our principal objective is not trying to win arguments, but rather to win hearts. As President Lincoln observed, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
We must, of course, present intelligent and compelling answers to their questions and present the gospel with clarity and conviction. The main thing, however, is to be distinguished by our love for them and our love for each other (Jn. 13:34-35). God, in His great wisdom, designed a way of salvation to be adorned by the one attitude each of us is fully capable of possessing. Our ability to love is not limited by our intellect, our wealth, or our social standing. Anyone can practice love.
Paul taught this truth to the Corinthians, a congregation obsessed with obtaining spiritual status through acquiring miraculous gifts. Today, although we do not have miraculous gifts available, we too can be consumed with bare truth stripped of love. Such things may have the appearance of being godly. Yet, just as in Paul’s message to the Corinthians, if we do not develop genuine love, we are wasting our time (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
The dynamics that govern the human heart can seem elusive, yet they are knowable. People who are smarter, more athletic, wealthier, and the like are not those who truly capture our hearts. Rather, our hearts are touched by small, sometimes insignificant, acts of kindness. Such things go unnoticed by many but are treasured by the individuals who receive them. To improve our ability to communicate the gospel, we must never forget to continue improving in our commitment to excel in daily expressions of love (1 Thess. 4:9-10).
The Look of Love
Without meaning to, we sometimes have more of a “while we are sitting” appearance than an “as we are going” look. We can become so distanced from living in a practical, loving, lifestyle we might begin to wonder “What that would look like?”
We sometimes develop lists of “things” we could and should do, often populated with good things to do and bad things to avoid. Nevertheless, such things may stop short of simply being loving, Christ-like disciples. Lists can be helpful, but not if they are not combined with love (1 Cor. 13:1-3).
Our biblical emphasis can all too easily and conveniently isolate certain building centered activities or develop a “doctrinal” list of things we do or don’t do. This list can then isolate us from our lost neighbors who fail to replicate our list. This can easily lead to condemning attitudes rather than to loving hearts.
The New Covenant, however, is primarily an “as you are going,” being your Jesus self, sort of arrangement. Here are some principles that should be helpful:
— Refer to the sins of the world more to remind us of what to avoid than to hatefully condemn worldly people (Eph. 4:20-32; 1 Cor. 5:12-13).
— Spend more time in showing the love of Jesus than in condemning the world (Matt. 5:14-16; Rom. 16:19; 1 Cor. 14:20).
— Spend more time developing as a Christ-like disciple than as an expert on the wrongs of the world (Rom. 8:29; Phil. 4:14-16).
— Practice love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24-25; Tit. 3:8-9).
— Return good for evil rather than evil for evil (Rom. 12:17, 21).
— If possible, live in peace with all men (Rom. 12:18).
— Do more than is required of us (Matt. 5:41).
— Don’t mock people or engage in crude jesting (Eph. 5:3-4).
— Be a living sacrifice (Rom. 12:1-2).
— Be a doer, not just a hearer so as no tot be seen as a hypocrite (James 1:22-23).
— Be more interested in saving than in condemning (John 3:16-17).
— In short, love (1 John 4:7-17; 1 Cor. 13:1-8a; 2 Cor. 5:14-15; John 14:15, 23).
Lovingly Engaging the Lost in Conversations
Here’s another point to consider. “As you are going” (Matt. 28:19), you may be approaching evangelism from a more detached, “bottom up” method. What I mean is this. You may start your evangelistic conversations by zeroing in on certain specific responses you want others to make. Unfortunately, with this emphasis the fundamental principles behind specific commands may become lost in the shuffle (Matt. 23:23). Also, such an approach can look more clinical than loving.
Let me share with you a “top down” approach in our conversations with those outside of Jesus. This approach creates an open-ended model allowing a degree of common ground to be very naturally developed. When we wish to share the Good News, finding common ground is both helpful and inviting. Beginning, however, with an analytical presentation designed to gain affirmation regarding certain specific responses could stop a study before it has an opportunity to get started.
Engaging, more open-ended inquiries might include:
— “When Jesus announced He was going to build His church, what do you suppose He had in mind?”
— “How would the church Jesus built look today?”
— “How important was unity to Jesus?”
— “How would Christians, members of His church, realize His expectations for discipleship, congregational involvement, and worship?”
These questions not only center on Jesus and His will, but they also provide a clear path to Scripture as the only place we could go to discover our answers. This makes an “as you are going” encounter less of a math problem and more of a conversational inquiry into the mind of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16). This conversational, discovery model allows for the development of a relationship and more opportunities to practice noticeable kindness and love.
By looking at how something begins at the top, with Jesus as the Lord over His church, overarching principles and a host of interrelated specifics can easily be developed. Accepting a “top down” idea therefore leads to some level of buy-in to particulars that, in this case, are clearly seen as coming from Jesus.
When we begin with Jesus and His will, it becomes more difficult to dismiss a particular point of teaching. Isolated commands, to the contrary, are more easily dismissed as “prejudiced opinions” leading to defensiveness rather than to relationship building discussions in an open, transparent exchange that have the look of love.
What’s Love Got To Do With It?
The short answer to the question is, “Everything.” The song made popular by Tina Turner asks this question rather dismissively, but her dismissal clearly was more about convincing herself than about her true feelings. Love is powerful!
When this question is applied to seeking the lost, as we observed at the beginning of our musings, “God so loved that He gave His only begotten Son …” We need say no more to impress us all with the importance of loving the lost.
With the motivation of love, we will take evangelism personally, just as do the Father and the Son. Hateful, prideful, clinical, perfunctory, or dismissive attitudes cannot exist where love abides. The context of love changes everything.