Relationships And the Great Commission
This Sunday I preached from Romans 10, where Paul reminds us that we are the instruments God sovereignly uses to deliver the gospel news to the world. "How will they hear without a preacher" is motivation for every follower of Jesus to be that preacher. It doesn't necessarily mean only pastors and missionaries do the preaching, but all Christians should in some sense, preach the word to the lost. We should do this winsomely, lovingly, and intentionally.
This passage convicts me in a lot of ways. For starters, it presupposes that I actually care about those who don't know Jesus. In my daily life, how often is my heart broken for the brokeness of the world around me?
Secondly, Paul's words also presuppose something else: that we are actually building relationships with people not like us so that we may be the bridge that leads them to Jesus. Much of our Christianity is focused on prevention. Some of this is good. As parents we want to shield our children from negative influences and harmful media consumption. And yet, we must not do this in such a way that conflicts with the Great Commission. It occurs to me that the enemy, who hates seeing people connected to Jesus, is okay with us retreating so deep into our own Christian subcultures and bunkers, into our political ideologies and networks, that we don't actually interact with anyone else enough to make friends with them in order to be the one reflection of light in their dark world.
The Great Commission carries with it an assumption. Jesus assumed those who have had an experience with Him, whereby they know that He has died on the cross, rose again in victory, and is alive regenerating their heart--these people will surely tell others. There is an assumption that we won't be silent. But underneath even that assumption is that we will take Jesus' own prayer in John 17 to heart and realize we were put on this earth to be His representatives.
In plain words, this means one thing: we must be intentional about building long-term, thick, vibrant relationships with people who are different than us. People of different races. People of different backgrounds. People of different religions. People who don't vote the way we do. People who may not live like we think they should live.
You see, we can't simply carry out the Great Commission on a fly-over basis. By this I mean that staying in our bunkers and then emerging every so often to "gospel-bomb" people with Heaven tracts isn't what, I think, Jesus is talking about. I love Heaven tracts and know that many have come to faith in Christ because of them. Yes.
However, if we think sheepishly slipping a tract underneath the check at a restaurant gets us off the hook when it comes to the Great Commission, we are doing it wrong. Liking the Jesus page on Facebook can't be all we do. Wearing the fish symbol on our cars can't be all we do.
We must vigorously, intentionally, get to know people within our circles of influence.
We do this in two ways: We first love them. By loving our lost friends and neighbors and relatives, it means we apply 1 Corinthians 13 and really, really love them. You will not engage with people you fear or despise. Ask Jonah how this works. He hated the people of Nineveh. It wasn't that Jonah didn't think God could save them (Jonah 3), it was that Jonah didn't want God to save them.
We will not intentionally engage people we either fear or do not like. So for some of us, it maybe time we tune out the rhetoric we hear on talk radio and cable news and online about various people groups. Because quite often we can let our politics shape our theology rather than our theology shaping our politics.
Yes, because we love our cities we should stand for things we believe are good for human flourishing. No apologies for that. And yet, if our politics turns into actually disliking, mocking, and avoiding the "other", then we are doing it wrong. We are here, they are here, and the Great Commission compels us.
Maybe it's time we evaluate the way we shelter our families in such a way that we keep ourselves walled off from our communities. How will they hear without a preacher? That preacher, that person is none other than you and me.
Secondly, we do this by building intentional relationships. We must be wise in the way we pursue relationships. We should build friendships, not simply so we can spring the book of Romans on the after the third conversation. We should build natural, human friendships that grow over time. And we should allow the Spirit of God to guide us when we need to being the evangelism conversations. For some it may take months, even years for that to come up. For others it may be natural to discuss right away. The point is that we should let our friendships be natural. People know, especially in this cynical age, when they are being targeted for a "sale." But friendship is something entirely different. It's real. It's human. It's not "bait and switch."
Friendship is love. We need to engage with warmth, authenticity, and reality. We should let our expressions of faith, our evangelism, flow naturally. If Christ is our life, then those who get near us will know it. We'll not be able to stop talking about Him.
Of course all of this means that we are in our communities. It means we're outside talking to our neighbors, inviting them over to our homes. It means we're joining the local YMCA's or other organizations where people gather. It means we're participating in some of the charitable and civic endeavors in our towns and villages and cities.
And, properly understood, bearing the message of Jesus is not a strain. It's a joy. Paul said that it was the love of Christ that compelled him to tell others (2 Corinthians 5:4). What a privilege it is to bear this beautiful message of the gospel! We should share it intentionally, actively, and lovingly to those God puts in our life.
Relationships are key to obeying the Great Commission.