The Great Commission and the Great Commandment
There are two anchor points for the Christian life. One is the Great Commission (Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age”). The other is the Great Commandment (“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.... Love your neighbor as yourself”). Evangelize the lost; love people.
Here’s my theory: I think that recently – especially in the last century – we did a lot of the first part…at the expense of the second part. The way we evangelize the lost (treating them like a potential notch on our soul-winning belts) actually damages our ability to love them.
Let’s think this through, and let’s use a familiar text to do that.
Anyone who has ever been to a wedding knows Paul’s description of love in 1 Corinthians 13:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”
Now, you may have had a youth minister who challenged you to substitute your name in the place of “love” to see if you’re really a loving person. My challenge is to do the same thing, but instead substituting the word “evangelism” for “love” to see if the way we’re talking to lost people might be causing us to disobey the great commandment.
Let’s just start right there at the beginning, shall we? Evangelism is patient.
(I’m not sure how to spell the sound made on Family Feud when the big, red X shows up and the other family gets the chance to steal the money, but do me a favor and make that sound in your head right now.)
In our anxiety-driven, cold-calling, door-to-door, traveling salesman approach to evangelism, it’s a numbers game. There’s no time to be patient. If this one’s not interested in what I’m selling, maybe the next one will be. Knock on enough doors, and, odds are, someone’s going to respond positively.
How about this one: Evangelism is not rude.
(Go ahead and make that sound again, please.)
Someone who lacks consideration for the feelings of others is rude, and I’m afraid that’s a pretty accurate description of much of what passes for evangelism nowadays. When you stand on the street and accost someone, asking them to name the 10 Commandments, then tell them that they are a liar, an adulterer and deserve to go to hell – especially when they didn’t invite the conversation – that’s pretty rude.
Here’s another one: Evangelism is not easily angered.
(Okay, cue the sound and let the other family steal the money.)
When evangelism isn’t patient, is often rude and gets angry at the drop of a hat, let’s just admit that it doesn’t love. And anything that doesn’t love is sinful and ungodly.
So, what do we do? Shall we stop evangelizing altogether? Not only no, but…well…no.
I know that’s what a lot of us did. We saw that many of the most common methods of evangelism not only didn’t work but were completely counterproductive, pushing people further away from God and causing us to unlove the people we were supposedly trying to help. So we threw our hands in the air and waved them like we just didn’t care about evangelism anymore.
But, to ask Dr. Phil’s question, “How’s that workin’ for ya?”
Here’s how it’s working for us. Fewer and fewer people self-identify as Christians, more and more churches are closing their doors and our friends and neighbors don’t even realize they’re missing out on anything because we haven’t bothered to tell them that there is a better, more productive, more satisfying way to do this thing called life. In other words, it’s not working very well for us at all.
Rather than do nothing, maybe we should try…say…something – but something different this time. What if we tried evangelizing in a new way, mixing in some…I don’t know…humility and vulnerability and time, and actually loving people the way Jesus loves us? What might happen then?