Why Sharing the Gospel is Not Enough

In recent weeks my quiet time of prayer and Bible reading has included an in-depth study of Paul’s 1st and 2nd Letters to the Thessalonians. As Paul writes to the young Christians in that Greek city he makes a curious and profound statement in chapter 2 verse 8, “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us”. This verse strikes me as the perfect balance in an ongoing debate over the relationship between evangelism that focuses on speaking and preaching the Gospel and that which focuses on serving people at their point of need.

Why is it that so many of us in the Christian community are unable to hold things in tension and balance. We so quickly go to extremes. We want to make so much of following Jesus into an either or proposition when much of following Jesus is “both/and”. We have been doing that when it comes to preaching the Gospel or living the Gospel and doing so for generations. This is not an either or proposition.

Clearly Paul preached the Gospel. He verbally shared that wherever he went. He lived out what he says in Romans 10:14 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?” We cannot get caught in the serious error that downplays the necessity of people actually hearing the truth of Jesus. The famous quote attributed to St Francis, “At all times preach the Gospel, when necessary use words”, may have been a great corrective for those who only used words, but to somehow use that to make preaching the words of the Gospel into a last resort tactic, is wrong-headed in the extreme. Paul makes it clear, we must, absolutely must, tell people the Good News that Jesus came and died and rose again so that by trusting and following Him as Lord we can have eternal life. That is non-negotiable.

Yet just as clearly Paul believed it was not enough to only preach the Gospel verbally. He was compelled to share his very self, his life, with the Thessalonians. The way that played out was that Paul served them, loved them, lived with them as a brother. He was open, transparent, and vulnerable. As a result his life became another way to demonstrate the Gospel. When that life was coupled with the preached Word, then you had a powerful testimony to Jesus Christ.

It shouldn’t be at all surprising that our message is to come in the form of BOTH the spoken, preached Word, AND the shared life of Christ followers. The is exactly what Jesus did. He didn’t send a message from on high, a voice coming out of the clouds, with the truth of trusting in Him. He actually came into the world and shared in our lives. It is what the incarnation is all about. Jesus came into the world and took on flesh, He lived among us, shared our joys, griefs, temptations, and victories. He became like us in all things with the exception of succumbing to sin. Jesus lived a both/and life. He spoke the Gospel and He shared His life.

For some of us the speaking part is easy, the sharing life is hard. For others the sharing life is easy but the speaking part is hard. Let me propose that followers of Christ embrace both in their lives. We must, absolutely must develop a culture in which we both speak the truths of the Gospel, hard as they may be, and share our lives with those around us, both those following Jesus already and those not yet, as hard as that may be.

The result of people like Paul sharing their very lives and speaking the truth of the Gospel was that the early church became of community of people who did the same. As they did so, others on the outside of the community wanted to be included on the inside. Some wanted in because they resonated with the preached word. Others wanted in because they resonated with the love they received. Some wanted in for both.

Are you more a speaker than a life sharer? Is it the other way around? What do you need to do to become better and speaking the Gospel? What do you need to do to become better at sharing the Gospel through sharing your very life?

Three Must Have Relationships in Your Life. (Pt 2 of 3)

His name was Joseph. Yet everyone called him Barnabas, which means “Son of Encouragement”. That name became such a part of his identity that today few people remember that his given name was Joseph and we refer to him only as Barnabas. So how did Joseph become Barnabas for the rest of history? There are two events in the Bible that stand out. The first comes in Acts Chapter 4:32-37. In the early church Barnabas is noted as one of the people who gave a large sum of money in order to insure that the poor were feed and had their needs met. That act of sacrifice was a huge encouragement to the first generation of Christians.

Later in Acts 11:19-26 we find Barnabas seeking out a young convert to Christianity and including him in the leadership of the new church at Antioch. That convert was the Pharisee named Saul, who we come to know as The Apostle Paul. In an incredible irony, that is only possible in a faith in which love and forgiveness are core values, Paul ends up leading a church that was begun by refugees who fled the persecution that he instigated before he came to faith in Christ. Imagine the kind of person Barnabas had to be that he insisted on reaching out and including the very guy who started the persecution that resulted in torture and even death for some followers of Jesus. Paul had already been rejected by the leaders in Jerusalem after his conversion. They didn’t trust him. They basically said, “great to know you are not killing us any more. We will call if we need anything”. So Paul ends up hundreds of miles away doing next to nothing for the expansion of Christianity, until Barnabas, The Son of Encouragement” takes a journey to find him and include him in the leadership of the Church at Antioch.

So what can we learn about being an encourager when we look at Barnabas? For one, he was willing to sacrifice for the sake of others so that they would be built up, strengthened, encouraged. He was willing to sacrifice financial resources so that people in need could have hope. He was willing to sacrifice his reputation when he brought in Paul for leadership. In both cases Barnabas thought more about the needs of someone else than he did about his own. But it wasn’t only the needs of the one he encouraged that he thought about. In bringing Paul into a leadership role, Barnabas was also thinking about the people Paul would impact with his ministry. He saw a gifting in Paul that needed to be encouraged to the surface in order to help others.

An encourager sees the positive impact another person does make, and can make, and comes alongside them to help it happen. What Barnabas did was come along side people to empower them, when nobody else would. That is what an encourager does. Far too many people are willing to point out the negative, where people are lacking, what can go wrong. Barnabas looked for what could go right and did what he could to make that happen.

Encouragers don’t care if someone else gets the limelight and credit. I think one reason why we don’t encourage one another more is that we are self-centered and worry that there is only so much credit and encouragement to go around. So in order to rise up above other people, we put them down or at the very least, withhold encouragement that might give them the strength they need to succeed. We see the opposite in Barnabas. He didn’t care if someone else received recognition and credit. In fact he seems to have been very happy when the one he encouraged had success. Very quickly in his relationship with Paul, he takes second place. Paul moves to the forefront as spokesman and leader. Lesser people would have been jealous, not Barnabas. An encourager does not worry about that. In fact an encourager finds delight in the success of those they encourage.

I have got to believe that over time, Barnabas rubbed off on Paul. Paul who was so encouraged by Barnabas, eventually became committed to a ministry of encouragement. Just one example comes from First Thessalonians 5:11-14 where Paul writes;

11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.12 We ask you, brothers, to respect those who labor among you and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love because of their work. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.

How different might your life be if you had someone who encouraged you instead of discouraged you, built you up instead of tore you down, respected you instead of denigrated you? We all need people like that in our life. But we also need to be that person to others. If you are around people who are encouragers, it will rub off on you like it did with Paul. I learned this from a wonderful guy I meet as part of the coaching staff at North Allegheny High School in Pittsburgh. His name was John Ross. John was the quarterback coach on that team and he was the consumate encourager. He always had positive feedback for players and friends. That does not mean he didn’t correct errors. Any coach has to do that. But he did it in a way that you knew he was on your side. John was quick to point out to other people how great someone was. I remember the first time one of my young sons met John. One of the first things he did was tell my son how lucky he was to have such a great dad. That is an encourager. What did it do for me? For one thing it motivated me to be an even better dad. Far from making people rest on their laurels, encouragement does the opposite. It gives people the motivation to live up to the words of encouragement and do even better.

Here is another thing I have learned about encouragers. When you give out encouragement to others it has a funny way of coming back to you. If you are always negative, the attitude that comes back to you will be negative. But if you encourage others, come along side them and build them up, you quickly find yourself in an environment of encouragement and others will encourage you. You will be paid back in kind. Dish out negativity and you will be paid back in negativity. Hand out praise and encouragement and you will find yourself rich in encouragement.

A very practical first step is this, look for someone who could use some praise, some encouragement, some positive reinforcement and give it to them. It could be as simple as telling someone how much their friendship means to you. It could be telling someone at work what a great job they did on a project, or what a wonderful idea they had. Find a character trait in someone that you admire and let them know you wish you could be as good at that as they are. The point is, build up people, encourage them. When you do that consistently, you will find that your life becomes filled with people who act as Barnabas in your life and encourage you.

Three MUST HAVE Relationships in Your Life (pt. 1 of 3)

John Maxwell wrote the book 360 Degree Leadership. The title is from the idea that in any organization you can and should provide leadership to those above you, below you, and around you on the org chart. We need to think of 360 degree relationships as followers of Christ. I see a model for this in the biblical relationships of Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy. In looking at what the Bible tells us about these three men and the experience of my own life I am forced to ask myself some very important questions. First, who are the people in my life to whom I play the role of Paul, and Barnabas, and Timothy. The second is the other side of the coin. Who are the people in my life who play the role of Paul, and Barnabas, and Timothy for me?

You may be wondering just what those roles are? I think each can be summarized fairly easily. Paul is the spiritual leader/mentor who helps another become all that Christ has for them. Barnabas is the encouraging co-laborer with whom you share life and who strengthens you along the way. Timothy is the follower who is looking to a Paul for guidance and direction in what it means to live this life for Jesus.

Now before we get to far into this I know there will be some people who immediately respond by saying, “Don’t look to men! Only look to Jesus” or some variation on that theme. As highly spiritual as that may sound it is actually a violation of what Jesus Himself said. So I am left to wonder if such folks are actually even looking to Jesus. You see Jesus commanded that we are to go and make disciples. We are to follow the pattern He set by investing ourselves in the lives of other people so they begin to follow Jesus and grow to maturity. That is why Paul did what he did with someone like Timothy. Jesus was also the one who sent people out in pairs to do ministry. He followed the time-honored Biblical principle that it is not good for people to be alone, work alone, even walk alone. As the Bible says, “when one falls down the other is there to pick them up”. Clearly Jesus thinks we are to be in relationships in which we encourage one another, care for one another, challenge one another and in general share life together in order to become more like Him. In fact that is what is at the root of the Biblical word for fellowship. It is KOINONIA and has its roots in the Greek word for “common”. Fellowship is sharing our common lives together in order to exhibit what the Body of Christ is all about. It is about breathing the same air, facing the same challenges, exalting in the same joys and living life, together.

Let’s take a look at the examples of Paul, Barnabas, and Timothy and see what we can learn. First, what about Paul? Here is the big question. Who are you pouring your life into so that they become more like Christ? Who are you guiding into Christian maturity so they can use their life and gifts in service to God and others? That is what Paul did with Timothy. Most people shrink back from this thinking that they are not worthy enough, smart enough, or holy enough to lead someone else in following Christ. Well I agree. None of us are. Yet Jesus expects us to do just that. Actually Jesus is the one who makes it possible for us to do that as He lives through us. We are ALL called to make disciples. We are all called to lead someone else closer to Jesus. If you are a parent then you are called by God to disciple your children so they become more like Jesus and serve Him in whatever they do. If you are married you have that same responsibility towards your spouse. If you know someone who is not a Christian, you are called to be Paul to them by living out your Christian faith in such a way that they want to also follow Jesus. No one is exempt from this. If you have been following Jesus for two weeks and you meet someone who has been following Him for two days, guess what. You are twelve days further down the road than they are and you can and should be a Paul who helps them navigate their next twelve days. Of course you should still be growing in your relationship to Christ so in theory you are always twelve days ahead. The reality is, if you really invest yourself in being Paul to someone else, your growth in Christ will accelerate even faster. The call to make disciples is for all followers of Jesus. So in a sense we are all called to be Paul to someone else.

But that also brings up the question of who you are looking to as that Paul in your life. Who is your role model? Who is the person who is following Jesus in a way that you think you should? Who could help you go to the next level in your relationship with Jesus? You see, in addition to being a Paul to someone else, you need a Paul or two in your own life. When I first came to faith in Christ a guy named Scott Jones was the local Young Life leader. He was my first Paul. During my Senior year in High School, Scott would meet with me and a handful of other guys once a week before school. We read and studied Paul’s Letter to the Romans together. But that was not where Scott made the biggest impact as my “Paul”. Every few weeks he would pick me up before school and we grabbed a couple donuts and a cup of coffee at a local donut shop. We talked about life, both of our lives. We talked about how following Jesus applied to our lives, both the easy and the hard parts. Scott also spoke into my life with all the wisdom a 25 year had to give a 17-year-old. It was huge for me.

I am convinced that one of the most glaring weaknesses in the church today and in the lives of individual followers of Jesus is the stark absence of “Paul” relationships. When you take seriously the call to invest your life in another, there is a huge payback in terms of your own spiritual growth and maturity. When we fail to make that investment, the payback is nil.

At the end of part three I will share some practical tips and resources for developing not only healthy Paul relationships but also the Barnabas and Timothy ones as well. In the meantime I would encourage you to be praying for God to show you the people to whom you are already supposed to be “Paul” and look back on your life and see who has been Paul to you then and now. If you don’t have anyone who fills the role of the Apostle Paul, then in your prayer time start asking God now to show you to that person.

Provocative Bible Verses: All Things to All People

As the saying goes, you can’t be all things to all people. That bit of cultural wisdom is geared towards helping us cope with the many demands people place on us to try and meet their expectations and standards. It is intended to give us the freedom to be ourselves and not compromise for the sake of others. Certainly one would expect that in Christian circles the idea of compromising is not highly valued. Truth is after all not something to be easily set aside for convenience sake or to fit in with popular opinion.

If this high value of truth and the resistance to compromise is truly a biblical Christian virtue, then how in the world does the Apostle Paul say that not only can we be all things to all people, but that he himself strives with great effort to be all things to all people. He says it this way:

“I have become all things to all men” 1 Corinthians 9:22

That just flies in the face of what most people would consider to be the way Christians should live. Think about it. How many times have you heard preachers bemoaning that fact the people are compromising with the culture and this is the downfall of humanity? In the extreme you get Christians living in their own little enclaves of only people who are very much like them and very unlike the rest of the world. The Amish come to mind, but so do certain fundamentalist varieties of the faith.

What is important to understand is that your motivation can make all the difference in the world. If you are compromising in order to avoid conflict or difficulty, or to be accepted so you don’t have to make a stand, then you are heading down a dangerous path. But when we look at Paul’s words in context we see that his motivation needs to be our motivation as well. “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” 1 Corinthians 9:22-23

Paul is saying that when it comes to being able to help others know and follow Jesus, then we must be ready and able to fit in with them in their culture. In this chapter he says that to the Jews he lived like a Jew, to the Greeks, he became like a Greek. Whatever the culture was in which he found himself, he did all he could to fit into that culture for the high purpose of demonstrating to people what Jesus is all about. In that way he did exactly what Jesus did. Jesus became like us in order to win us to himself. Our whole theology of the incarnation, of God becoming man in Christ, is about compromising for the sake of the Gospel. We need to cross the cultural gap between Christians and non-Christians in order to help them see Jesus.

That means that followers of Jesus need to being willing to eat, dress, talk, play, and generally do the things that others do, as long as we are not sinning. We do this in order to be Jesus in their midst. On a simple level it may mean something as mundane as learning to bowl and joining a bowling league in order to meet people who don’t know Jesus. Just make sure it is not a church based league filled only with other church people. For twenty years I volunteered as a high school football coach at two different public schools. I went to practice, games, and out to eat after games with the guys I coached with. It was clear that I was a Christian, but it was also clear that I enjoyed their company and was willing to be one of them as much as possible. I accepted them and honored them as people even though we might have very different views of Jesus. As a result of that ministry I have done weddings, funerals, marital counseling sessions, visited hospitals, prayed with numerous people, shared the Gospel many times to entire teams, and been blessed to help some people come to faith in Christ. It could only have happened by being willing to become “all things to all men in order to win some to Christ”.

I wonder, in what way do you need to become like the people around you in order to let them see, up close and personal, what a follower of Jesus is like? What do you need to do in order to be close enough to people for them to experience the love of Jesus through you? If you really want others to come to know and love him, you will find a way to become all things to all people.