“Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people: religious, nonreligious, meticulous moralists, loose-living immoralists, the defeated, the demoralized—whoever. I didn’t take on their way of life. I kept my bearings in Christ—but I entered their world and tried to experience things from their point of view. I’ve become just about every sort of servant there is in my attempts to lead those I meet into a God-saved life. I did all this because of the Message. I didn’t just want to talk about it; I wanted to be in on it!” 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 (The Message)
Look around you in church sometime, I mean really look at the people who are there. Who do you see? Do you see non-Christians searching for the answers for their lives or believers there to assemble themselves together? More than likely most of them are believers. So then, how are we to get the gospel to those outside who need Jesus? The Bible says how can they believe except they hear, and how can they hear except someone is sent? (See Romans 10:14.)
We have to do it outside the church. That’s what Jesus did. He went about his daily life, meeting people on the street and calling them to follow him. He went to dinner with sinners, not so he could tell them what great sinners they were – they already knew that – but to show them God.
We’re to do the same thing. That’s what the Apostle Paul was talking about in the passage above. He didn’t participate in their sin, but he adapted himself to their circumstances so that he could share the gospel with them.
The question is how do we do that? How do we show Jesus to the outside world in a way they want to know more? Reciting religious platitudes and quoting scripture will usually turn them off and away from you. Conversations that are great when you’re with fellow believers and Christian friends are not always so great around non-believers. When my best friend and I talk, we have a wonderful time sharing what we’re learned from the Bible and what God is doing in our lives. But I can’t have that type of relationship with everyone.
The first thing we need to do is to be nice to people. Sometimes we pick and choose how to treat people based on appearance. That’s not how God calls us to be. Jesus went to the outcasts. Probably few if any of the 12 disciples Jesus called would qualify to serve on the staff of any of our modern churches. They were for the most part uneducated and a few of them were pretty rowdy. James and John were called Sons of Thunder and Peter cut off a man’s ear! Be nice to everybody – the store clerk who can’t make change, the stressed out parents in the restaurant with a screaming child, the dirty day-laborer in line at the convenience store. Show them who God is by being nice.
Then just be a friend to people we meet. Get to know them and learn about their lives before we start telling them how they need God. Be their friend first and wait for God to open the door for spiritual discussions. It may take months, it may take years. It may never happen in the way you expect. But never underestimate the impact a godly life just lived openly and honestly in front of someone can have.
Be sensitive to other people’s needs and their feelings. I’m as guilty as the next person about saying something “religious” because I thought it was what I was supposed to say only to realize later that what I said was not what the person needed to hear at all. What they needed most was for me to just be their friend. Offer help when they need help, and give it without any “religious” strings attached. When we meet peoples’ needs, they have the chance to see Jesus but only if we do it freely and without preaching to them about it.
Most of all, we cannot hold ourselves out as being better or more righteous than they are. Arrogant spirituality turns people away. The only difference between them and us is Jesus. Paul said he did not participate in their sin, (“I am committed to the law of Christ”, I Cor. 9:21b) but he accepted them as they were. We can decline to participate in sin without having to expound on the evils of it. Jesus said to let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no and that is enough. (Matt. 5:37)
Jesus said we’re to be the light of the world. Light in only noticed where there is dark. During the daylight, you don’t usually notice that a lamp is on. But as soon as it gets dark, that lamp becomes useful. If we’re to be useful “lamps”, we need to get out of the daylight of our church pew and go out to the dark where we’re needed.
Peace and blessings in our Lord Jesus Christ.