What does it mean to love in terms of Evangelism? Throughout 25 years of ministry term biblical love and evangelism have been modified multiple times. As we have seen a decline in church attendance and baptism, the culprit often is the term love. Many see the decline and attribute the decline due to the lack of love and acceptance of people. They say Christians need to express more love and acceptance of people and to show Christ through kind actions. They express a desire to see less words of Jesus and Scripture and more actions of Jesus and Scripture. And to be honest I must admit that I agree somewhat with that notion, but not completely. I truly believe that Christians need to have more action that speaks to the goodness and truth of the gospel of Christ. But we also need to be truthful and honest with our words and with biblical language. Jesus had both action and word! His actions always pointed to the Kingdom and so did His words.
One of the most detailed accounts of Jesus interaction with someone outside of the disciples is found in John 4. In this encounter Jesus address several issues such as, racism, sexism, adultery, moralism, tribalism, nationalism, and idol worship. He addresses these issues as he talks with the woman. To go through the whole account would take pages upon pages of writing to explain how Jesus deals with each of those. How he deals with each of those could be a sermon or post in itself. But what I want to do is simply deconstruction the myth or idea that just using kindness without truth is the best way of evangelism or another words, biblical love is not just about action but truthful words as well.
A quote that has been attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi, says the following: “Preach the gospel at all times, and use words if necessary” is appropriate to examine here. To give complete transparency that quote is debated by theologians and scholars. The debate lies within did Saint Francis said, and what he meant by it. We will leave that debate for another time. For the sake our discussion what it has often meant when quoted is simply “live out the gospel, and if you need to, use a few words.” Now that sounds great, but the problem is that it goes against everything in the New Testament. Jesus was about both action and words. For people to clearly understand and receive the gospel, we must speak clearly and truthfully to them. To understand the depths of the sinful heart, one must be fully exposed to the sin of their lives. As the Reform John Calvin once said, “the heart is an idol factory.” To fully understand our hearts and the sinfulness of the heart we must hear the truth about sin. And to speak the truth we must use words.
Evangelism involves both actions and words. Going back to John 4, we see Jesus using both. In his words, he speaks clearly of the sin of the woman. He doesn’t dance around the truth of her sin. When he asks her, to get her husband, she says I don’t have one, and Jesus responds with you have answered correctly, you have had 5 husbands and the one you are with now is not your husband. The clear language and implication here is that the woman was committing adultery and had committed it 5 times over. She was in sin and Jesus was open and truthful about that sin. Over and over throughout the New Testament we see Jesus openly and truthfully denounce sin in people’s lives. He did that with Peter, the Rich Young Ruler, the Pharisees, and more. Jesus always confronted sin with truth and honesty. He never danced around a situation or even tried to water down the truth to make the person more open to receiving it. We can find the same with Paul the Apostle as he dealt with sin. Evangelism must involve the truth and honesty about sin.
Now how we say things does matter and the tone of our voice and the compassion of our heart is important. Unfortunately, many times evangelicals have come across as angry people and that is because often the tone is not one of grace and compassion. Also, many times evangelicals have had the heart of the Pharisees. As Jesus confronted the woman at the well and others you can read the compassion, he had for them. You can see the true concern he had for their souls. The harshness that comes from Jesus to sin comes to those who are in the religious circles such as the Pharisees. The reason for the different tone is because the Pharisees new the law and new it well and because of that they should have been more focused on their own sins instead of others. They forgot about the plank in their own eye and looked at the speck in others eyes. As we look at sin and look to evangelize, we must be honest with our own sin and the grace that flows in our lives through the gospel. Also, we should never expect people who are without Christ to have the desire to have righteousness or have the desire for Christianity morality. Without Christ we all live in the desire of the flesh and that desire is wicked. How we use our voice matters and so do the words that we use. We must be people of compassion and full truth and honesty as we tell others about Christ.
So, in closing, Biblical Love is about the gospel truth and with a gospel voice. Love is sharing the gospel with people and giving them compassion as they wrestle with it. The Apostle Peter says it this way in 1 Peter 2:4-8; “4 As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men but in the sight of God chosen and precious, 5 you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 6 For it stands in Scripture: “Behold, I am laying in Zion a stone, a cornerstone chosen and precious, and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.”7 So the honor is for you who believe, but for those who do not believe, “The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone,” 8 and “A stone of stumbling, and a rock of offense.” They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.” As Christian we must realize that the gospel either draws people to Christ or becomes the stumbling block of rejection. The gospel is offensive and when we try to water it down and make it less offensive in the hope of people following Jesus, we lose gospel love and gospel truth because we share a different gospel at that point. Real biblical love comes in sharing the depth, truth, and love of Christ and allow the gospel to confront the sin of humanity and trust in the work and power of the Holy Spirit.