There is a quote, a “Christian quote”, that is often attributed to Francis of Assisi, “Preach the Gospel, and if necessary, use words.” It has many variants and a curious history which can be viewed on Wikipedia:
A while ago I heard the story of a guy who came to love Jesus because the local church embraced him with “numerous blessings (food, clothing, education, moral standards, values, ethics and love)”. My response was “But who told him about Jesus?” All of the Christian charity offered by the church simply compelled the man to love the people who offered these things and perhaps it opened his curiosity as to why they loved him first. At some point he asked “why?” and then someone told him about Jesus.
Acts of service, Christian charity, do not extend the Good News, they extend me, which is of course a prerequisite to sharing the Good News. My obedience brings God’s glory upon me and it softens the hardest hearts so the soil is fertile and the seed will flourish (parable of the sower), but the acts of service are not the Good News itself. We do not hope in the gift but in the giver of the gift.
The 2nd half of the Greatest commandment, to “Love your neighbor as yourself,”(Matthew 22:36-40) does not complement the Great Commission so much as it gives credibility to the messenger of the Great Commission, which is of course the body of Christ, the church, you and me. It causes other people to compliment us so that we can in turn compliment Jesus who first loved us and in doing so we may earn the right to tell the person about Jesus’ love. Herein lies the our credibility. Why is this important? I like how S. Michael Craven puts it in his book Uncompromised Faith, published by NavPress, “When we approach such people with a gospel presentation apart from any relationship, they are immediately suspicious and will likely categorize our motives as being merely self-motivated.” Love is our credibility; the Gospel is Christ’s witness to the Father which is now our witness to the Son.
Here is how it all works
Jesus loves me. Salvation
I love Jesus. Discipleship and unity with Jesus
I love others. A working out of my salvation and obedience to the commandments of Christ
Others love me. Community (but not fellowship as fellowship requires the Holy Spirit in both persons in the community)
I love Jesus. Deflection of the praise of man to the only one worthy of praise (witnessing)
I tell others about Jesus Evangelism and/or Discipleship (where does one end and the other begin?)
Others love Jesus. Salvation (the fruit and purpose of the Good News of the Gospel)
There is a segment of the church that raises “good works” to be on par with the Great Commission, but there is not scriptural foundation for the supposed equality of energy and effort. There is a similar challenge in the church in Corinth that Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians 12. While addressing a church that was feigning enthusiasm for Jesus while idolizing the gift of speaking in tongue, Paul offers a list of spiritual gifts. He explains that the list of gifts given to the church are presented in the order of better (apostles) to lesser (speaking in tongues), but they are all spiritual gifts and are all to be part of the expression of the church. His caution to the church in that they should not consider speaking in tongues as something more than it is, but they should pray for what is better.
1 Corinthian 12:28-31:
And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues. Are all apostles? Are all prophets? Are all teachers? Do all work miracles? Do all have gifts of healing? Do all speak in tongues? Do all interpret? Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.
Let’s all please recognize that every gift of the Holy Spirit is good (1 Corinthians 12:7-11) and that the Holy Spirit gives what he gives to whom he will give it. This is a list that emphasizes good and better, not right and wrong. Paul clearly states priority with his words, first, second, third, and then. He continues by asking a rhetorical question to drive home the point that he wants the congregation to embrace, that not all people have all gifts. All are gifts. All are good. All are from the Holy Spirit, But desire the greater ones. What are the greater ones?
- Apostleship, being a messenger of Christ is the first, highest, most important spiritual gift given to the church, it is the primary role of the Holy Spirit, pointing people to Jesus who points people to the Father,
- Second is being a prophet, speaking on behalf of God, commonly in clarifying the truths of God (forth-telling) and occasionally in telling the future (foretelling),
- Third is teaching, teach about Jesus, about the nation of Israel, of how to pursue godliness, of the meaning of scripture, of God’s grace, his love, his closeness, his death on a cross, his indwelling of each believer….
My observation is that there is a clear primacy in the speaking of words when sharing the Good News otherwise we would not have been given a list where the greater gifts are focused on speaking. Lest ye consider this text to be perhaps out of context, consider Paul’s teaching in his letter to the Romans, 10:8-17 (my emphasis in the passage below):
And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. As the Scriptures tell us, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be disgraced.” Jew and Gentile are the same in this respect. They have the same Lord, who gives generously to all who call on him. For “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
But how can they call on him to save them unless they believe in him? And how can they believe in him if they have never heard about him? And how can they hear about him unless someone tells them? And how will anyone go and tell them without being sent? That is why the Scriptures say, “How beautiful are the feet of messengers who bring good news!”
But not everyone welcomes the Good News, for Isaiah the prophet said, “Lord, who has believed our message? So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.
I confess to you all, that it is easy for me to do good works because no one is going to rebuke, mock or condemn me for doing good works. But to share the name of Jesus, which is divisive, (John 15:18) well I am not sure I want to do that. I have never “lead a person to Christ” or “prayed the sinner’s prayer” with someone, but today I must, we must, be bold and willing.
This is the great abdication of the church today: we have given up our responsibility to introduce others to Jesus. We hope that they will read a book, hear a sermon, be convicted by the Holy Spirit, anything but doing what Jesus commanded when he commissioned the church. We have listened to the lies and come to believe that good works is witnessing, that serving is evangelizing, and that allowing our own morality to be seen by others is the same as sharing the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection and the assurance of salvation and forgiveness that He offers. We pat ourselves on the back because we embrace the lesser gifts while hoping that Paul will not tell us that there are greater gifts to be had and that we should desire them.
Still, I am the most culpable of us all and if not for the grace of God, I would be discouraged. But I have hope because I am not responsible to redeem the world; God has already promised that he is doing that. Yet, I must embrace my commission by the one who sends me to go and make disciples, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything that Jesus has commanded, (Mathew 28:18-20). Will you help me to do this? Will you tell her about Jesus? How do you respond? What will you say?