A few weeks ago, I was chatting with Josh and a few other young teenagers at Church. I can’t remember exactly what we were talking about, but somehow or another I mentioned something that Francis of Assisi once said:
Preach the gospel at all times and if necessary, use words.
So how do we do that? A girl from Church wanted to know, if I ever went on a missions’ trip, how can I be a missionary, and not use words? Here’s my thoughts.
To start off: who are we? The Bible says that we are the light and salt of the world (Matthew 5:13-16). We are the lighthouse to a world groping around in the darkness being led around in circles by each other. We are the difference, the flavouring of the world. We are God’s ambassadors – people who don’t belong, but who go into another country bearing the mark of their own nationality, and giving a message to those in the other country (2 Corinthians 5:20) That is who we are. Essentially: missionaries. We don’t have to go into another country to tell others about Jesus, though. We can do that right here, right now, to those in our country, our town, our neighbourhood. I think it’s interesting that there were Colossians, Ephesians, and Corinthians (as people), who became Christians, and were sent letters on how to act IN Colossae, Ephesus, and Corinth! Not everyone is a Paul or a Barnabas, going into other countries to preach the gospel. Some people are called to do that, but the recipients of those letters were also exhorted to walk differently in their very own town, in their sphere of work, because light and salt is who they were, and they didn’t need to go anywhere to become it.
So how do God’s missionaries – his lighthouses, his saltshakers – live in their everyday life? Jesus promised his disciples that others would know who they were when they loved other people to the extent that Jesus loved us (John 13:34-35). Read that again. It’s the key to how we do everything. I read earlier this year that love is a verb – an action – and not something that gets dusty sitting on the shelf. Love is to be out there, in the world, getting dirty, getting hurt, getting killed. It’s not talking about Jesus: it’s doing Jesus.
What does Jesus do? He provides abundantly for our physical and spiritual needs. He gives us a second chance. He reminds us of truth. When he walked on earth, he took the time to teach his disciples. He lived with character. He tried to help the religious leaders see things the way they were meant to. He was willing to heal the rejected, outcasts and poorest of the poor. He took the time to go to Jairus’ house even after the little girl had died. He grieved with Mary and Martha, and he joined in with the festivities of the wedding. He worked hard. He struck up conversations with the weirdest groups of people. He happily went to a party full of tax collectors and prostitutes, the lowest of the low. He prayed for his disciples despite being tired. He commanded the demons to not tell the world who he was, not at that point. He died for all the people of the world. Basically, he lived and lives 1 Corinthians 13:4-9:
Jesus is patient and kind; he is content, humble, and polite. He doesn’t demand his way, and he doesn’t keep a record of others’ wrongs. He is sad about injustice, but rejoices with the truth. He protects others, believes in others, hopes for the best, and keeps going no matter what. Jesus – love – never fails.
1 John 3:18: let us not love with words or tongue, but in action and in truth. We do Jesus, we do missionary, when we get out there and live like Jesus lived. We do missionary when we don’t boast about our abilities but let others praise us. We do missionary when we work hard and don’t complain. When we hug a grieving person, when we cook a meal for a sick friend, when we take the initiative to wash the dishes, when we smile at a stranger, when we listen attentively with two ears and remember what they say, when we speak words that give energy and don’t gripe, when we rejoice and just have plain fun with others, when we obey our parents – whenever we obey what the Bible says to do, it’s love in action. It’s reflecting Jesus, who loves us immeasurably. Ultimately, God is about building relationships. Ultimately, relationships is how others will know that God loves us.
Francis of Assisi wasn’t saying we should go around hesitant to speak to anybody. His point was that loving others – one of the two greatest commandments – isn’t found in mere words. I don’t even think it’s found in Church programs, in the clothes we wear, or whether we have a fish sticker stuck to the back of our car. Preaching the gospel, and being a missionary, is about actively showing, actively doing, the love that Jesus showed to us.
PS: after you’ve read all that, go listen to Steven Curtis Chapman’s All About Love. Nomi and I have been bopping around to it the last couple of days and it sums all this up!