Over the last week, I’ve read a lot about Rob Bell’s new book. This post isn’t about that. This post, ultimately, isn’t about people’s responses to what they’ve read or seen about about the book, or even about my response to them. Reading comments on an article about the book, however, is the thing that got me thinking. One of the comments I read said the following:

With all due respect, what is the most loving thing one can do for another? The most loving thing we can do is tell another about the most loving thing anyone has ever done… Christ’s death on our behalf (plethora of Scriptural references follow.)

Now as I read that, I wasn’t really surprised. It’s something I’ve basically heard my entire life. I’ve probably said something very similar at different points in my life. But as I read it in that context, it made me stop dead in my tracks. Perhaps it was the writer’s use of the descriptor “most”. Is the act of telling another person the story of Jesus the most loving thing we can do. That is, is the act of sharing certain information with other people actually what constitutes love?

I’ve been wrestling with this idea the last few days. I genuinely do think that the act of telling, sharing is implicit in how the Gospel spreads. Humans are verbal creatures, and every human culture has storytellers. It’s in our DNA to share stories with each other. My question is, though, does the Gospel go beyond the act of simply transmitting information?

The conclusion I’ve come to is that, yes, it must. If we are simply telling people they are sinners in need of a savior, but refuse to engage in actual, tangible things that demonstrate love to people, do we love them? A number of years ago, the book The Five Love Languages was all the rage (I believe it still sells quite well). In the book, Gary Chapman lays out the simple proposition that there are five ways in which people give and receive love – words of affirmation, quality time, receiving gifts, acts of service, and physical touch. Now the book itself is geared more towards marriage relationships, but as I think of the relationships I have with friends in my life, and I realize that the same principles can apply in just about any relationship.

The thing that I notice about all of them is that they truly cost something for the one attempting to show love to the other person. It takes effort to encourage someone. It is difficult to spend quality time with someone when I have a busy schedule to worry about. The list goes on. Love isn’t the easy thing. A lot of the time it’s the thing I’d rather not do. I would rather stay at home and watch the game on Saturday rather than help a single mom move into a new apartment. I’d rather go to the pub with my friends rather than volunteer to tutor the kids for the single father.

So as far as what is the “most loving” thing to do, I guess I come down to the answer that there simply isn’t a simply answer. What is most loving to my neighbor depends on my neighbor’s needs, and it depends on me being open to pour myself out. I tend to think that simply sharing information about Jesus, as important as that is, is often seen by those we are trying to share with as the easy way out – drive-by evangelism in a drive-thru world. The Gospel becomes simply another sales pitch, and we become little more than the salesman at Best Buy trying to sell an extended warranty.

This, of course, isn’t a new problem. Saying one thing and doing another is part of the human condition. The truth that Christ brought when He came is that He didn’t simply say He loved humanity. He demonstrated through His miraculous works, His tender compassion, and ultimately through His death on the cross. The question is will we truly follow Christ. Are we willing to take up our crosses for the sake of those who need to be loved? Or will we be content to simply think that sharing information with people is enough.

My dear children, let’s not just talk about love; let’s practice real love. This is the only way we’ll know we’re living truly, living in God’s reality. It’s also the way to shut down debilitating self-criticism, even when there is something to it. For God is greater than our worried hearts and knows more about us than we do ourselves.

1 John 3:18-20

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This entry was posted on Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011 at 11:10 am and is filed under Blogging, Christian Living, Church and Society, Evangelism, Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.
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28 Comments(+Add)

1   Nathanael    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 11:59 am

Well said, brother. Well said.

What is most loving to my neighbor depends on my neighbor’s needs, and it depends on me being open to pour myself out.

This takes discernment and a willingness to die to myself.
Lord help.

2   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 12:02 pm

But hath in due times manifested his word through preaching, which is committed unto me according to the commandment of God our Saviour;

For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.

Which works of love did Peter do to the listeners in Acts 2? You have presented a false dichotomy.

3   Nathanael    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 12:09 pm

Rick, maybe you missed this sentence in the fourth paragraph of the OP, “I genuinely do think that the act of telling, sharing is implicit in how the Gospel spreads.”

4   Nathanael    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 12:12 pm

It’s not a false dichotomy to encourage believers to live out the good news. It’s just not.

5   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 12:44 pm

Faith comes by hearing. If the OP was to suggest we do the works of Jesus as support and to authenticate our words then I cannot remember anyone disagreeing with that.

But the second greatest act of love is to share the gospel. The greatest act of love was the gospel.

6   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 12:56 pm

If a believer shows compassion to a lost person who is terminally ill, and he sacrificially takes care of him for 5 long years before he dies, but never shares the gospel with him – does he love him with the love of Christ?

No, absolutely not.

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

7   Tim    
March 2nd, 2011 at 2:05 pm

Greater love has no man than this: that he would talk to his friends.

8   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 2:29 pm

#7 – I could be wrong, but I believe God was pointing to the cross. Afterward Jesus told us to preach the gospel to every creature.

9   Nathanael    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 2:33 pm

Rick,
The OP does not deny the need for preaching. You are the one who’s created this dichotomy.

10   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 3:02 pm

” My question is, though, does the Gospel go beyond the act of simply transmitting information?”

No. The gospel is cklearly defined in the Scriptures. The acts of a gosple believer are different than the gospel.

11   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
March 2nd, 2011 at 3:47 pm

I think the tone of the op tends to downplaying, though not discounting, the power and necessity of proclaiming Christ.

The best example of both message and practice I have recently seen is in the film “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry”. Well worth the watch.

The two, proclamation and demonstration, should not be separated much less pitted against each other.

12   Paul C    http://www.themidnightcry.com
March 2nd, 2011 at 4:00 pm

‘the scriptural maxim, that “the wrath of Man worketh not the righteousness of God,” is verified by daily observation. If our zeal is embittered by expressions of anger, invective, or scorn, we may think we are doing service to the cause of truth, when in reality we shall only bring it to discredit.’

-John Newton

13   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 4:15 pm

Like wrapping a present, our works should showcase the present (gospel). Works without the gospel are just wrapping without the present.

14   Nathanael    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 4:33 pm

Rick, would you deny that there is a large percentage of Christians (I’m in that percentage) who would rather just tell someone they need Jesus and go on their merry way than to invest time and energy into that person so that we can present the good news to them in a way that reveals our love for them, not just for a notch on my gunstock?

Sorry for the long sentence. :)

15   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 5:18 pm

#14 – I agree completely, including many times myself.

16   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 5:32 pm

But, Nathanael, would you deny that thetre is a large percentage of Christians who do good and polite and even humanitarian things to people who never share the gospel and the saving Person of Christ with those same people?

In our house, my sons and I are discipling people we have had the privilege to lead to Christ, and we do continual good works toward a score of people who are lost. But we still are unprofitable servants.

17   Nathanael    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Of course I would agree. But to my reading, this OP was not suggesting such behavior.

18   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 5:48 pm

The the OP was confusing to me personally. The primacy of sharing the gospel through words must be maintained, even when we chasten ourselves and others for carelessly neglecting people’s other needs and feeling self righteous because we have shared the gospel.

19   Nathanael    http://www.borrowedbreath.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 5:50 pm

Even a mind like a steel trap, when left in the rain, will rust. ;)

I found the OP to be challenging and encouraging.

20   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 5:58 pm

I am rust. :)

21   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
March 2nd, 2011 at 7:39 pm

The transmittance of the gospel is more than simply the telling of a truth. It’s more than simply stating the proposition. The concept that the ideas or abstract thought can be transmitted independently from the medium that is carrying them is a thoroughly modern notion. If spreading the good news was simply a matter of proclaiming the story, the church should simply invest in a bunch of satellites and start beaming away. Why send missionaries into places where their lives are in harm’s way if all that matters is people hearing the information that is transmitted.

The gospel is and always has been an embodied (or perhaps incarnated is better word) message. The actual people delivering the message and the lives they live matter.

As I said in the OP, the word that got me start was the commenters use of the word “most”. I don’t believe that simply telling someone about Jesus is the most loving thing we can do. I believe being Jesus to someone is the most loving thing we can do.

22   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
March 2nd, 2011 at 7:45 pm

Btw, I just saw this article over at the iMonk site, and it is touching on some of the same themes I was trying to get at. Chaplain Mike does a much better job with the subject, but I like this line from Eugene Peterson:

“Preaching is proclamation, God’s word revealed in Jesus, but only when it gets embedded in conversation, in a listening ear and responding tongue, does it become gospel.”

23   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 7:50 pm

Many people have come to faith by the written Scriptures, by books, by an adulterous preacher, and tracts. It certainly is desirable for the “medium” to be an expression of Jesus, however the gospel is the gospel regardless of how it isw shared.

The good news is just that.

24   Phil Miller    http://pmwords.blogspot.com
March 2nd, 2011 at 8:06 pm

In the simplest of terms, yes, the gospel, or the “evangelon” does mean “good news”. But think about how news was spread in the ancient world. News was spread by messengers of various sorts. Even letters would have had to be hand delivered. It required messengers who had proven themselves trustworthy to deliver the message and who could clearly communicate with those they needed to.

Just do a quick word search of the word “gospel” and see how many times it’s talked about in the context of being sent with specific people or groups. It’s a very hands-on endeavor. What I’m responding to is the idea that the gospel is simply no more than words, and that most loving thing a Christian can do is speak these words to someone. If we truly take that stance, we simply become purveyors of drive-by evangelism. Even if we believe that we are being loving by doing such, it’s doubtful that those on the other end are receiving such actions as love.

25   Jerry    http://www.jerryhillyer.com
March 2nd, 2011 at 8:22 pm

Thanks for the article Phil. You have given me a lot to think about tonight.

26   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
March 2nd, 2011 at 9:49 pm

#24 – I believe I have come a little further in my understanding of your words. In the words of the Navi:

“I see you”. :)

27   Rick Frueh    http://judahslion.blogspot.com/
March 3rd, 2011 at 2:35 pm

I am trying to see all of you.

28   Len    
March 4th, 2011 at 3:43 pm

Great thoughts friends! Apart from Christ’s own words, one of my favorite verses that express “love” was Paul’s words in Romans 9:3-4 when he said, “For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel.” Would i be willing to become absorb a curse so that others might live? Jesus did.