|Vol. 13 No. 9 September 2011||
Ernest S. Underwood
Sometimes ideas for my articles originate at rather odd places, not always as one is bent over his desk with his open Bible. Not long ago, I was having a cup of coffee with a good friend. As usual, our conversation turned to spiritual matters. As we were discussing why some folks hear the truth but never seem to understand it or obey it, he made the observation that the truth had never reached their hearts. I believe that he hit the nail on the head. Too many, and one is too many, are like those in the Parable of the Sower. They hear the Word, but before it can reach the heart and lodge therein, the devil steals it away. Take this little test: When you hear someone teaching biblical truth about the one church, does it reach your heart and make you want to be a member of that church, or do you just push it aside by saying that one church is as good as another? Again, when you read, “Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins…” do you let this truth sink into your heart and bring forth fruit? Then, when you read: “God is Spirit, and those who worship Him must worship Him in spirit and in truth” do you listen, or do you say that it doesn’t matter how one worships?
Friend, is God’s Word penetrating your heart?
After graduating from preaching school, a preacher friend of mine located at a small congregation in hopes of building it up. The previous minister still worshipped there, and one day as he was showing the new minister around, he gave him a piece of “advice.” “Do not knock on the doors of those who were lower class, but focus on the people with nicer homes in wealthier neighborhoods who would be able to give more money to the church.” Needless to say, the plan did not work.
In recognizing those who showed the greatest interest in Jesus, Phillip Yancey, in his book The Jesus I Never Knew, makes the following observation: “The more unsavory the characters, the more at ease they seemed to feel around Jesus. People like these found Jesus appealing: a Samaritan social outcast, a military officer of the tyrant Herod, a quisling tax collector, a recent hostess to seven demons… In contrast, Jesus got a chilly response from more respectable types. Pious Pharisees thought Him uncouth and worldly, a rich young ruler walked away shaking his head, and even the open-minded Nicodemus sought a meeting under the cover of darkness.” (Yancey, p. 147) Yancey rightly notes further that circumstances are the opposite today. Churches can be unfriendly, unkind and uninterested in to the souls of alcoholics, drug addicts, prostitutes, criminals, the homeless, outcasts and even the poor. Consider the following brief points that can help us to be more like Jesus in reaching out to the lost both in the worship assembly and outside the meetinghouse.
1. Be friendly, welcoming and humble. Because of his appearance, social and economic status, the visiting poor man was mistreated by the church in the worship assembly (James 2:1-3), while the rich man was treated as one ought to be treated, but for the wrong motives. Regardless of one’s career, lifestyle, race, gender, age, social, economic or political status, Jesus was a friend to sinners.
2. Express to them the hope of change for a better life in Christ. Some people stoop so low in a sinful lifestyle that they actually lose all hope for a better life. Remember that (a) It is the person who realizes he is spiritually sick that the great Physician came to heal (Matthew 9:12); (b) the person who realizes he is spiritually poor will do something about his circumstances (Matthew 5:3), and (c) the sinner who mourns over his sins will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).
3. Reveal to them the God whose love is unconditional and is willing to forgive anyone and any sin. Some may think their sins are so bad that God could not forgive them for what they have done. Keep in mind that even the individuals who wrongfully arrested Him, told lies about Him, twisted His words, mocked Him, spit on Him, beat Him and derided Him while on the cross, still witnessed a love and willingness to be forgiven when Jesus said “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).
4. Be patient and encouraging. Everyone starts his journey of faith somewhere. Change does not occur overnight. Relapse can occur, and discouragement may lead to backsliding. Instead of scorn and ill-willed criticism, mature Christians cannot tolerate sin, but ought to be gentle in correcting sin (Galatians 6:1-2) and patient (1 Thessalonians 5:14; Matthew 7:12). Let us not lose sight that love is patient, kind, does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth and it bears, believes, hopes and endures all things (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).