Someone recently gave me a book titled Stop Witnessing and Start Loving. I don’t think the author intended to discourage Christians from being witnesses, but the title reinforces a devastating error by implying that loving and witnessing are not only separate, but mutually exclusive activities. In fact, the opposite is true. If you love someone, you will be a witness to help that person see the case for Jesus. And if you want to witness to someone, a crucial ingredient is love. To love without witnessing or to witness without love is to miss the point of both.
I can’t begin to count the Christians who have told me that they have Jewish friends and who, when asked if they have had a chance to share Christ, confide (often in hushed tones as though the Jewish friends might actually hear) that they are just loving” them. But what kind of love is afraid to offer the greatest gift possible? Yet many Christians act as if it is possible to love someone and yet never speak of the Savior.
It is easy to mistake mere sentimentality for genuine love. The worldly perspective of love often amounts to infatuation. Infatuation frequently idealizes or romanticizes its object, so that people “love” their own perceptions more than they do the actual people. Thus infatuation can quickly turn to disappointment and bitterness in the face of reality. Infatuation is about feelings, and particularly how others make us feel.
The love that God calls us to is very different. His kind of love costs dearly. It is not predicated on how the beloved responds. And it points beyond itself, to God. God gave us a clear demonstration of that kind of love in the person of Jesus.
Many Christians act as if it is possible to love someone and yet never speak of the Savior
God’s love certainly includes acts of kindness but is most truly measured by the sacrifice He was willing to make on behalf of His beloved. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…” (John 3:16a). Godly love is costly to the one who loves and redemptive to the one who is loved.
It is easy to identify that cost with money, and thus many consider mercy ministries (those who give money or other material things to the poor) the most obvious form of love. After all, the Bible says, “But whoever has this world’s goods, and sees his brother in need, and shuts up his heart from him, how does the love of God abide in him? My little children, let us not love in word or in tongue, but in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:17-18).
When we give money to help feed and clothe the poor we feel good about the gift and we feel good about ourselves. We feel confident that our gift will be received and appreciated. This kind of giving can certainly be a genuine act of love, but it is not as costly as the love that sent Jesus to the cross. And that is the context for this: “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross exemplifies love—not just in word or tongue, but in deed and truth. Some Christians mis-read that passage to discount word or speech as a means to express love. But the real point is to discount anything that falls short of truth, including words that are contradicted by our deeds or lack of deeds.
Frederick Buechner wrote, “The love for the less fortunate is a beautiful thing—a love for those who suffer, for those who are poor, the sick, the failures, the unlovely. This is compassion, and it touches the heart of the world.… And then there is the love for the enemy—love for the one who does not love you but mocks, threatens, and inflicts pain. The tortured’s love for the torturer—this is God’s love. It conquers the world.” (The Magnificent Defeat, by Frederick Buechner)
God’s love is measured not by how it is received, but by what it costs. How much are we willing to pay today to show God’s love to our Jewish friends?
In the past certain ministries to the Jewish people focused on providing relief for those who were poor and needy. In 19th century Europe, and in what was then called Palestine, now Israel, many Jewish people were in desperate straits. Some missionaries built hospitals to tend the sick; others established trade schools to educate and equip new Jewish immigrants. The hope was that Jewish people who benefited from this Christian aid would be more receptive to the gospel. Often such aid was predicated on the Jewish person being willing to attend an evangelistic service.
Some actually did receive the Lord in this way—but these gestures were viewed with grave suspicion by Jewish community leaders. Threats were issued against those who might be tempted to avail themselves of this Christian largess. Those who ignored the threats were often excommunicated, even physically harmed, regardless of their resistance to the Christian gospel.
The Jewish community has changed, yet it remains much the same. For the most part, Jews don’t need medical help from Christians. Many of the finest doctors and hospitals in the world are Jewish. In most countries, Jews have been able to secure a reasonably comfortable level of economic success. Christian organizations that do offer financial aid to less fortunate Jewish people in Israel or the former Soviet Union are viewed by the Jewish community as covert efforts to convert Jews.
Ironically, most of these “mercy ministries” to the Jewish people do not present the gospel as part of their ministry. In an attempt to allay suspicion, many are quite clear that they won’t witness about their faith at all. Many Christians who support these organizations are unaware of this. Others know, but hope that their good deeds will win people’s trust and acceptance and that maybe that trust and acceptance will ultimately extend to Jesus. One person put it to me this way: “Jesus said ‘men will see your good works and glorify your Father who is in heaven.’ If we do good works for the Jewish people they will accept us into the community, which will then pave the way for them to accept Yeshua (Jesus), too.” I am afraid this brother is gravely mistaken, as are so many who believe that doing good works is the means of opening people’s hearts to the gospel. The notion that if we can draw people to ourselves we can eventually draw them to Christ is backwards thinking. It is certainly not biblical evangelism. It is not the loving thing.
The best picture of genuine love is that of Jesus with His arms stretched wide open on the cross. The caption reads, “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” If we are to emulate that love we will have to do more than write a check to our favorite charity. We will have to risk our friendships and our reputation. We will risk being rejected by some, so that Jesus may be accepted by others.
The most loving thing we can do is to point people to the cross, or as Dr. Dan Allender wrote in his book, Bold Love:”…courageously setting aside our personal agenda to move humbly into the world of others with their well-being in view, willing to risk further pain in our souls in order to be an aroma of life to some and an aroma of death to others.”
May God give us the courage to do the truly loving thing.