Some say that the way to win people to the Lord is to "love them to Jesus." I don’t like being aggressive. I like behaving toward others in a way that will help them like me. I would rather love people than shove them. (Of course, no one ever shoves anyone to Jesus. That shove—or gentler nudge, as the case may be—can only come from the moving of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life.) Yet something is dramatically wrong with the "love them to Jesus" approach to evangelism.
The problem is human nature. We humans just don’t do things as well as God does. In his absolute ability to express his love for the world, God sent Jesus to die on the cross. Certainly God is more competent than I—and if God’s supreme act of love does not move some people toward him, how can my puny affection succeed?
True love—God’s agape love—contains no ulterior motives and no hidden agendas. It is not a means to an end, but an end in itself. It is a goal we believers try to achieve as we follow the perfect example of God’s love, but of ourselves we can only love imperfectly at best.
We can love naturally. Parents love their children. Children, if they are treated properly and disciplined properly, usually love their parents. It happens not because the parents punish the children into loving them, but because the children have learned to trust the parents. In the love of a parent for a child, the child’s very helplessness and dependence evoke feelings of love. Then the child’s need and respect for parental strength and providership become the basis of love and affection. Love is simple, yet complex.
We don’t love people to anything, we don’t love people for anything and love has no "because" (except possibly as a response). I think the scripture that says "we love him because he first loved us" reflects on the fact that we love God because by loving us he showed us how to love.
I don’t want people to love me for a reason. If people ever loved me because I was young, thin and good-looking, I would be utterly unloved by now. If people loved me because I was kind, I’d have a terrible time. Inhibitions about possibly speaking an unkind word would bring me to an absolute standstill.
Some Christians are like that. They walk too softly, as though the road to heaven were paved with eggs and if they broke one, they would have to turn around and go in the other direction. They mean well, but they let their doubts and fears freeze them into inaction.
That’s just what the devil likes. Some say they do not believe in Satan, or at least he’s not very real to them. I say that if you really tried to serve God with your whole heart, you would soon find Satan coming alongside as though he were God’s helper and yours. He would not reveal the ghastly evil of his intent. He would encourage you to move forward, but at the same time speak a "word of caution" and a "word of wisdom" to slow you down and eventually paralyze you into doing nothing.
For example, if you started to think about generous church giving or tithing, along would come Satan with something like, "Yes, you certainly should give more—just as soon as you pay off some bills and set aside a few thousand dollars for your children’s college fund."
Or if you thought about telling your unbelieving neighbors about Jesus and felt guilty because you had not done it yet, Satan might say, "Yes, it’s terrible. They could die and go into a Christless eternity and it would be your fault. You definitely should tell your neighbors about Jesus—but remember the time you quarreled with the mailman and they saw it? Remember when you yelled at your kids and they heard? Let a little time pass until they forget. Besides, they might raise some difficult questions, so why don’t you memorize 500 Bible verses and read several books on apologetics before you try to witness to them?"
Satan never tells us directly not to serve God. He merely suggests that we are inadequate and will probably fail if we move ahead. He also devises hooks that turn our good intentions into something other than what we had planned. Frequently Satan uses "buzz words" to prevent our effectiveness. We seem to like these euphemisms, and with something as important as love, you might guess we would develop many. One much used phrase is "cheap love." I don’t know exactly what that means, but surely it is not love, because there is nothing cheap about love. True love always costs something. It demands that we give ourselves, no matter what we get or do not get in return.
Another popular euphemism is "unconditional love," meaning to love someone no matter how he or she behaves toward you. We might define it as "love irrespective of the beloved’s response," which is the way God loves and most parents love. It is the giving of oneself no matter how that love is received.
Other than that, love always has its conditions. Love in itself is perceived as being demanding, even though the lover makes no demands. Love makes a claim on the beloved. It invests care in the beloved. It works to the benefit of the beloved. By its very nature love is relentless. We cannot help but feel obligated to those who love us. We want to respond to their love.
Unfortunately, many do not want to accept the obligations of an appropriate response to love. Love is usually conditional because it requires attention and care. It puts conditions upon the lover. Like most euphemisms, "unconditional love" does not mean quite what we want it to mean.
In this romantic age we talk of "falling in love"—as though by mere happenstance we stumbled into this bottomless pit called love and were absolutely helpless to do anything but love. I say we can fall into lust, but not into love. We can desire to possess, because that is the true nature of lust, but the true nature of love is the desire to give, not to get. True love produces a desire to attend, not to gain the attention of another. It makes us care irrespective of whether or not our beloved cares for us.
The question then arises, "How do we love?" God gave us an imperative. Old Testament Scripture says, "Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, with all thy soul, and with all thy might." The New Testament says, "Love one another." If God commands us to do something, it certainly must be possible to do it through exercising the will.
But the questions remain: how do we do the thing called "love," and how do we learn to do it? As already mentioned, God provided the example of real love by giving himself in the person of Jesus Christ to be our Savior. To love is to give. To love is to make oneself vulnerable. To love is to endure pain for another. To love is to yield up safety and security and to endure hardship to express it.
We learn to love by taking risks. We extend ourselves to people who might not love us. We give to those who may never give back. We extend care and concern where there seems no possibility of reciprocation. We reach out and make ourselves vulnerable. We endure. We take pain upon ourselves and keep on reaching.
People talk about a loving witness in evangelism. That’s good. I believe that we should extend friendship and affection at the same time we extend the gospel message. But stop and think. Just giving another person the gospel—with or without friendship and affection—is the most loving thing we can do! That is love in action because it involves taking a risk. It puts our personal acceptance in jeopardy for the better good of someone’s spiritual welfare.
Next to what God did in giving his only Son, giving out the gospel regardless of what the hearer may think of us is the most loving thing I know how to do! It is not easy, but it is the backbone of our Jews for Jesus ministry. It’s almost time for another Jews for Jesus Summer Witnessing Campaign. For us that is a major exercise in doing the most loving—and often the most difficult thing. We set aside personal comfort and dignity and go out on the streets to distribute gospel literature. It makes us totally vulnerable to hostile remarks and rejection—and even shoving and spitting—as we try to extend the news of God’s supreme love to the spiritually needy who work and live in New York City. In the days ahead our staff and volunteer workers who will be involved in this extensive outreach will need your support and prayers more than ever!