ANDALUSIA, Alabama, February 24, 2014 – One of the major purposes of a Christian’s life – some would argue the most important – is to go out into the world and win souls for God, to bring people to Christ. As a matter of fact, it’s the last thing Jesus said to his disciples after the resurrection, just before he disappeared into the clouds never to be seen again (well, so far anyway).
In the first chapter of Acts, Jesus’ last words are recorded as, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Immediately after that, he ascended, with not so much as a goodbye or further instructions.
This leaves us with a maddeningly simple command, but one that so many of us still manage to get wrong. In a nutshell, Jesus did not say, “Hey, stay home and tell only like-minded people about me.” No, he commanded us to go out into the world – to the ends of the earth – and tell people the Good News. The obvious implication here is that Jesus wanted everybody to come to Him, not just the ones who were raised up in church.
How exactly are we supposed to do that if we cannot even get past our own egos and fears enough to befriend people who aren’t like us? There are folks out there who won’t even socialize with people of different denominations, much less people of different faiths, or of no faith at all. It is astounding to think that that could even be true of someone who declares the Christian faith, but it happens all the time.
It does not take a rocket scientist to figure out that if you’re unwilling to even engage with people who are different from you in terms of faith and lifestyle, then your odds of fulfilling Christ’s last command on earth are pitiably low.
A reason for this kind of vexing refusal to go out and reach people of different mindsets and beliefs stems from the old “lie down with dogs, get up with fleas” mentality. And yes, there is biblical precedent for it. In both books of Corinthians, we are warned about yoking ourselves with unbelievers. We are told in several places, in both testaments, not to keep company with unbelievers, not to cast our pearls before swine, and things of that nature.
But – and this is a big but – when you look at those verses in their proper context, they are not at odds with Jesus’ final command.
The verses warning us about the company we keep are always presented either to audiences who were becoming corrupted by their associations, to people who were uniting themselves with the immoral and turning away from God as a result, or to people who had already tried in vain to bring unbelievers to Christ. Nowhere are we told not to engage with someone because they are different or because they challenge our convictions by not living or believing as God has commanded.
Jesus broke bread with tax collectors and sinners, and walked and talked with lepers and prostitutes. When questioned on it, he said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” If Jesus is setting the example, this would be a good approach to remember. The bottom line is, it does not weaken your convictions to love someone who doesn’t embody them. Truly, the opposite holds true. If you love and witness to people who embody the very opposite of what your faith stands for, it will indeed fortify those convictions.
The love is key, though. We know that our biggest commands are to love God and love our neighbor, and to go out and bring more hearts and minds to God. These commands cannot be separated. We have to find the balance between jumping headlong into the secular world and getting lost in all its corruption, and fearing that world’s challenges to our convictions so much that we don’t fulfill Jesus’ final command. And that balance comes from the other big command.
Love God and love each other, and the balance to help take on Jesus’ last charge is there.