Have you ever heard another Christian insist: “I don’t care what other people think?” Perhaps you’ve exclaimed that yourself; I know I have, usually because of injured pride. The only trouble is, it can’t be true. If I have the heart of Christ; if the Holy Spirit lives in me, then His compassion and His empathy, not to mention His command, drive me to care. For if I truly did not care about others’ motivations or perspectives, how could I preach the gospel? Why would I?
The Lord directs us to be concerned about those around us and to engage in who they are. (Phil. 2:4) No one really wants to hear a message, let alone take it to heart and respond to it, if they don’t witness genuine concern and empathy. It’s pretty tough to be genuinely concerned with someone’s life if I don’t find out where they are physically, emotionally and spiritually. And I can’t truthfully grasp these if I don’t spend time with them, seeking out their heart and sharing mine.
Too often, it seems we in the Body forget that following Christ doesn’t just mean believing what He said about Himself; it also means literally following him–doing what He did. So, when we ponder what our personal ministry should look like, what our part to play may be in the Church, we need look no further than Jesus’ Himself as revealed in the written word of God. The truth is, God has already called each of us to a specific role, though its form may vary. (Eph. 4:10-13)
None of these callings can be fulfilled in a vacuum. What is it that our heavenly Father is concerned about? What is at the heart of the entire grand, unimaginably intricate design He has put in motion? Is it not the reconciliation with His people? Is it not redemption? And as His children are redeemed, we receive that same heart through the transforming presence of the Holy Spirit within, and His purpose becomes ours. “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Cor. 5:17-19) Therefore, if we are His, we can only fulfill this calling in one manner: we must enter into relationship with others. This is why Paul instructs us to engage with others in Philippians 2, as mentioned above. Without this step, the truth we hold in our hearts, our relationship with God and our freedom to come to His throne fearlessly because of His grace, will never be seen by a lost brother.
This empathy and interest in others must not be confused with agreement, collusion or even influence. Many a believer and local church have become embroiled and entangled by attempting to help their communities in this way, resulting in a loss of unity, relevance, sometimes even the collapse of the local church. It is confusing on the surface: how could compassion and reaching out to the world to share Christ result in this type of ineffective and damaging condition?
Understanding begins by observing the mysterious paired command of being separate from the world (2 Cor. 6:14-15) yet pleading with those in it, through relationship, to be saved from the coming despair. Sincere attempts to accomplish this can end with no result or worse. Why? Partly because the warning of the Lord in Matthew 7:6 has gone unheeded: “Do not give dogs what is sacred; do not throw your pearls to pigs. If you do, they may trample them under their feet, and then turn and tear you to pieces.” This is the delicate and byzantine nature of ministering to lost hearts–how to empathize, help, encourage and witness to Christ without being re-absorbed by the world. Damage and confusion also arise from what I’ll call “attempting to fulfill God’s plan better than He can.” The temptation to do work for the Lord in our own way, though paradoxical, can feel irresistable. I'm convinced it is a common and painful stumbling stone that the Father frequently employs to humble us.
So what is the solution? How can we satisfy the calling in our hearts to spread the gospel without becoming corrupted or ineffectual? The answer is simple, familiar, yet extremely difficult to keep hold of. We must do what Jesus did. We must also, however, “unpack” what that means; merely making the statement doesn’t really help. Examine the gospels. How did the Lord Himself interact with unbelievers, or as Dr. Del Tackett likes refer to them in The Truth Project, “outsiders?” Did Jesus ever, once, at any time, conceal the truth from them? Did He ever offer to change His message based on what they thought of Him, sort of a survey approach? Or did He simply offer them the whole of who He was, without deception, without manipulation? He knew the outcome belonged to the Father alone. Do we?
The nature of the truth is such that it has no dependency on perception. In other words, truth by nature can not be relative to individual perspective; however, understanding and action are. This is why so many in the world reject the concept of an “absolute truth,” since that is not the reality they feel and experience, and feelings and experience are paramount. In fact, you could say they are the world’s gods.
It is imperative the Body of Christ never succumbs to the temptation to ask the world why they don’t like us/believe us/want to come be with us. This trap snares many local churches today. Acting on this temptation is borne of the decision to work for the Lord on our own terms, resulting in the chaotic mess described earlier. We must not forget who has called us higher; who has called us to be ambassadors of reconciliation. (2 Cor. 5:18-19)
God knows the hearts of all those in the world whom He has called. He knows their sorrows, their fears, their circumstances and situations; and He knows what they need in order to hear the call. We don’t. That is why it is so critical to follow His lead and not our own personal proclivities. That is why judging by and making decisions based on what the world says they want is foolish and extremely perilous for the Church. The world’s wisdom and insight are deeply flawed; why would we choose to listen to it over the simple guidance of the Father provided in His word? (Prov. 14:6-8, Jer. 10:8, 1 Cor. 1:18-19)
This is what it means to follow our Lord Jesus Christ–so much more than just believing what He did, it is believing who He was and doing what He did. And we must do what He did as guided by prayer, the Holy Spirit, and His word, not according to hearsay or the preferences of a world seeking teachers to scratch their itch, as it were. It is not merely action which is required for the Body to be effective in ministry, but emulation of Jesus Christ. So, do I care about what others think? You bet I do! I just won’t let it prevent me from doing what I know is right. I won’t let the world’s intuitively-attractive, acerbic counsel borne of a convicted heart persuade me that its way is better than the way of truth and life; the Way Himself.
“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.” – 2 Timothy 4:1-5
Scripture Taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION
Copyright (c) 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society.
Read more articles by Jeffrey Snell or search for articles on the same topic or others.