In 1 Corinthians 4, Paul encourages his fellows believers to stay the course, and lets them know that things are hard and will continue to be so, for those who follow Christ. In the last couple verses of Chapter 4, he lets them know that he is going to deal with the arrogance that is rising up in the church. He ends the chapter by asking them, “What do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit?” Paul then goes on in Chapter 5, “It is actually reported that there is sexually immorality among you…”
Now, put yourself in the place of the men reading the letter. They know what is going on. They knew immorality and arrogance was going on in that congregation. So, when Paul asks whether they’d like to be approached with a whip or a gentle, loving spirit, which do you think they preferred?
When I was in Jericho a couple of years ago –which for those of you who don’t know, Jericho is Palestinian territory, not Israeli—I met a lady who had a ministry to the Palestinian people. During our conversation, she told me some stories of ministries trying to reach out to the Muslims and how successful or unsuccessful they had been. The lady I met with has a ministry that feeds the people; she meets them where they are. She said, “Roy, ‘shall I come to you with a whip, or in love and with a gentle spirit’.”
That was the first time I had really put any thought into “how” I should respond to people who didn’t believe the way I do, especially those who have opposed Christianity for any length of time. I saw someone, in this lady in Jericho, who was living out Matthew 5:16, “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” I began to understand that we are to love people first, and out of that love, we will be in a position to allow the Holy Spirit to minister to them.
If you look back through the Bible, God always had compassion on people, even when –or especially when— we didn’t deserve it. For example:
- Noah: When God sent the flood to destroy the world, He did so out of pain, and only because He had to. “The LORD was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain.” (Genesis 6:6)
- Sodom and Gomorrah Destroyed: Read this story in Genesis and you’ll find nothing but a loving God who showed mercy time and time again to an entire city that didn’t deserve it. Abraham actually negotiated with God to save the city if 10 people could be found that were righteous. And in the end, only three made it out alive.
- Moses: Just the fact that God gave the whiny, I’d-rather-be-a-slave-again, Israelites a chance to enter the promise land is compassion enough.
- Jonah: He was upset because God didn’t destroy Nineveh. In fact, the reason he fled to Tarshish to begin with was because he knew God would have mercy on them. “That is why I was so quick to flee to Tarshish. I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abounding in love, a God who relents from sending calamity.” (Jonah 4:1b)
- Jesus: One phrase should sum up His compassion, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Is it any wonder that those who are compassionate towards others, are the ones who have the most influence in people’s lives. When was the last time you responded kindly to someone yelling at you and telling you that what you were doing was wrong and ignorant? Then why do we, at least some of us, think that sharing our faith with others is any different?
It is out of love that we have the ability to share our faith with others. When Hindus or Muslims or Atheists or Mormons or (fill in the blank) see the love of Christ in us, we will be in a position to share our faith with them. But that opportunity comes out of a relationship we build. We must first love people because they are people, and for no other reason. False sincerity or compassion is easy to spot. If we aren’t genuinely interested in others, it will be obvious.
We must make sure that we talk with people, whether or not they are Christian, in love and with a gentle spirit.