By Ken Baker
(Editor’s note: This is the 7th in a 9-part series on The Fruit of the Spirit & Evangelism, based on Galatians 5:22-23.)
If you are like me, you don’t like telemarketing calls. I know the routine—the caller has a prescribed script with an agenda and I just happen to be the next number on the list. To be honest, I want to immediately hang up. However, to avoid guilt at being so rude, I usually stay on the line…and succumb to a stream of information while trying to get a word in edgeways.
Is this how we are in our evangelistic opportunities, bombarding the next person on our list with a cascade of words and arguments? I’m afraid that far too often we are so intent on our agenda and script that we don’t stop, listen, and love.
Consider the ministry of Paul and the example of his approach among the Thessalonians. In Paul’s ministry, there was always a balance between clear truth and loving gentleness. For Paul, there was “no flattery” and “no pretext” (1 Thess. 2:5-6). When we represent Christ to others, if we begin with an angle, we demonstrate that what we have to say is more important than what the other has to say. This is because in order to maintain our agenda we must be constantly planning our next comment rather than listening. This is far from gentle, and in fact borders on abusive.
Continuing on, Paul raises the image of gentle intimacy within a loving family to describe his relationship with the Thessalonians (1 Thess. 2:7-8), beginning with the illustration of a nursing mother…and what picture of affectionate gentleness can top that? Paul and his companions were so “affectionately desirous of them” that the Thessalonians themselves were their agenda…not just the gospel. Having painted the image of a mother’s love, Paul then addresses them as “brothers and sisters” who were witnesses of their faithful dedication toward these new believers (v. 9). Finally, Paul caps off this familial picture by assuming the role of a father “encouraging, comforting and urging” the believers “to live lives worthy of God” (vv. 11-12).
Following Paul’s example, as we engage people in our multicultural world, let’s remember they are not merely objects of our projects or evangelistic targets. They are neighbors whom we are to love with abiding gentleness.
Ken Baker (@KenJBaker) is director of Culture ConneXions (SIM), an adjunct professor of cross-cultural ministry at Southern Evangelical Seminary and Bible College, and currently teaching missiology at the Institut Missiologique du Sahel, in Burkina Faso.