August/September 2014 - Vol. 75
Person to Person: A practical approach to effective evangelism

DSO volunteers helping neighbors clean-up backyard in Detroit

Presenting the Gospel with Love in Action
by Jim Berlucchi

I grew up and went to university during the peace movement in America during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It was fueled to a large degree by the Vietnam war. Many young people simplified and sentimentalized the notion of peace. The Beatles, for instance, made a lot of money on a song whose main message was “all we are saying is give peace a chance.” Shortly afterward they broke up, the result of some irreconcilable differences.

The peace movement was strongest on university campuses. Many students were socially conscious and idealistic, determined to change the world they lived in. Lambasting the greed and tyranny which characterized the “capitalist system,” thousands of strident, naïve student protesters vowed to shape a brave new world.

I remember joining the volunteer staff of a student newspaper on campus in my effort to change society. I was enthralled to be in the company of young, bright, selfless idealists working unitedly against the ills of the world.

Within a short time, however, I was unnerved by what I saw in these selfless idealists. Jealousy and backbiting were common among various editors. Many of the staff seemed to have fragile and inflated egos. Arguments flared quite easily, gossip was common, selfishness rampant. My bubble began to contort – then it burst. The very problems we were seeking to solve worldwide flourished in our midst! How empty all the words and editorials about greed and injustice seemed to me, as I considered the vivid testimony of our own lives.

Soured and sobered by this experience, I was motivated to look to elsewhere for the answers to these very basic human problems. Even my untrained eye could see that the validity of one’s message is best judged by the witness of one’s life. Talk is cheap by action costly.

Just as the obvious selfishness of many of my idealistic colleagues quenched my zeal for the peace movement, the actions of some Christians arrested my attention.

I was impressed by the thoughtfulness and concern that was regularly demonstrated by members of a local Christian group. One young man whom I had just met invited me over to his apartment for a fine meal and gracious hospitality. Another Christian acquaintance volunteered to type a paper for me during a time when I was particularly busy. These actions, plus many more, were instrumental in a spiritual change that began to take place in my life. I am certain many have been drawn into a new or fuller Christian life, largely by the loving actions of other Christians toward them. Conversely, many have not been won, because they have yet to personally experience real Christian love.

This principle of love is broadly recognized as an important tool of persuasion. To a significant degree, the membership growth in various sects and cults can be attributed to the warmth and love initially extended to outsiders. Even the most secular activities and causes can attract people to them by the demonstration of love and concern. Though this kind of love is often shallow and fleeting, it can attract enough to fulfill its purpose. A highly touted college athlete once told me, “Boy, that coach was so nice and friendly when he recruited me – smiling attentive, gracious. What a change after I was signed and at practice! He turned real mean and nasty – quick!”

Genuine Christian love differs from the world’s version, in at least two ways. First it is directly rooted in the only true source of love for the world – the love of Christ. “In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the expiation for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). We are now able to love others effectively because we have received the momentous, empowering, eternal love of God Almighty. “We love because he first loved us” (1 John 4:19).

Second, Christian love rightly directs its recipients towards man’s greatest good. The apostle Paul showed through his actions and his words the genuine love that compelled him to serve both believers and non-believers. This love was directed toward the highest, most noble aspirations. To the church in Philippi he wrote:

For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruits of righteousness which come through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God. (Philippians 1:8-11)
Paul wanted their love to abound not simply because it would win more converts, good as that goal might be, but so they could be pure and blameless, filled with the fruits of righteousness. The ultimate purpose of love is for “the glory and praise of God.”

Love is cited frequently in the New Testament as the highest virtue. We are told that it is greater than all gifts, knowledge, and ability. We are charged to make it our aim in all relationships – with Christian and non-Christians alike. It is the basis for Christian unity – a sign to a lost world that they may believe. Jesus thus prays for his disciples, “that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you have sent me” (John 17:23).

Showing love to others is not an evangelistic ploy or strategy. The love that Christians have even for their enemies is a stamp of their sonship:

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return; and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.
In this passage the Lord exhorts us to extend our love to those who don’t love us, who are ungrateful and selfish. Even sinners love those who love them. There is no inherent virtue in returning good for good. Every day we come across many unlovable, ungrateful, and unfriendly individuals that we are commanded to love and forgive.

The story is told of a missionary who served a colony of people with leprosy. His aim was to bring the gospel to the least loved and most universally shunned people in the world. One patient met him every day with extreme hostility – yelling obscenely and flinging garbage at him. Despite this ongoing contempt, the missionary visited the man every day, until one afternoon, eighteen years later, he accepted Christ. Surely, the love of Christ extends to the most abject and resistant human being. Love can win them to his kingdom by its power and durability.

Most of us find it much easier to love Christians than others, though even Christians are not always easy to love. How instinctively we can react to the pettiness, selfishness, immorality, and disinterest of many of our contemporaries. How frequently those around us seem to take advantage, to offend or ignore us. In fact, more and more people in our society are behaving in decidedly unchristian ways. Such behavior can tax us well beyond our limits. Fortunately, we can rely on the power of God to love others, regardless of how unloving they might act. Our decision to love and serve difficult people must remain firm. God’s grace makes loving action possible. Jesus’ own example is one of unfailing love. Richard Wurmbrand graphically recounts the torture he underwent in the communist prison camps of Rumania. But he repeatedly cites the power of Christ’s love alive in the most desperate and challenging circumstances:

We know about the love of Christ toward the communists by our own love toward them.

I have seen Christians in communist prisons with 50 pounds of chains on their feet, tortured with red-hot iron pokers, in whose throats spoonfuls of salt had been forced, being kept afterward without water, starving, whipped, suffering from cold, and praying with fervor for the communists. This is humanly inexplicable! It is the love of Christ, which was shed into our hearts. 

Another account emphasizes the converting power of Christian love toward those who seem impossible to love,

A Christian was sentenced to death. Before being executed, he was allowed to see his wife. His last words to his wife were, “You must know that I die loving those who kill me. They don’t know what they do and my last request of you is to love them, too. Don’t have bitterness in your heart because they kill your beloved one. We will meet in heaven.” These words impressed the officer of the secret police who attended the discussion between the two. Afterward he told me the story in prison, where he had been put for becoming a Christian. 
By witnessing the heroic love of numerous Christians for their tormenters, Wurmbrand concludes:

God will not judge us according to how much we endured, but how much we could love. I am a witness for the Christians in communist prisons that they could love. They could love God and men. 

We can receive inspiration from these extraordinary accounts as we seek to love and do good to more ordinary sinners in more ordinary daily circumstances. For most of us, determined love will probably take more modest forms:

  • continuing to be courteous to an inconsiderate neighbor
  • forbearing our employer’s sarcasm and particularly demonstrating appropriate respect
  • doing a favor for a critical, ungrateful in-law
  • regularly visiting an invalid aunt who endlessly details her sufferings
  • giving a small gift to a stingy co-worker
  • volunteering to cut the lawn of our unfriendly, vacationing neighbor
I was once praying with great fervor for the conversion of a friend, when the Holy Spirit interrupted me with this practical directive: “Go wash his car. You can pray at the same time.”
We can find many occasions to love others – without expecting a return. Giving a helping hand, buying a lunch, offering a car ride, loaning a tool, baking a dessert – there are innumerable opportunities to give and do good. These kinds of actions warm and win the hearts of others.

One Christian family I know makes it a practice to welcome newcomers into their neighborhood. They not only introduce themselves, but offer practical assistance as well. The husband and his sons try to pitch in with some of the heavy work; the wife makes a meal or two. This kind of help prepares the soil of their hearts for later spiritual influence.

If we are eager to win people for Christ, we should likewise be eager to love and serve them. In these acts of generosity, Christ is speaking to them: “I love you. You are important to me. I care about your needs.”

We should be led by the Holy Spirit and his wisdom in serving others. It would be imprudent, for instance, to so aggressively serve outsiders that we neglect some of our basic responsibilities. We cannot meet every need or serve every person we meet. A Christian is not just an indiscriminating do-gooder, but one who thoughtfully seeks to advance the kingdom of God through his works of charity.

On the other hand, we should not do good simply for the sake of evangelizing others. “OK, now I shoveled your sidewalks, come to my Bible study!” Our temptation can be to serve expecting a harvest, thus reducing our inclination to serve others unless there is the possibility of evangelistic fruit. We should determinedly love, do good, and lend, and not just for the sake of evangelizing.

When saying that our “reward will be great,” Jesus is giving us great incentive for loving all men. “Give and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap” (Luke 6:38). The single reward stated by Jesus is that we will become more and more like God our Father. We shall see God. One day we will be united with him forever.

I have heard countless individuals attest to how their lives had been changed through Christian charity and mercy. Those who experience Christian love and service are hearing a message much like the glory of God described in the heavens:

The heavens are telling the glory of God;
 and the firmament proclaims his handiwork.
Day to day pours forth speech,
 and night to night declares knowledge.
There is no speech, nor are there words;
 their voice is not heard;
Yet their voice goes out through all the earth,
 and their words to the end of the world.
    (Psalm 19:1-4)
 If we are to be effective ambassadors of Christ, we must affirm our message with action, seasoning the world with salt and brightening it with light.

[This article is adapted from the book, Person to Person: How to be effective in evangelism, © 1984 by Jim Berlucchi, and published by Servants Books, Ann Arbor.]

Person to Person: How to Be Effective in Evangelism
by Jim Berlucchi

> Part 1: True “No Limit” Message
> Part 2: Everyday Evangelism
> Part 3: Be Open - Be Natural
> Part 4: Building Bridges
> Part 5: Authentic Evangelism
> Part 6: Portrait of the Christian Ambassador
> Part 7: Prayer Makes a Difference

Jim Berlucchi is the Executive Director at Spitzer Center for Ethical Leadership. He formerly served as the Executive Director of Legatus, an international association of Catholic CEOs. He is the work/life columnist for Faith Magazine, and a published composer and recording artist. Sample audio clips of his music are available online. He served for many years as a community leader in The Word of God and The Sword of the Spirit.He and his wife Judy reside in Dexter, Michigan, USA. They are the grateful parents of eight children and enjoy a steadily increasing number of grandchildren. 
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