to Person: A practical approach to effective evangelism
volunteers helping neighbors clean-up backyard in Detroit
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
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:
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.]
||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.