On a recent flight, I sat next to a woman who was eager to share her woes and worries. She was nice in her tone but grumbly in her content. After she droned on for about a half hour, she said, “If I lived in Indianapolis, I’d come to hear you preach, because, unlike most preachers, you really seem to care.”
After we de-planed, I thought to myself, Why did she say I seemed to care? All I did was listen. Indeed. All I did was listen. I didn’t try to correct her, judge her, or preach to her. I just listened with a prayerful heart. And although I disagreed with her assessment of “most preachers,” I was saddened to think her reaction towards Christians in general and preachers in particular was less than stellar.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if people’s first reaction to Christians was based on how much we care and not how much we condemn? Francis Schaeffer once wrote that the final apologetic Jesus gives is how Christians love one another (The Mark of the Christian, 29).
In Acts 16 Luke tells the stories of three people who came to faith in Christ in Philippi: Lydia, a slave girl, and a jailer. Undoubtedly there were others who became Christ followers through Paul’s ministry in Macedonia, but Luke specifically records the conversions of a woman, a slave, and a Gentile.
Why? Well, according to the Siddur, a first-century prayer book, Jewish men would pray each morning thanking God they were not a woman, a slave, or a Gentile. Luke specifically addresses this by showing that the only place in society where a woman, a slave and a Gentile jailer were accepted and could sit together in love and fellowship was in the Jesus community.
The Roman emperor Julian, who was an atrocious persecutor of the church in the second century, once wrote that he couldn’t stop the church from growing no matter how many he jailed or killed because “these infernal Galileans feed our poor in addition to their own” (Arnold, The Early Christians: In Their Own Words, 14).
The early church was known for caring for one another—male, female, slave, free, Gentile, or Jew—and they were known for caring for their community. In fact, historian Eberhard Arnold notes that what astounded outside observers most was the reduction in poverty in communities where Christians gathered, for “Christians spent more money in the streets than the followers of other religions spent in their temples” (ibid., 16).
If you are a follower of Jesus, what are you known for? What is your church known for? I ask again, wouldn’t it be wonderful if people’s first reaction to Christians was based on how much we care and not how much we condemn? Maybe then, like the woman I encountered on the plane, more people would come to hear us preach and, more importantly, come to Christ.
“Love on display is our most convincing apologetic” (Greear, Gaining by Losing, 128).