I have struggled my entire faith journey with the "outsider" mentality. You know...those inside the church and those outside the church. We desire to reach, to win, to save - those people. I have found myself feeling that, although unintentional, that mentality creates those who do not follow God into objects rather than people. Or even suggests that we are pitted against one another. It's as though we think, "I have to find a way to win you to my side". There are differences between those who believe in and follow Christ - and those that do not. Of course. But I think our response to those differences is vital to the core of Christ's message of redemption and love. I read this passage today.
But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession. Now he uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere, like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God. But this fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved and by those who are perishing. To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom. But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume. And who is adequate for such a task as this? You see, we are not like the many hucksters who preach for personal profit. We preach the word of God with sincerity and with Christ’s authority, knowing that God is watching us.
2 Corinthians 2:14-17 NLT
When I read a passage such as this it causes me to ask why would we, for one moment, think that if we do something perfectly right that our message of Christ will be well received? The message of Christ to those that do not believe is difficult to accept, to engage with, and it is the work of the Holy Spirit in that persons life that will cause them to become engaged or receptive.
Nonetheless, we work tirelessly to come up with engaging, "attractional" ways to share the truth and love of Christ. I just believe it is better for us that we center on the message itself, the why behind what we do, and the how will flow out of that. When we become too engaged with the how, our priority and purpose begins to blur and you have to wonder, to reflect whether it has become less about sharing the love of Christ and more about a personal gain of triumph for "winning a person to Christ". We share Christ's love with confidence and purity, and He will cause it to take root and grow. We build real relationships with the world without agendas of a hopeful outcome, with only the purpose and call to love as Christ loves us. We live, speak, and share truth. But, we must remember, we water, we plant-but God alone causes the growth.
What then is Apollos? And what is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, even as the Lord gave opportunity to each one. I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. So then neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but God who causes the growth. Now he who plants and he who waters are one; but each will receive his own reward according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building. 1 Corinthians 3:5-9
If we are not careful, "winning people to Christ" becomes nothing but a phrase that helps build our religiosity pride. Can we simply be sincere in love and care for all we encounter, believing that as we authentically display the fruit of Christ, sharing the reason for the hope that we have, He will work in and through each person that we encounter? Is it enough for us to be the one who plants or waters?
A person is not my prize for doing good, for speaking the gospel. People are not prizes to be won, they are not something to be triumphed. It is not us vrs. them, and it is not "those people" or "outsiders that we work to make insiders". They are creations of God and, with or without us, He is working through the Holy Spirit to redeem and restore. We do not provide or create the result. We are only a piece of the process - of their journey - meant to be a tangible example of God's love for you and me.
We must be intentional and purposeful in how we speak truth, and how we share the reason for the hope that we have. We must be sensitive always in hearing the voice of God as he leads us to people, to moments-as He opens a door to share. We must purpose to not avoid being around those that are not of the same faith as we. We must care for a person's soul. Yet, it must not become an overworked strategic game where we are so focused on the outcome of our winning that we miss the truth of our place in the process.
I don't pretend to have the answer for this wrestling. That's the beauty of the redemptive God that we serve, he invites us to wrestle...to engage in questions and to keep wrestling until we hear His voice. Here is what I know to be true: the more I allow God to transform me on the inside the more I am able to engage with, love, and care for others. The more He reveals my own brokenness, my propensities to stray, my own struggles and weaknesses, the more the thought of us vrs them breaks down and does not work or exist. In the end, I see our God who holds the WHOLE world in His redemptive hand and I see His children, some who are embracing His love, some who are resisting His love, and some who are unaware of His love - different yet the same treasured creation of a loving Father full of grace and truth. This different perspective increases the desire that all will know the truth and love of the Father who created them. It becomes less about accomplishing a goal to win and more about love, truth, and hope.