The Power of Proximity

By Andy McQuitty

In our second week of the Vision series this past Sunday, I started my message by quoting D.T. Niles when he says, 

“Christianity is one beggar telling another beggar where he found bread.”

That’s just another way of stating that we who are followers of Jesus have been sent by Christ as the beneficiaries of his Gospel—that God loves us and Christ died for our sins to accomplish our salvation—to benefit others who are still desperate for forgiveness and purpose and hope and Heaven. IBC has set as a five-year emphasis the mobilization of Christians at our church to “tell others where we found the Bread” through following the BLESS acrostic:

B – Begin with Prayer: ask God to bless specific people in the places around you.
L – Listen: be attentive to the needs of the people and places around you.
E – Eat: share meals with others as well as hopes \ dreams and fears \ failures
S – Serve: learn tangible ways to serve and bless them.
S – Story: share your story of God’s redeeming work

We believe this Blessing Our Neighbors approach is the best way to go because it harnesses the power of proximity in sharing with people who are already friends and acquaintances and co-workers and co-students. Also, it’s thoroughly Biblical as we see in 1 Thess 2:1-6:

    You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts. You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed—God is our witness. We were not looking for praise from people, not from you or anyone else, even though as apostles of Christ we could have asserted our authority.

Apparently, the Thessalonians were victims in their day of what many today suffer—religious abuse. You know immediately what I mean by that, don’t you? Clerical types using manipulation and fear and even lies to push their religion on others for a variety of selfish reasons—to get rich, to get power, to get popular. That’s why Paul insists, “nor are we trying to trick you” (v. 3). The Greek word “trick” (dolos) was originally used for a fishing lure or bait. That was how the traveling philosophers of Paul’s day (and ours) worked—luring people to follow their system with powerful promises and alluring words that were ultimately untrue. Leon Morris describes them:

    “There has probably never been such a variety of religious cults and philosophic systems as in Paul’s day… ‘Holy men’ of all creeds and countries, popular philosophers, magicians, astrologers, crack-pots, and cranks; the sincere and the spurious, the righteous and the rouge, [all] jostled and clamored for the attention of the credulous and the skeptical.”

People in all times have promoted all religions for all kinds of bad reasons and thereby caused all kinds of grief and hurt. Even Christians, sorrowfully sometimes ESPECIALLY Christians have committed this crime! Promoting the Gospel as a means of appearing morally superior to others or getting rich or building their own Kingdom or self-promotion! That is wrong, wrong, wrong, so Paul insists that“the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives.”Having the right message means nothing if it’s given with the wrong motives! And the only right motive is love!

    “Instead, we were like young children among you. Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you. Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” 1 Thess 2:7 (emphasis added)

Why did they share with the Thessalonians not only the message of the Gospel but their very lives as well? Because they loved the people there SO MUCH. So what’s really the only valid reason to share right message of the Gospel with ANYONE? Because we love people SO MUCH.

Paul did not seek to share the Good News as a stranger, but as a friend. . . no, closer even, as a relative! He sought to build relationships of trust with people in which he truly helped them—encouraging and comforting—as the context in which is urged them “to live lives worthy of God.” He recognized that trust is the prerequisite of listening and relationship is the prerequisite of trust and so sought first to build relationship before asking people to listen. Relationship is the invitation to speak because rarely (if ever!) will people really listen to those they don’t already trust.

As believers, we as missionary disciples are sent to people in our webs of relationship with a supernatural message of love and forgiveness and eternal hope from an invisible God. The challenge for us as “sent” ones is knowing that the integrity of our personal lives is the practical proof of our supernatural message. As Madeleine L'Engle says,

    Evangelism is not what we tell people, unless what we tell is totally consistent with who we are. It is who we are that is going to make the difference. If we do not truly enjoy our faith, nobody is going to catch the fire of enjoyment from us. If our lives are not totally centered on Christ, we will not be Christ-bearers for others, no matter how pious our words”

Because Love is our reason, Relationship is our invitation, and Integrity is our proof. Knowledge is nice, but not nearly as central as most think.

    "Our problem in evangelism is not that we don't have enough information—it is that we do not know how to be ourselves. We forget we are called to be witnesses to what we have seen and know, not to what we don't know. The key is authenticity and obedience, not a doctorate in theology" (Becky Pippert)

We tend to think of “sent” Christians, “apostles”, like missionaries. . . commissioned to go to the ends of the earth to reach unknown people groups. Some are. But most aren’t. Oh, we’re all sent, just mostly to those we already know and love. We are ALL called to bless our neighbors. How would your relationships with people who already populate your life change if you saw yourself sent to them from Jesus? Let them change then, because you are. Love them. Befriend them. Eat with them and serve them and share your story with them! If you do, I predict you will experience such joy and miracles of change as you never thought possible.

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