What gets the attention of an unbelieving world?

Generally speaking, I really enjoy serving my family. One of my favorite ways to do this is by cooking homemade meals. I don’t have many hobbies and I’m not particularly gifted in the practical arts; I can’t even whittle, let alone build anything with wood, I can’t sew beyond replacing a button on a shirt, and I’ve never learned to knit.

But I can cook. Ever since I was a little girl, I loved being in the kitchen and watching my mom and grandma use miscellaneous ingredients to create something absolutely delicious. I began baking while I was in elementary school and it delighted me to serve my family by “creating” dessert.

That tendency to serve my family through something I enjoy doing has persevered. My husband gained more than 20 pounds in our first year of marriage because I spent a lot of time “loving him well” in the kitchen…and he spent a fair amount of time “receiving it well.”

Certainly, our families must come first; God calls us to care first and foremost for their well-beingĀ (1 Timothy 5:8). But God also calls us to love our neighbors as ourselves (Matthew 22:36-40). Most of the time, it’s easy to love your family “as yourself;” particularly when we become parents, we can begin to see what sacrificially loving others begins to look like. Most parents I know would give their lives for their own children.

But would we do that for “our neighbors,” as Jesus so clearly commands? Those strangers down the street that you never speak to? Probably not, though Jesus made it clear enough that the definition of “neighbor” extends far beyond our family. We are called to sacrificially love those around us even though they don’t carry any portion of our DNA signature. In fact, when we only love those who love us, Jesus says that’s not much of a witness to an unbelieving world at all. He went on to sharpen His point by saying that even pagans care for those who care for them (Matthew 5:46).

In other words, we bear witness to the love of Christ far more powerfully when we love those around us who aren’t part of our family or our chosen circle of close friends. When we reach out and care for others who don’t expect it. Who may not be asking for it. And who might not even appreciate it all that much.

That’s the authentic gospel, lived out. Loving people who are strangers to you. Maybe even hostile strangers. Christians have been mystifying the unbelieving world for ages by doing just that – making the choice to serve others at great sacrifice to themselves, for no apparent reason:

Between 250 and 270 A.D. a terrible plague, believed to be measles or smallpox, devastated the Roman Empire. At the height of what came to be known as the Plague of Cyprian, after the bishop St. Cyprian who chronicled what was happening, 5,000 people died every day in Rome alone. The plague coincided with the first empire-wide persecution of Christians under the emperor Decius. Not surprisingly, Decius and other enemies of the Church blamed Christians for the plague. That claim was, however, undermined by two inconvenient facts: Christians died from the plague like everybody else and, unlike everybody else, they cared for the victims of the plague, including their pagan neighbors. This wasn’t new – Christians had done the same thing during the Antonine Plague a century earlier.
Running Toward the Plague
Eric Metaxas, Breakpoint

In our day, we don’t often get called to put our lives at risk for others the way third-century Christians did during that ancient plague. But there are still plenty of ways in which we can love our neighbors in sacrificial ways that forward God’s kingdom and garner the attention of the world around us.

  • We give our time. When Christians go out of their way to give up our free time on a Saturday for the sake of others who live in our city, we are loving our neighbors. There are plenty of people around us who don’t have the physical stamina even to rake their own leaves. A few hours spent doing yard work for someone who can’t – or whose life feels so hopeless that they’ve lost the drive to do even the most basic things – garners far more than a tidied front lawn. God’s kingdom has come near.
  • We give our talent. Each of us have God-given gifts and abilities that we quite naturally learn to use for our own benefit, even for the benefit of our families and those we love. When we use our talent, however, for the good of our neighbors, we are again stewarding what God has graciously given to us. Certainly my family benefits when I provide them with a meal. But using my natural talent in the kitchen to prepare food for elderly shut-ins who might not eat nearly as well without a meal delivered to them – the Bible assures us that this simple act does far more than fill a stomach for one evening. God’s love is palpably felt by those I minister to with food.
  • We give our treasure. Our independent culture tells us all the time that we deserve “more and better.” Of everything. We are constantly encouraged, therefore, to take our money and spend it on more and better things..for ourselves. Cars, technology, makeup and clothing, gym memberships. When Christians give the money they’ve earned to others, it flies in the face of this message. Funds donated to local non-profits that work with poverty-level families is an investment in something other than ourselves. Our entire community benefits when we aren’t always looking only to improve our own temporal experience. And that money given away does more than keep the lights on for that organization; it shares the gospel with our city.

God’s Word clearly tells us that we should live out each day with an eye toward opportunities to love our neighbor sacrificially, as often they show up unexpectedly (Luke 10:25-37). One such opportunity to give of your time, talent and treasure to love your neighbor (alongside hundreds of other Christians) is coming this spring through ForColumbia. There will be hundreds of different ways you can serve others in our community that day. The leaves you rake, the home you clean, the flowers you plant, the deck you power-wash…all of these things will provide some form of temporal benefit, yes, but the eternal impact of your efforts will come when the love of God is shared with your neighbor, who may not understand why you are giving away what you could easily have kept for yourself.

Matthew 10:5-8 (ESV)
These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay.”

Matthew 10:42 (NIV)
“And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones who is my disciple, truly I tell you, that person will certainly not lose their reward.”

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