In the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus made it clear that everyone with whom we come in contact is our neighbor. Jesus used the example of someone from Samaria being the neighbor to a beaten and dying Jew. Normally, Jews and Samaritans had nothing to do with each other because the Jews, as God’s chosen people, considered the Samaritans outcasts with a corrupted form of worship. By using this example, Jesus made it clear that “our neighbors” includes even people with whom we may disagree on some of the most basic things in life.
How do we engage neighbors who we have already decided would never be interested in the gospel? You know, those who are so different from us that we sometimes think they must have been raised in a different world then we were. Certainly, they would be the first ones to reject any overtures by us. Does that let us off the hook?
We all know the story of the crucifixion. Jesus was nailed to a cross between two criminals who, along with the crowd, mocked Jesus. Yes, even these two who were also despised by the crowd made fun of our Lord. But something dramatic happened during the hours that Jesus and the criminals hung on the cross. One of them became convinced that Jesus was the Son of God and received the gift of eternal life, just moments before he left this earth. The other criminal, who heard and experienced the same things as the one who believed, left this life for eternal punishment. How can two people who saw and heard the same truths at the same time from the same person (Jesus) respond so differently? We don’t know. But the implication is that only God knows who will receive his gift of salvation. Only he can save. That is not our job. Our job is to give the truth to everyone we can.
People tend to distrust and disbelieve those they do not know. So the likelihood is small of our “neighbors” with whom we have had little or no contact listening to us. Are there things we can do to improve the inclination of such neighbors to hear the message from us? Here are a few:
- Pray that God would change our hearts toward anyone that we assume would not be receptive to hearing the gospel. After all, it is God’s Word alone that creates faith and receptivity to the Good News.
- Pray for them, and for anyone we meet, that God would prepare their hearts to receive his Good News. Sometimes we speak and act as though prayer is the last resort when it is actually the most powerful thing we can do.
- Be kind and helpful to our neighbors, treating them with respect. Do not condemn them for their ideas or try to persuade them that your way of thinking is the only one that makes sense. Instead, lovingly give them God’s truth, which can meet them where they are and penetrate all their defenses. Remember, God’s Word alone can bring life to the dead. Our words can never do that unless we are speaking the words of life.
May God give us his grace to share his love and Good News with those around us. And let us share that message with those around the world through the ministries of the CLB. May God bless you as you labor and give to his glory.
Roy Heggland is Associate for Biblical Stewardship for the Church of the Lutheran Brethren.