The Priority of Christian Love

Father Damien

God wants people to come to know Him.  The way He pursues this goal is through us.  God’s strategy is to draw people to Himself by entering the lives of His children—those who believe in Him—and drawing others to Himself through what people see in us.

That strategy worked for me.  As a young man, I got to know some Christians who revealed the character of Christ to me through their lives.  I saw in them the love and joy and goodness and hope and peace of Christ.  Because of what I saw in them, I was drawn to Christ.

This is one reason why the Bible so often calls us to love others.  When Christians graciously, courageously, genuinely, and compassionately love people, individuals experience God’s love in a personal way and are drawn to Him.

Christians need to face the fact that people form their opinion of God based on what they see in us.

While commenting on Paul’s remarks in 1st Thessalonians 4:12 about the impact our behavior has on “outsiders,” William Barclay writes, “A tree is known by its fruits; and a religion is known by the kind of [people] it produces.  The only way to demonstrate that Christianity is the best of all faiths is to prove that it produces the best of all [people].  When we Christians prove that our Christianity makes us better workmen, truer friends, kinder men and women, then and only then are we really preaching.  The important thing is not words but deeds, not oratory but life.  The outside world never comes into a Church to hear a sermon, but the outside world sees us every day outside the Church; and it is our lives which must be the sermon to win [people] for Christ.”

In 1873, a Belgian Catholic priest named Joseph Damien de Veuster was sent to minister to lepers on the Hawaiian Island of Molokai.  When he arrived he worked at meeting each of the lepers in the hopes of building friendships.  He built a chapel and conducted worship services, but the people remained cold toward him, uncertain if they could trust him.  After 12 years, Father Damien considered giving up and leaving Molokai.  One morning, though, before the daily worship service, while pouring some hot water into a cup, the water swirled out and fell onto Father Damien’s bare foot.  It took him a moment to realize that he had felt no pain.  He poured more hot water on his foot to verify his experience.  Again he felt nothing, and he understood that he, too, had contracted leprosy.

In every worship service up to that point he had begun the service with the greeting, “My fellow believers.”  But that day he said, “My fellow lepers.”  Quickly, word of his condition spread throughout the island.  The next morning when Father Damien arrived at the chapel he was met by hundreds of worshipers.  By the time the service began, the chapel was completely filled.  Father Damien’s ministry on Molokai became extremely successful.  The reason?  He was one of them.  They knew that he understood and sympathized with them.

When it comes to caring for people, we may not have all the solutions, but that’s all right.  The most critical issue is this: Are we willing to come alongside others and love them?

That’s what will draw others to Christ.

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