There are various ways to play a video game. Fighting games are a great example: some players learn the specific combos for each character and practice for hours to learn the timing, while others just mash buttons. For exploration games, some players just like to follow the storyline and make their way to the end, while others feel compelled to search out every corner of the map for hidden items and quests, intentionally constraining their progress in the narrative to be sure that they don’t miss a single piece of the game.
In the same way, we can go through life just “mashing buttons”, or we can have a plan. When Jesus commissioned his apostles to go out on a mission, note this part of his charge to them:
“Behold, I send you out as sheep in the midst of wolves; so be shrewd as serpents and innocent as doves.
Matthew 10:16 NASB
From my point of view, Jesus is telling his disciples to be smart, but not conniving.
For instance, when sharing the good news about the Kingdom of God (as Jesus’ disciples were instructed in Matthew 10), there are wise ways to do this, and unwise. Both Jesus and His apostles had the opportunity to chose the right presentation (or sometimes, the right person) for each situation. Jesus read from the prophet Isaiah at a Jewish synagogue, while Paul referred to a heathen altar on Mars Hill. In the end, the message pointed back to the same God, but the methods were specific to the audience.
Yes, everyone around us needs Jesus. Life is not as good without Him, compared to the joys that stem from following Him1. Once we understand the solution for the hopelessness that comes from a self-centered, self-limited life (not to mention the cure for the separation that our sin creates), it would be selfish to keep it to ourselves. (For those of you who haven’t yet given Jesus Christ a chance, this is why many of His followers can’t help but tell others about Him.)
Not everyone can understand the message in the same way, though. Expecting others in the world to speak our language, is rarely as effective as taking the time to learn theirs. Translators and missionaries embrace this role, and we can support them as we are able (or, God may call some of us to step up into one of these opportunities, directly).
However, translation often needs to be done at a much more tactical level. Someone who has never read the Bible isn’t likely to understand scattered verses out of context. For a friend who wants to learn more about Jesus, take the time to explain who He is, and why He taught what He did. Explain the context of great passages (not just individual verses) from the Bible, in the light of God’s history-spanning plan. Tell people about Jesus’ teachings directly, to compare and contract them with the imperfect images of His followers.
In all of these cases, I believe that helping other people understand the message of Jesus Christ, and the example that He gave of glorifying His (and our) Father, starts with listening and appreciating where they are coming from. When we are passionate about the eternal destiny of someone that we care about, we may want to skip to the important part: how someone can accept Jesus’ death as payment for their sins, give their lives over to Him, and let Him change their world for the better. This is indeed an important point in a person’s life, but history seems to indicate that delivering the message without understanding the person we’re talking with can cause them more harm than good.
In the same way, there are wise ways to live as a follower of Jesus, and unwise ways.
Despite the fact that God can protect His followers, this is not a license for them to aimlessly do what they want with impunity. Jesus seemed to underline this, when He refuted temptation from Satan to exploit God’s promised protection (Matthew 4:5-7).
In the same way, using the brains that God gave us is not an excuse for doing evil. No one needs to learn about Jesus through deception or false promises (2 Peter 1:16). The extent of God’s grace does not justify freely disobeying Him (Romans 6:1-7), even though the eternal value of a soul can make it tempting to compromise God’s instructions.
So, hear the commission that Jesus gives to all of His followers, and share the message about Him with those who need to hear it. Just do it with a heart for the well-being of the people you are talking with, and trust God that His will can be accomplished without needing you to step over the line of righteousness. Don’t just be a “button-masher”.
- Yes, it seems counter-intuitive, that giving over direction of our life to someone else is better than doing our own thing. In fact, the only way that this could possibly be true is if our Lord is both all-knowing (so that He can know what effect our choices will have – on us and on others – in the greater timeline of history), and loving (so that He wants the best for us). That is the great claim of Jesus, and once we realize that He was telling the truth, we find that following Him is the logical choice. ↩