In our church culture we talk about, in different ways, this idea of “getting the message out there”. We know that the Gospel must be proclaimed both because we have been commanded by Jesus Himself to tell the story of redemption, and because there is something that burns in the hearts of anyone who has truly been to the cross. I don’t think that the church has “written off” society and culture with the sweeping and uncalculating selfishness that some seem to suggest. I believe that Christians, for the most part, care about others and would be thrilled to see more people come into the kingdom and to an intimate knowledge of Christ. So for many of us the problem is not passion but logistics. How do we breach the subject of the Gospel in a way that doesn’t immediately polarize whoever we are talking to? How do we find “open ears” willing to hear the hope that has been poured into hearts like fluid injected into a dehydrated soul?
In reading a commentary on Galatians this morning I came across this passage by NT Wright that seemed quite profound. He is talking not just about Paul’s Gospel message, but how Paul could have garnered an audience to actually hear this message. As Wright will say in the passage below: “even this [the story of salvation] needs a hearing.” The message without an audience is nearly useless. So it makes sense that we would desire to know not only the message of the Gospel, but how in the world we can find open doors to carry that message through.
The story itself, climaxing with Jesus’ death and resurrection, and his enthronement as Lord of the world, carries its own power. The story must be told faithfully, accurately, and Jewishly (it only makes the sense it does in its Jewish context). However, even this needs a hearing. Paul seems to have obtained his, not least, because of his original appearance in Galatia, which aroused their sympathy and showed them that he was already living by a different way when compared to other teachers and wandering philosophers they might have met. Paul was embodying the message he was announcing. The story of Jesus was being recapitulated through his own actual life – which was why, Paul would quickly have said, the power of the Spirit of Jesus was at work when he told them of the Jewish Messiah, the Lord of the world. If there is a lesson for Christians today in all this, it is the one that is both obvious and also still sorely needed. Those who name the name of Jesus must be seen to be living the life that results from worshiping the true God. Their own genuine humanity, resulting from worshiping the God in whose image they are made, must be recognizable. The fruits of the Spirit, when we meet them, are impressive, particularly in our cynical age. If we are to get a hearing to tell the story of Jesus, this is the only way to start.
– NT Wright
We can have the greatest message in the world, the most grandiose promises man has ever been offered, and a hope so rich that it transcends this very life; but if we have no one to share it with, no ears willing to hear our proposition, then it ends with us. Paul’ s life, as ours should, attracted people to, at least, give him a hearing. He functioned in such a way that compelled people to listen. Perhaps if we have no ears that want to hear our story it’s because our story doesn’t appear to be all that compelling.
Friends, I say this with great confidence, if you have been to the cross then your story is incredibly compelling. You have a tale that could only be called extraordinary. Who wouldn’t want to hear the story of how you were raised from the dead? But, I fear, we are living more like we are in the tomb. May our lives intrigue people, may the way we respond to both success and failure, stress and rest, work and play be unique and sincere. The qualities that the Spirit works in us are the kinds of things that will help gain us an audience as we begin to tell our story, which is His story, and which can become their story.