Like a harsh word spoken without tact, or a fire burning outside a fireplace, missionality by itself can hurt the cause of Christ more than it helps. This is why missional has an inseparable twin. The word is incarnational.
It means “to take on flesh.” If missional means “to go,”incarnation is about how you go and what people see as you go. . . . Incarnation is critical because it will eventually determine whether or not people will want to know you or your God.
— Hugh Halter
Incarnational living—the type of evangelism that Hugh Halter writes of in his book The Tangible Kingdom Primer—was a concept taught to, known and understood by, and lived out in the lives of the first Christians.
Is there really any other way to explain the explosive growth of the early church? The world stood up and took notice of a growing, distinctively different, beautiful lifestyle and couldn’t ignore it.
WHAT MAKES PEOPLE REALLY CARE ABOUT KNOWING ABOUT GOD?
Paul, in this portion of his letter on his third missionary journey from Corinth, seems to know, urging and encouraging believers to keep it up:
Love from the center of who you are; don’t fake it. Run for dear life from evil; hold on for dear life to good. Be good friends who love deeply; practice playing second fiddle.
Don’t burn out; keep yourselves fueled and aflame. Be alert servants of the Master, cheerfully expectant.
Don’t quit in hard times; pray all the harder. Help needy Christians; be inventive in hospitality. Bless your enemies; no cursing under your breath. Laugh with your happy friends when they’re happy; share tears when they’re down. Get along with each other; don’t be stuck-up. Make friends with nobodies; don’t be the great somebody.
Don’t hit back; discover beauty in everyone. If you’ve got it in you, get along with everybody. Don’t insist on getting even; that’s not for you to do. “I’ll do the judging,” says God. “I’ll take care of it.”
Our Scriptures tell us that if you see your enemy hungry, go buy that person lunch, or if he’s thirsty, get him a drink. Your generosity will surprise him with goodness. Don’t let evil get the best of you; get the best of evil by doing good.
— Romans 12:9-21, The Message
Paul’s litany of compelling actions might even make the biggest skeptic look twice:
Love. Be real. Stay away from evil. Hold on to good. Be a friend. Love deeply. Put others first. Be on fire! Be alert! Cheerful! Persevere. Pray. Help. Welcome. Bless. Laugh. Mourn with. Get along. Be humble. Don’t retaliate. Discover beauty. Get along. Don’t judge. Buy a hungry person food. Get a thirsty person something to drink. Be generous. Be good.
Could this be what participating in the Great Commission looks like?
Over and over in Jesus’ life, we see Jesus acting in ways that were distinctively different than the ways of those around him. He was on God’s great mission and we know that it was his life that Paul was encouraging the early believers to model theirs after.
But the way Jesus lived—his compelling and attractive lifestyle—was not an end in itself.
Jesus’ behaviors, actions, and practices—yes, the same ones Paul encouraged everyone in his sphere of influence to emulate—were always a means to a much greater good. It’s the same greater good that Paul explains in his letter to the church at Corinth:
When I am with those who are weak, I share their oppression so that I might bring them to Christ. Yes, I try to find common ground with everyone so that I might bring them to Christ.
— I Corinthians 9:22, emphasis added
Jesus wanted those who didn’t know him to know him. Paul wanted to bring unbelievers to Christ. And believers want skeptics and seekers to begin to care about him.
CREATING A PATHWAY TO SHARE THE GOSPEL
Could compelling actions be the key to providing a pathway so that skeptics and seekers might begin to care to know him?
Could practicing a distinctively different, loving lifestyle create curiosity among your family, friends, and coworkers who don’t know Jesus the way you do?