Yesterday, Trevor did a wonderful job of working through a couple of ways that the church’s witness to Jesus Christ is spoken: celebration and critique. Whether by verbal pushes and pulls or by commendation and praise, our job is to always communicate how God is pursuing us so that all people may be reconciled to him.
While our words are important to our mission, as Christians we know that our witness to others goes well beyond what comes out of our mouths. As St. Francis of Assisi so eloquently put it: “Preach the gospel always. When necessary, use words.” The gospel is always communicated both verbally and nonverbally. And it can only be communicated well when our words are matched by lives that are transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
In this vein, I want to take a look at one of the passages from our readings this week:
Now, who will want to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you suffer for doing what is right, God will reward you for it. So don’t worry or be afraid of their threats. Instead, you must worship Christ as Lord of your life. And if someone asks about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it. But do this in a gentle and respectful way. Keep your conscience clear. Then if people speak against you, they will be ashamed when they see what a good life you live because you belong to Christ. – 1 Peter 3:13-16
There is quite a bit here in this rich little passage, but let me make 2 quick observations about how we communicate the gospel beyond words.
1. Christians are defined by our love, but we are distinguished by our hope. And not some pie-in-the-sky, Pollyanna type of hope that has no foot in reality. Rather it is a hope rooted in the belief that God is up to something grand and beautiful in this world. So we don’t float above our circumstances, unaffected by the trials and pains of this life as if living on a different spiritual plane. Instead, we can embrace life’s difficulty and struggles because we know that there is something bigger here than just us. We believe in a larger, more beautiful storyline than our own. This is to be our calling card, our identity. Which in turn means that…
2. Christians live the good life even when our circumstances are difficult. Our belief in what God is up to can fundamentally change how we interact with the world around us. Because we don’t believe that the ultimate goal in this life is our own happiness. So we can revel in the pleasures of this life because God creates good things to be enjoyed. And we can also find joy in the midst of our struggles because they are not the end of our story. We don’t have to be afraid of our weaknesses or mistakes because we are not the author of this grand scheme and it does not rely on our own worthiness. Our hope changes us. Our hope helps us to live the good life – finding joy and meaning and purpose in all things — even when they don’t go our way.
So today may we all live with hope. May we see God at work in all things around us, moving them towards more peace, more hope and more love. And may this hope in a greater story change the way we speak to one another, the way we react to our circumstances and the way we live together.
And may this communicate the gospel in better ways than our words ever could.