By Hermes C. Fernandes
GOD DID NOT SEND US INTO THE WORLD TO CONVERT IT, BUT TO LOVE IT. Conversion is God’s work, not ours. People who think that they can convert the world are living in presumption. Therefore, our love for the world must be completely without pretension; and it must give itself voluntarily without expecting any immediate results.
When we love people without expecting results, we aren’t disappointed when we’re not reciprocated. More, even ingratitude (on the part of those we love) won’t make us give up on loving. That’s because the ultimate goal of love is always the good of the one loved.
Anything that is done in the expectation of return is not love. It’s bargaining. And bargaining is contrary to the spirit of the gospel. Not all Christians know this. That’s why many churches and not-for-profits find themselves frustrated when their praiseworthy social projects don’t produce the results the organizers hoped for.
In my view, we need to take another look at our service paradigms and the motives that drive them.
To take advantage of the pain of others in order to advance our religious vision is not evangelism, but proselytizing or outright “welfare pimping.” Jesus had harsh words for the Pharisees who proselytized with bad motives. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves” (Mt. 23:15).
Our model of evangelism is still too much tied to the European colonialist vision and methodology. That is, our approach is contaminated by the presumption that we have something that others do not have. We are civilized, and “they” (whoever they are) are savages. We are Christians and they are heathen. We have Christ but they do not.
With this thinking we offer humanitarian aid as a bargaining chip, much like the Spanish and Portuguese colonists did with the Indians in the Americans when, to gain advantage over them, they offered the natives trinkets like mirrors and combs.
Of course we desire to share Christ with as many people as possible. However, before that, we must share our own souls in a completely unpretentious and non-controlling way. (Note how Paul gave his life to the Thessalonians, 1 Thessalonians 2:8.)
Because of the strong proselytism (or outright manipulation) of some churches and Christian institutions, the people they purport to “serve” soon catch on to the bait-and-switch game the organization plays and rightfully come to view the service organization with suspicion. In other words, they perceive the “game”: Our humanitarian works are bait that conceals a hook.
(Note: Jesus made Peter and Andrew fishers of men. However, the type of fishing they did employed nets, not fishing rods. They therefore had no use for bait.)
Think about it: Did Jesus multiply the loaves and fishes in order to proselytize? If he did, why didn’t he make an “evangelistic appeal” after feeding the multitude? Could it be that he fed the multitude simply because he loved them? And when the church in Jerusalem resolved to take care of the widows in the community and elected deacons to engage in this “important business,” they did so for love, pure and simple.
Some may object by saying: If we love people, we want to see them saved. (If they are sinners, of course we do!) But it doesn’t seem ethical to me to take advantage of a material or emotional need in order to present the gospel. That’s what politicians do when they offer voters goodies in exchange for their votes. Again, bargaining is not service motivated by love.
I want to propose here a different approach. Instead of assuming that we will take God to the people we aim to serve, we should embrace an approach that seeks God in them. Is there any biblical basis for this? Yes. Jesus taught the following: We will be judged on the Last Day for the good that we have done to him. That is, we will be judged for the food that that we fed him, for the clothes that we gave to cover his nakedness, for the visits we paid to him when he was in jail, and so forth. And when we ask when we did such things, he will answer: When you did these things to one of my little ones, you did to me. Our approach should therefore be to serve the needy—especially the Christian needy—as if we were serving Jesus, and to do so without thought of reward except on the Last Day. And our motive should be love.
Brethren, it is deceptive to think we will find Christ only in sumptuous cathedrals when, in fact, he is also often waiting for us under the bridges and in the slums of major urban centers, and in overcrowded jails, and in dumpsters, and in pockets of misery. Serving the poor in such locales has much more to offer us than we have to offer them! When we serve them with right motives, we just might receive a smile in return, or an embrace; and that smile or embrace will come from the One whom we truly serve.
And if we wish to convert the unsaved suffering to Christ we must first get off our religious pedestals and be “converted” to their service. And the kind of love that we should give them is the kind outlined by Paul when he wrote to the Corinthians, “And I will very gladly spend and be spent for your souls; though the more abundantly I love you, the less I am loved” (2 Corinthians 12:15).
Don’t expect results! Instead, give love without the expectation of return. Give yourself—your whole self. Jesus said, “Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it abides alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit” (John 12:24). Perhaps it is our failure to die to ourselves that explains our paltry fruit in the social works we undertake. The grain—us—has fallen on earth; but it has not died. So let us die to ourselves, and to our pretensions and presumptions. For only by so doing can we bear fruit.
When we love with less than a whole heart and pure motives, and when the returns are not what we hope for, we become frustrated and give up. But true love never gives up.