Is there anything a grave marker can teach us about evangelism and love?
The answer is “a lot.” Take a look at the stone below that stands over the grave of Cameron Townsend, the founder of Wycliffe Bible Translators.
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Cam’s final message to his followers includes two exhortations. First, “By love serve one another.” Second, “Finish the task.” Notice that serving one another by love comes first and the task second. The order is deliberate, instructive, and biblically accurate. The great task of Bible translation is carried out by the community of believers who love one another.
There is always a temptation to put practical results first, to make “getting the job done” the first priority and then to fit in love for one another when there is time or opportunity. The problem with this approach is that loving one another gets squeezed out in the rush to catch the next flight, to get to the next appointment, to take the next phone call, to answer the next email, and–well–very simply to do “the next thing.”
Commitment to fulfilling the Great Commission can turn into this kind of high-pressured race. Let potential followers who want to gather together for fellowship go elsewhere. We “signed up” to do evangelism and the Great Commission not to love one another. This can even turn into a suspicion of taking time to love one another as if loving one another could become the enemy of the Great Commission.
Love Is the Hallmark of Authentic Evangelism.
In reality the reverse is true. Love is the origin and energy that motivates the Great Commission. God did not take the initiative to reach out to fallen sinners because it was the next item on His divine “to do” list. It was because while we were sinners he loved us (Romans 5.8). It was his “great love” Because of his “great love” with which he loved us, he has made us alive with Christ. The sign for us that we have been saved is that “we love our brothers and sisters” (1 John 3.14). The implication is clear: if you don’t feel great love for the fellow believers around you, then you have little reason to be assured that you are truly in Christ.
Evangelism that does not flow from the warmth of a loving community is empty proclamation. Love for one another, Jesus tells us, will be the sign that convinces a watching world that we are truly His followers. It follows very surely that a group of people who want to make evangelism a priority must therefore make loving one another an even greater priority. Failure to do so represents a profound misunderstanding of the essence of the Great Commission.
It is significant that Bill Bright made loving one another one of the “transferrable concepts” that he wanted taught throughout the Campus Crusade movement and taught also to all new believers. He understood that a Great Commission vision can only truly mature and flourish within the context of a community of people who love one another deeply.
If you meet a person who professes loyalty to the Great Commission but who does not make love for one another an even greater priority, then you have met a person who still does not understand the Great Commission. They have twisted Christ’s commandment to make disciples into a project to be completed rather than a message of love to be communicated and lived out. That will be the beginning of the end. As commitment to love fades, commitment the Great Commission will die along with it.
But where there is a commitment to love, there is a desire to reach out to others. Listen to the following words from Bill Bright.
“When you begin to truly love God by faith with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength and to love your neighbors as yourself, you will begin to see people as God sees them—as individuals of great worth, as those for whom Christ died. As a result, we will be motivated by the same love that constrained the apostle Paul who said, “Everywhere we go we talk about Christ to all who will listen” (Colossians 1:28, TLB).
Bill Bright, How You Can Love by Faith, 30 (Orlando, FL: NewLife Publications, 1971).