When Jesus sent out the twelve and the seventy-two to proclaim the Kingdom of God, he gave them very specific instructions. He said, “Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.” (Mark 6:10) “Do not move around from house to house.” (Luke 10:7)
Although these two instructions might appear a bit obscure in the story the gospel writers were describing, they convey an important message to all Christians who are trying to share their faith with others: Build relationships first, serve people’s needs, and then share your faith and proclaim the kingdom of God.
How often have we tried to share our faith or evangelize someone without having first established a relationship? Without the credibility of a relationship, without finding out and serving someone’s needs, our words about God and the life he offers through his Son and the Holy Spirit may ring hollow.
After Jesus called Matthew, he dined and spent time with Matthew’s tax collector friends. He invited himself to lunch with another tax collector, Zacchaeus. He stayed on two days with the Samaritans after encountering the woman at the well, and the Apostle John reports, “Many became believers.” He obviously had a relationship with Lazarus and his sisters, Martha and Mary, because of the message they sent to him about Lazarus, “Lord, the one you love is sick.” (John 11:3)
The Parable of the Yeast would seem to confirm the need of our mixing it up with the world in our relationships. “The kingdom of heaven [God] is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough.” The yeast, which is the good news, needs to mix with the flour, which is the world, in order that the dough, God’s kingdom, can rise. (Matthew 13:33)
In my own walk, I can think of several people who reached out to me with sincere friendship that had the effect of deepening my faith walk. There was Father John, who gave me instruction to join the Catholic Church when I was a young teenage boy. We shared many hours together in our mutual love of music, in addition to his individual instructions about the faith.
When I was a young man in my mid-thirties there was Ann, a fellow teacher of Religious Education to teenagers in our church. Ann had the radiance and joy of the Lord. She kept inviting my wife and me to various charismatic Christian events, which resulted in my meeting Jesus in an entirely new way and experiencing a fresh outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
In my mid-40’s, I was introduced to a Christian outreach to business, Christians in Commerce, that helped me better live out my faith in the workplace. All three founders of this ministry, who happened to live in different cities from where I lived, spent time discipling me in becoming a better Christian at work. They offered guidance, witness and friendship, and stayed with us whenever they were in town.
Jesus instructs us to go and make disciples of all nations. Like the seventy-two, he sends us out and instructs us to build relationships, serve people’s needs and proclaim that the kingdom of God is at hand.
“Let us not love with words or tongue, but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18)