When the Bible says that God loves the world, it doesn’t mean the planet, but people. As beautiful and wonderful as the earth is, the Lord’s purpose in creating it was to provide a habitation for humankind. His interest in humanity is demonstrated throughout the Bible. In fact, Scripture could be called the story of God and His redemption of humankind.
Since the Lord loves and cares for people, shouldn’t they be a priority for us as well? We were created for a relationship with Him and with each other. Furthermore, the Bible is filled with instructions regarding how to treat each other. To build good relationships we need to be compassionate, kind, humble, gentle, patient, forbearing, and forgiving (Col. 3:12-13).
The example we are to follow is that of our Lord Jesus Christ. He loved us enough to leave heaven, take on human form, minister to hurting and needy people, and ultimately die to pay the penalty for our sin so those who believe in Him could be forgiven and reconciled to God. And before ascending back to heaven, He told His followers to proclaim the gospel, make disciples, and teach them to obey Him (Matt. 28:19-20).
Although His command is clear, sometimes we get hung up on exactly how to do it. It seems too overwhelming, and dealing with people can be very difficult sometimes. Yet we can’t simply withdraw from others and hide away. The church can’t function without good relationships between its members, and we also need to know how to interact with those who don’t know the Savior. Our goal should always be to help others by introducing them to Jesus Christ or encouraging them to grow in their relationship with Him. In other words, we want God to use us to build people up spiritually. So how do we do this?
The people in your life are a gift from God
First, recognize the present condition of the person. When Jesus interacted with people, He didn’t respond the same way to each one. For instance, Nicodemus was a religious Pharisee who needed to understand he couldn’t work his way to heaven; therefore, Jesus explained spiritual truths to him (John 3:1-21). However, His approach to the demon-possessed man in Mark 5:1-20 was quite different. This man’s immediate need was deliverance. Without this, nothing Jesus said or did would have gotten through to him.
Although we aren’t omniscient like Christ and cannot know anyone else’s heart or thoughts, we do have guidance from God’s Word and His Spirit to help us in our interactions with people. Obviously an unbeliever’s primary need is salvation, but sometimes we have to address a more immediate physical or material need before they will listen to the gospel.
When building relationships in the church, it’s helpful to discern spiritual condition as well. Is this person a new Christian who would benefit from encouragement, someone who’s fallen into sin and needs restoration, or a more mature believer who needs to be challenged with deeper truths of Scripture? Spiritual condition, in addition to physical needs, should help us determine how we respond to each other.
Second, realize Christ’s power to transform a life. From a human perspective, we may be tempted to think that some people are hopeless. This was the opinion of those who lived near the uncontrollable demoniac. They were startled to see him clothed, seated, and sane because of what Jesus had done for him (Mark 5:15). Instead of looking at the hopelessness of the human condition, we need to look to Jesus who has the power to transform lives—and the church as a whole should be a place where no one is ever beyond hope.
We must always remember that we are not the ones who change people. Our job is simply to demonstrate the love of Christ and tell them the truths of God’s Word. If we start thinking we’re the change agents, then we’ve stolen the glory from Christ. We are merely the earthen vessels God uses to accomplish His purposes (2 Cor. 4:7). Our job is to obey and leave the results to Him.
Third, reach out to that person. When Jesus ministered to people, it was often on a personal level and sometimes with a physical touch (Matt. 8:3, Matt. 8:15). Much has changed since the first century, and there are many more avenues for evangelism and discipleship. However, in an age of impersonal texts, emails, and social media, we must not forget the value of personal contact. It’s impossible to read expressions, body language, or attitudes unless we are face to face with another person.
Fourth, be ready to help. You’ve probably heard the saying, “You can’t give away what you don’t have.” That is certainly true regarding spiritual matters. If we neglect our own spiritual growth, how will we be able to help others with theirs (Matt. 7:4-5)? We’d be like the blind leading the blind. Our spiritual growth is not just a personal matter. If we aren’t maturing in the faith, we’re depriving the body of Christ of the wisdom we could have offered. But on the other hand, if we are growing in the grace and knowledge of Christ, He will use us to help others grow as well.
The people in your life are a gift from God, and He wants you to be a blessing to them spiritually. Therefore, I’d like to encourage you to make the most of every opportunity so you can be “a vessel for honor, sanctified, useful to the Master, prepared for every good work” (2 Tim. 2:21).
Charles F. Stanley
P.S. As you celebrate our nation’s Independence Day, take time to thank God for the blessings He has provided throughout the years. Although we often focus on what’s wrong in our country, there is still much to appreciate, including the fact that we can still freely gather to worship our Lord.