The gospel according to 1 Corinthians 13 (part 2)

The gospel according to 1 Corinthians 13 (part 2) July 30, 2015

Christians, we’re often told, have a duty to share our faith. That’s what we think of as evangelism — sharing our faith, or spreading our faith, proclaiming our faith, defending our faith, seeking to convert others to our faith, etc. Faith, faith, faith, faith, faith, faith, faith.

Faith is a wonderful thing and I’m not disparaging it here. But almost everything that falls under the category of “sharing our faith” turns out to be excruciating for everyone involved. Nearly all of the various approaches taught or promoted by the various proponents of such evangelism are painfully awkward, intrusive and invasive yet still mainly ineffective, involving this weird mixture of forced intimacy and utter abstraction — and that’s when it goes well, relatively speaking.

Much of what falls into this category of “evangelism” is awful for a host of other reasons — spell-casting or transactional soteriologies, horrific attempts to apply marketing techniques by “soul-winners” who act like they’re earning commissions on missions, etc. But I think all of those problems relate to a deeper, earlier misconception that arises out of this idea of evangelism as “sharing our faith.”

Part of the problem here is that this word, “faith,” has more than one meaning. There’s that basic idea of trust in God, but there’s also the idea of the Christian faith as a kind of synonym for the religion — the tradition, tribe, or faction. Sharing our “faith” thus gets tangled up with recruiting new members for Team Christian, which is … not good.

But the main problem with “sharing our faith” is that faith is not the main thing we should be sharing. It’s not the main thing at all. It’s not the point, not the focus, and making it our point and our focus in evangelism sends us way off track.

The Bible warns us not to make faith the central thing:

If I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.

Faith — even all the faith — amounts to nothing without love. Nothing. Not, like, half credit or one cheer. Nothing.

Here’s the famous ending of the passage in 1 Corinthians 13 that the verse above comes from:

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

Everything else, Paul says, “will come to an end” —  everything except for these three, everything except for faith, hope and love, everything except for love and for faith in love and hope in love. Love is the greatest thing, the main thing, the central, essential thing. It is, Paul says, “the more excellent way.”

Faith is a Good Thing, but it is not the Best Thing — not the greatest of these or the more excellent way. Faith abides only because it is faith that trusts in love. Faith without love amounts to “nothing.”

"Then your light shall break forth like the dawn ..."
“Then your light shall break forth like the dawn …”

When we think of evangelism as “sharing our faith,” then, we’re starting off on the wrong foot and heading in the wrong direction. “Sharing our faith” isn’t likely to be perceived — by others or by ourselves, even — as “good news.” And it steers us all away from the best news, from the greatest of these.

If we have all the evangelism, but do not have love, we are nothing.

So please, fellow Christians, let’s stop sharing our faith. Let’s put the focus back on the most excellent, greatest thing. Let’s think of evangelism, instead, as sharing our love.

What would that mean? What would that look like? Well, for starters, it would probably save us a lot of money on tracts and T-shirts and bumper-stickers. It would likely mean that a lot of our ideas about “witnessing” could be scrapped in favor of giving others something tangible to witness.

And, if Isaiah is to be trusted, it will also likely involve loosing the bonds of injustice, letting the oppressed go free and breaking every yoke, sharing bread with the hungry and bringing the homeless poor into our household. It will mean Jubilee.

Oh, but that’s not evangelism say the evangelists. That’s only love. And love, they insist, getting everything backwards and upside-down, is just a tool to help us share our faith.

That kind of thinking, Paul says, amounts to nothing.

 

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