Written Word

Evangelism – Part 6: Preaching By Example

Jesus experienced something on two occasions that I have never experienced in thirty-five years as an evangelist: He was asked, “What must I do to have eternal life?” (Mark 10:17; Luke 10:25) When such encounters occur they are the exception rather than the rule. So we can’t wait around for those exceptions to arise. We all move in circles where we exert a level of influence: in our family and our place of work, among our friends and associates. What will prompt them to ask us about Jesus? What will cause the door of opportunity to open so the word of faith can be shared? What will cause their prejudice, their indifference, or their unbelief to be suspended long enough for an open-minded inquiry to be made?

Godly example is paramount. The power of godly example to influence others can never be underestimated. For example, some Christians in the first century were being persecuted for their faith, while others had grown disillusioned and some wanted to quit. The writer of the eleventh chapter of the Hebrew epistle gathers an array of godly men and women who served God under varying circumstances and holds them up as examples to encourage the Christians. Abraham’s life was surrounded with insurmountable obstacles, yet he kept faith in God (Vs. 17-19). And Moses, Israel’s great deliverer chose the path of hardship rather than abandon his faith in God (Vs. 24-26). And the list goes on and on. The influence of these faithful men and women lives on even though they have been dead for centuries. Paul’s faithfulness while in jail also had a profound effect on the lives of many believers. Word filtered from his prison to the church that he was teaching the guards the gospel of Jesus; so effective was his prison ministry that the whole palace guard heard about the gospel (Philippians 1:12-13). He concludes his letter to the Philippians: “All the saints send you greetings.” He also makes special mention of “those who belong to Caesar’s household” (Philippians 4:22). So effective was Paul’s godly, zealous example during his time in prison that “most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Philippians 1:14). And if we are tempted to doubt the power of example, we need look no further than Paul’s words to his fellow Jews to see how their bad example affected others. “God’s name is blasphemed,” he says, “among the Gentiles because of you” (Romans 2:24).

The power of example is taken up by Peter in his instruction to Christian women whose husbands are not believers. He says that they are to live in such a manner “so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives” (1 Peter 3:1-2). Many methods are used to win souls for the Lord, but none are as effective as a life lived for God. The experts in the field of communication tell us that 65% to 93% of all communication is non-verbal. In other words, we communicate more by what we do than by what we say. To a believing wife whose husband is an unbeliever, this should be comforting. An unbelieving husband is blessed by the godly life of his Christian wife. She brings to their marriage the beauty and gentleness of Christ along with the love of the Spirit. Through the work of God in her life she displays wisdom, patience, thoughtfulness, consideration, forgiveness and charity. An unbelieving husband may display no apparent interest in the gospel. He may not be a spiritual man who appears to be indifferent to the claims of Christ, but he cannot deny the blessings he receives from a godly wife. Their marriage is blessed, their relationship deepens, and their home is different from the homes of their unconverted neighbours. Their children’s character is being formed by the godly example of their mother. They are being given a perspective on life that reflects the will of God. Her husband cannot ignore the power of her life, which is transformed by the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. This is evangelism by example.

None of us lives in a vacuum. We are the light of the world and that cannot be concealed. People see us and draw their own conclusion. This is the point Paul is making to the Corinthian saints: “You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everybody. You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Corinthians 3:2-3). Your life, Paul says, is an open book, and people are reading it. They are being affected by what they see. Therefore, “conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ” (Philippians 1:27). Our relationship with Christ must be reflected in our behaviour, behaviour that is not ordinary, but extraordinary. The only explanation for such a life is that God is at work in us. This point was made recently in Nepal where a patient with AIDS was not accepted in any of the local hospitals; however, he came to a Christian hospital where he received care and love. Behaviour like this does not go unnoticed, and neither can the cause of such behaviour – the gospel.

It was Francis of Assisi who said, “Always preach the gospel, and if necessary, use words.” I like that.