Last week, the lesson focused on God’s calling to human beings to partner with Him in the work of sharing His love with the world. This mission was rooted in Creation and reiterated throughout Scripture. The focus of this week’s lesson is on sharing God’s mission. It starts with a call, but it does not end there; without the action of sharing, the call would be of little use.
First John 4:8 describes God as love. Within that same letter from John, it states that those who have been witness to the love of God will share that love with the broader world. If what people share is not a demonstration of love, then it is not part of God’s mission and should not be shared. Below are several examples of sharing God’s love that can serve as guides in what it means to share the love of God today with those around us who have not yet fully experienced it.
The best place to start when studying the sharing of God’s love is in the Gospels. When God incarnated to the earth in the form of Jesus, His incarnation was a profound example of love. While none of us, obviously, can replicate the Incarnation in its exactness, we are called to follow the example set by Jesus, especially in how He related to other people and demonstrated love. Even a cursory reading of the Gospels quickly reveals repeated themes described concerning Jesus. These themes help us evaluate how we share God’s love.
Jesus had compassion, either toward individuals in need or toward whole crowds of people. Sometimes this compassion led Jesus to touch and heal a person (Luke 5:12, 13), sometimes it led Him to feed a crowd creatively (John 6:1–14), and sometimes it resulted in a kind word or story (Matt. 19:14). Compassion and sharing in God’s mission are inseparable. If upon reflection we don’t find many moments of compassion in our lives or the activities of our churches, we must re-evaluate how, or even if, we are sharing in God’s mission.
Jesus also sought out people who were open to receiving a blessing. When sharing in the mission of God, we should follow His example. It is our privilege to seek out those in our communities who are neglected and creatively share the love of God with them. This service would be following in the footsteps of Jesus and fulfilling what He desires, as shown in Matthew 25:31–46. Jesus was all about mending broken relationships and spent most of His time on earth restoring ruptured connections. While we all are faulty, those who have experienced the love and forgiveness of Jesus owe it to the rest of the world to demonstrate this love and forgiveness. This demonstration is part of what it means to share in God’s mission.
Scholars have often debated whether or not Jesus’ primary concern was working among the Jews or with the wider world. Some argue that because Jesus spent most of His time with the Jews and told His disciples to do the same, at least while He was with them, the Jews were His central focus (Matt. 15:24). There is some truth to this idea, but there are numerous instances in which Jesus demonstrated that His love was for more than just the Jews. Several times He quoted Old Testament narratives that highlighted the faith of non-Jewish people, such as the stories of the widow of Zarephath, Naaman, and the Queen of Sheba (Luke 4:24–27, Matt. 12:42). Jesus spent time outside of Judea with non-Jews, including a few nights in a Samaritan town (John 4:40) and a visit to the region of Tyre and Sidon (Mark 7:24), not to mention the Decapolis, which Gentiles populated (Mark 7:31–36).
Jesus lived out a mission and love that challenged the narrow thinking of many of His people during His time. By demonstrating this love and living His mission, Jesus set the stage for what would come after He died, rose again, and ascended. Jesus expected that those who had followed Him during His time on earth would experience His love in such a way that they would take that experience to the wider world. Within this context of a loving experience, Jesus made the well-known call of Matthew 28:18–20, charging His disciples to go out into the world. This commission was not simply a call to mission but a call to teach, to make disciples, and to share the love of God, which each disciple had experienced personally. We are not called to share God’s mission until we first have had a chance to know God and experience His love. Only then do we have something worth sharing.
Another significant portion of Scripture that is helpful to read concerning sharing the God of love is the book of Acts. While our Bibles often title this book the “Acts of the Apostles,” it would be more accurate to title it “Acts of the Holy Spirit.” The book is full of partnering between the Holy Spirit and human agents. Much as in the Gospels, we find people who have had a wonderful experience with Jesus, who are unwilling to keep that experience to themselves and are empowered by the Holy Spirit to share this love far and wide.
As mentioned in an earlier lesson, mission is always a two-way street where all those involved can learn something from one another. The book of Acts reminds us that we as humans do not take God’s place. God, through the Spirit, goes everywhere ahead of us. This Bible truth offers a couple of implications that we would be wise to contemplate.
First, if the Spirit has gone out ahead of us, we should expect to see some manifestation of the Spirit once we arrive. Peter experienced this reality in his encounter with Cornelius (Acts 10–11:1–18). As a result, Peter realized not only that God was already there before he arrived but also that he had something to learn from Cornelius about God’s love. In many ways, the story of Peter and Cornelius is about Peter’s ongoing growth in understanding God, just as much as it is about Cornelius and his family. When we go out to share in God’s mission, we should not go presumptuously, as if we have nothing to learn from those who come to us seeking enlightenment. Rather, we go out expecting to see the Spirit at work already in ways with which we can partner.
Second, we have something to share. While the Spirit is out ahead of us, He also partners with us. We each have a unique story or testimony concerning our journey with Jesus. Our stories need to be shared. In the process, through our stories, we may spark in someone’s heart a new insight about God or prompt within him or her a new desire to follow the Savior. This prompting devolves from our demonstrating the love of God through words and deeds. Because healthy relationships are at the core of what God wants for us, He often waits, or limits His revelation until a follower of His is present to share the good news. Therefore, it is incumbent on us to recognize this privilege, prayerfully attuned to the ones with whom God is already working, looking to share the story of God with them at every opportunity.
While church leaders often attempt to motivate people for mission, it is crucial to recognize that there are a few simple things we can each do to evaluate ourselves and our local churches’ ability to share in God’s mission. These simple things, when done intentionally, can radically transform us toward inhabiting a stance of humility and toward making changes in the church that lead us to become more focused on the needs of the broader world.
Individually, we must periodically take the time to self-reflect. This act requires an immense amount of self-honesty, which we all struggle with regularly. We each must ask ourselves, “Have I experienced the love of God lately? If I have not, why not?” If you have, then ask yourself the following question: “Have I shared that love I am experiencing with the wider world?” These simple questions, when asked genuinely, can be very revealing.
Corporately, the church can ask the same questions. “Is the church a place where the community experiences God? And if God is experienced in the community, is the church sharing that reality with the broader society around them?” Once the church takes stock of the situation, they can make follow-up plans to move toward either experiencing God in new ways or actively take what they have experienced and share it with the broader community.
Periodic reminders (through sermons, children’s stories, books, and articles) of the needs of the world are essential. Much as Jesus did with His disciples, God does with us today. God wants us to be global citizens who think outside of our own needs. We should desire for God’s love to be shared with all humanity, and we should be actively pursuing ways of making this possible. For some, this truth means diverting some of their financial resources toward an intentional mission. For others, this truth means opening themselves up to a call from God that possibly involves moving to a new location, either in their same country or across the globe. Why? Because God has asked each of us to share our story and our talents with people who desperately need to see a demonstration of God’s love. No matter what God is calling you to do, remember that you should remain open to being blessed as you share and that God is already there ahead of you.