Our influence must expand
Frankie Yee is the happiest man on earth. He has the enthusiasm of Richard Simmons and the hospitality of June Cleaver. I wrote this letter to him in hopes he will make me noodles.
You’re very comfortable talking to other people about Christ. I’ve seen you introduce yourself to total strangers and begin conversations about spirituality—and here’s the kicker—you never put people off balance. You have a gift for making people feel welcome, loved, and at home. Consequently, when you do talk about Christ, your words work in concert with your hospitable spirit to lend you credibility.
We’ve spent some time talking about the fact that, in the Second Testament, whenever someone came to faith in Christ they were accompanied by their household. If a woman became a follower of Jesus, it wasn’t long before her husband, children, friends, and neighbors became Christ-followers, too. Sometimes that conversion-by-association occurred because of the simple magnetism of the gospel story—it is, after all, an amazing story—but always that conversion-by-association was facilitated by the intentional efforts of Christ-followers to introduce their friends and family to God. From those original households, the church began to grow. Not only did the number of congregations grow, but the congregations themselves experienced growth.
Which means those original households expanded.
So, not only do we need to be increasingly bold about our faith in Christ, but we need to expand the sphere of our influence, love, and hospitality. Not only should we be intentional about sharing with our family and friends, but we should be intentional about growing the number of friends, neighbors, coworkers, and peers we invite to become a part of our lives.
You and I both know the chief obstacle to this growth is fear. We’re afraid that, once we start spouting our religion, people will either grow shy or hostile. Either they won’t want to be our friends, or they’ll decide they want to be our adversaries.
I think this is why John relays the scene of the two witnesses in Revelation 11 who first proclaim the gospel and are then martyred for their testimony. They serve as both an example and a warning: faithful witness results in persecution.
It will cost us something to follow Jesus, and it will cost us even more to invite others to do the same. In fact, whenever Paul speaks of being a sacrifice, “without exception he is referring to his ministry of furthering his witness to unbelieving Gentiles.” That’s the context for Paul claiming Christians are a “sweet aroma…to those who are being saved.” That aroma is the fragrance of temple sacrifice, a useful reminder that “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.” Also included in Paul’s definition of sacrifice are sacrificial giving and investment in other people’s spiritual development, even going so far as to claim he was being “poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service of their faith.”
The purpose of our cooperation with God is to ensure that God’s government, God’s creativity, and God’s peace cover the earth, that the people who were once not a people become the people of God. The only way that’s going to happen is if we take our commission seriously.
Fulfilling this commission isn’t just a matter of bullheaded determination. We need a framework for how to proceed, in order to know if we’re being effective as we remain faithful. Tim Keller does a nice job summarizing Paul’s methodology for approaching culture, and we can learn a lot from his example. Keller notes that Paul always entered the culture, challenged the culture, and then appealed to the listeners. Paul never wholly criticized nor totally affirmed any culture, but instead showed them the ways they pursued good things ultimately became self-defeating.
This strategy allowed Paul to preach to conservative religious people, peasant polytheists, sophisticated pagans, Christian elders, a hostile Jewish mob, and elite government officials from both Rome and Israel. But it’s also the same strategy that will allow us to witness to conservative employers, peasant neighbors, sophisticated colleagues, Christian friends, hostile adherents to other faiths, and elite government officials in our own city.
It’s not rocket science, but it is effective: we expand the sphere of our love, influence, and hospitality by first getting involved in the world around us, challenging the corrupt influences in that world, and then showing the people around us a better way.
Beale, The Temple and the Church’s Mission, 400.
 2 Corinthians 3.12-18.
 2nd century Church Father Tertullian, in Apologeticus
 Philippians 4.15-18.
 Philippians 2.17.
 2 Timothy 4.6.
 1 Peter 2.10.
 Keller, Center Church, 120.
 Acts 13.13-43.
 Acts 14.6-16.
 Acts 17.16-34.
 Acts 20.16-38.
 Acts 21.27-22.22.
 Acts 24-26.