We know, dear brothers and sisters, that God loves you and has chosen you to be his own people. For when we brought you the Good News, it was not only with words but also with power, for the Holy Spirit gave you full assurances that what we said was true. And you know of our concern for you from the way we lived when we were with you. 1 Thessalonians 1:4-5
I wonder if most of us who struggle with the task of sharing our faith in Jesus struggle because we think sharing the Gospel is just about offering words.
Most people I know experience at least a little (and often a lot) of trepidation about sharing their faith. It is only the few among us who seem to naturally and effortlessly find ways to communicate what they believe. Most of us struggle. We don’t want to sound overbearing and we’re afraid of being considered foolish so more often than not, we just don’t share. Our concerns for how we come across are valid—to a point—but ultimately I wonder if our bigger issue is simply the fact that, as I said: we think sharing our faith in Jesus is primarily about words.
Paul opens his letter to the Thessalonians with a higher view of sharing the gospel than just words we say. He says that when they brought the Good News it was not only with words—as if to imply that coming solely with words is to come in a way that lacks the fullness of how the gospel should be presented.
This is not to encourage the idea that words aren’t important or that it doesn’t matter what we say. We can see from the book of Acts that Peter and Paul were very careful to utilize the power of their words, to be creative in communicating the gospel and were very intentional and persuasive in the way they contended for the faith with their words. Words aren’t unimportant or inconsequential. They just don’t tell the story alone.
Paul reminds the Thessalonians that they didn’t just bring words, but power. Their coming wasn’t just the bringing of head knowledge. It wasn’t just a different way of looking at things or some theories to buy into it. They came with power. The Spirit of God was with them. He gave assurances to the people who were listening to the words of Paul. I would love to know how he gave assurances. I would love more specifics on the ways the Spirit revealed his power. It doesn’t say, but it seems evident that if I am just a lot of wind, just a multitude of words and no power of Spirit that something is not as it should be. If the full weight of the argument lies with my words, perhaps I am in need of taking more of a back seat and letting the Spirit lead.
Sharing my faith isn’t only words, but the Spirit’s power. The ambiguity of how that might look can be troubling to those of us who like to control and like to know everything. But maybe it’s just enough uncertainty to keep us on our knees and reliant on God as we go forward; sharing our words all the while knowing that our words alone aren’t enough. The Spirit must show up and do his work, bring his assurance.
This isn’t all Paul has to say about how they bring the Gospel. It’s not just with words. It’s not just the Spirit’s power. It is also their very lives.
You know of our concern for you from the way we lived when we were with you.
Paul doesn’t just come into a town and speak in the public square and then lock himself up in a private room for the evening. He lives among those he is sharing Jesus with. He shares his life. Not because his life is the key to people coming to faith in Christ, but because his life lends validity to the words he is speaking. He’s been changed by the Gospel. He’s been transformed by the power of Jesus’ resurrection. Living in full view of others—sharing his life with them—shows that it’s not just pretty words and persuasive arguments. He knows of what he speaks because he is affected by it, his life is changed by it.
Sharing our faith and making disciples is definitely driven by the words we speak, the way we communicate, the questions we ask. Words are critical. But words don’t tell the whole story. The Spirit brings power to save and our lives confirm the truth of what we say.
Thankfully, at the end of it all, we are only called to represent—with words and our lives—what God has done. He is the one who saves and he is the one who uses us to communicate his saving power. The pressure is off. All we need to do is surrender and be open; open to allow God to continue transforming us, and open to his leading for sharing him with the world.
And when you are brought to trial in the synagogues and before rulers and authorities, don’t worry about how to defend yourself or what to say, for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what needs to be said. Luke 12:11-12
Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary, use words. -St. Francis of Assisi