It should not surprise any mature believer that the good news of Christ does not seem like good news to the hearer—while it does reveal the love of God, in reality it brings conviction and an awakening that is generally not accepted in an intolerant world—it’s always been this way. The proof that Jesus is Lord dissects people to the core. However, even though Scripture informs us that the preaching of the “Gospel is foolishness” to those who refuse to hear (1 Cor. 1:18), our shared commission (Matt 28:19) is to reach the lost and love the afflicted. Using Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians, let me provide for you three examples of how to share the Gospel in the midst of hostility.
First, let me briefly provide some backdrop to what has occurred, Paul states, “For you yourselves know, brothers, that our coming to you was not in vain. But though we had already suffered and been shamefully treated at Philippi, as you know, we had boldness in our God to declare to you the gospel of God in the midst of much conflict” (1 Thess. 2:1-2). Acts chapter 16 notes the beating with rods and imprisonment of Paul and Silas—this never deterred Paul, as after their release they moved onward to Thessalonica to share the Gospel of God.
1. The Gospel Belongs to God
Let’s start from the beginning. Yes, the gospel is good news, but it belongs to God. Several times Paul declares, “…the gospel of God” within a few sentences (1 Thess. 2:2; 2:8, 9); this is fantastic news for the believer because all of the pressure is off —meaning, you don’t have to worry about what to say—the Gospel is unchangeable—the message is crystal clear—Jesus dies for the sins of mankind. Our duty is to think of ourselves as ambassadors (Eph. 6:20); we’re sharing the message of salvation to an enemy of God. And truthfully, we are (were) all enemies of God, at one point, in our rebellion and desire to do things our own way. The world is always going to be hostile towards the Gospel. The good news that we are delivering belongs to God and is about God—and because we know what the message says, we should be persuaded all the more (2 Cor. 5:11), to present it with love.
2. Share as a Loving Mother Would
When I was young I used to climb up onto my mother’s lap and feel confidently secure. This is the image Paul paints for the Thessalonians and one we should admire, he states, “We were gentle among you, like a nursing mother taking care of her own children” (1 Thess 2:7). The transformation of a believer’s heart is one which pulled out anger, envy, and jealousy (Gal. 5:20) and replaced it with love, joy, and peace (Gal.5:22). Paul mentions this aspect to the Thessalonians and states the reason why we share the good news of Christ is not to “please man, but to please God, who tests our hearts” (1 Thess. 2:4). Here’s one tip that I use; each time I am sharing the gospel with someone, I recite to myself, “You are speaking to the former you.” This means that if we can remember who we were, or that God has solely forgiven us through Jesus Christ—then “love controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). We share the gospel to feed the malnourished soul.
3. Share Yourself
Paul reminds the Thessalonians of how earnestly he desired that they know Jesus Christ. “So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves, because you had become very dear to us” (1 Thess. 2:8). We must get to know people and share ourselves. As the old adage says, “People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care.” There is truth to these words and they’re illustrated in Paul’s letter. He states that the Thessalonians had become dear to him—that doesn’t happen without building relationships. Paul “worked night and day” (1 Thess. 2:9) to provide his own way while he was there, so as to not burden them. Basically, Paul wanted the Gospel to be presented in the fullness of love.
So, while this is not an exhaustive approach, nor the only approach, it is a Biblical one and can yield lasting disciple-making relationships. This is an especially good model for church planting among non-believers. But, we should always remember that the world hated Christ and that we are not here to win popularity contests, but “exhort, encourage” and help people “walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls [us] into his own kingdom and glory” (1 Thess. 2:12).