As readers of my book, Your Church Is Too Small, know my life was radically transformed by a deeply spiritual encounter with God in the prayer of Jesus found in John 17:20-24:
“I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world (NRSV).
I have taught evangelism for many years. I have also tried to practice evangelism since I was twelve years old. I have traveled thousands of miles to preach Christ and to make him known to tens of thousands of people. Some of these people had never even heard the name of Jesus from a minister!
I have spoken to a crowd as small as a single person, to churches of only a handful, to mega-churches, to churches of almost every denomination (including Catholic) and to stadiums of people numbering nearly 20,000. Why? Because I believe in the public proclamation of the good news; i.e., I believe in the preaching of Christ and the gospel.
But it wasn’t until 1992 that I discovered what this text in John 17 says so very plainly. Jesus wants his people to be “one” as he was one with his father “so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (NRSV). He prays for us to ”become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (NRSV). Note: the world will “believe” and “know” when we live as one!
This is utterly amazing to me. I simply cannot get over it. I believe this is the first and most important apologetic that Jesus ever gave to his church – he says, in effect, “live in my oneness with my Father so that the world will believe the good news when you proclaim it to them.”
I think this is what several great Christians have meant when they said we must preach the good news in all circumstances and when necessary we should use words.
This is not a way of saying that words do not matter. It is a way of saying what John 17 says so plainly – if all we have is words we will never convince the world to receive our message of good news. We must live the good news. When we live it we can also preach it and God will use it to transform many.