“Our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.” — 1 Thess. 1:5
“Il nostro vangelo non vi è stato annunciato soltanto con parole, ma anche con potenza, con lo Spirito Santo e con piena convinzione; infatti sapete come ci siamo comportati fra voi, per il vostro bene.”
Perhaps the most exciting aspect of “sharing the Gospel” in Italy is going to be “getting over ourselves” and taking the pressure off our vigorous efforts to say it well. We will be diligent to learn the language, of course. But what then? Someone more experienced than me told me recently that learning another language is only 10% of what it takes to communicate effectively to another people group. The other 90% will be reading their hearts. Understanding their motives.
This is sort of a let down since it’s going to take a lot of work for two 40 somethings to learn a new language. Naturally, we want to make a big deal out of all that suffering and gnashing of teeth and extra tutoring.
“Not simply with words,” he says. But what else is there? Poor Americans. We think our only way to get a message across is through lectures. Sit them down in rows and organize your thoughts into points with key verses. Insert illustration here. Add new PowerPoint slide here. What if the language of Heaven is wordless? What if the Holy Spirit only used human words in the delivery of God’s message through the Bible because He knew that’s the only way we could understand? Romans 8:26, after all, says the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with wordless groans. What does that mean exactly? Apparently there is a deeper, soul-level channel of communicating that the Holy Spirit taps into. A deep net, so to speak, that no mortal tongue can e’er describe. This is what we hope to access in our desire to reach the Italians and any other travelers we find on Italian soil. What if the Holy Spirit can use us in this wordless groan way of communicating to the hearts of individuals and families? By a smile. By a hug. Words not included.
He goes on to add the gospel came through them “with power”. What is this power if not with words? How can preparing missionaries find this power Paul mentions and save a lot of time and be more effective in the sharing of the Gospel? This is a concern I have, to be sure. We aren’t getting any younger. And our little window into Italy will be a breath on the landscape of time. There is an urgency to use our time most wisely. Something tells me, however, that even at the end of our time we will be unsure whether we used our time wisely. What if I die and all the Italians who I came to know are still scratching their heads wondering what I was trying to say? I want to be effective. What power can I look to that will increase my chances?
“With the Holy Spirit,” he explains. So, this power lies beyond us and doesn’t find its source in us. It originates in the person of the Holy Spirit. The same power that raised Christ from the dead. That same power that created the world. The same power that transformed me will transform them. My words won’t do it, for God’s sake. The Holy Spirit is the One working in the transformation of the heart. I’m just the vessel. My greatest moment of effectiveness will come when I release the work into His hands. As I empty myself of the responsibility to save them, I become something God can use to touch lives.
“And deep conviction”. Conviction goes a long way in the sharing of the Gospel. If we don’t appear to be convinced how can we convince others? We take special note of others when they seem absolutely convinced of something. When I was a little boy an uneducated pastor with passion captured my heart and changed my life forever. Real tears spilled from his face when he told us about Jesus. I could hear his conviction clearly even then. I don’t remember a word he ever said. Passion transcends languages and cultures and speaks to the heart of every creature. If nothing else can be understood, let them relate to our passion for the heart and life of Jesus.
And then he ends with what I think is the most powerful thing we can offer as Gospel-bearers in any foreign culture. He says, “You know how we lived among you…” Living among the Italians will do more to communicate the love of Jesus than any well thought rhetoric ever will. As they watch us fight and make up, burn dinner and get over it, correct our children and give them hugs, they will take notice.
As I said, I’m looking forward to getting over myself. How long will that take even after we move to Italy? Maybe we never will. But still we pray that God will move powerfully through us for the sake of the Gospel.