The point of the gospel has been and always will be incarnation. Mary set the pattern when she literally held Jesus inside her. Jesus, in turn, set the pattern by having the Word made flesh in him. (John 1:1-14.) He came, with the Father inside of him, to reveal the Father to man. He said, “If you’ve seen me, you’ve seen the Father.” (John 14:7-9.) And now we, as followers of Jesus, as the incarnate temple of God (2 Corinthians 6:16), should, through our actions and behaviors, reveal Jesus to the world. If they’ve seen us, they’ve seen Jesus.
Paul’s epistle in 2 Corinthians 3–verses 2-6 in particular–are some of my favorite examples of this teaching. We see here Paul’s teaching that how we behave matters so much more than what we say. He uses an analogy of our lives being an epistle for God or a “letter from Christ.” (2 Corinthians 3:3 (NIV).) What a beautiful teaching … to live your life in a way that gives other people proof that there really is a God.
Living your life so beautifully that it inspires others to believe in God is the central message of the gospel. It reminds me of Jesus’s teaching in Matthew 5:16: “Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” This takes empathy and being in touch with other people’s real feelings, real fears, real desires, etc.
“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”St. Francis of Assisi
The whole condescension of God illustrates this. The condescension of God teaches that you cannot truly love someone unless you somehow become them and experience their life vicariously and then love them the way they want to be loved. Jesus Christ’s love for us is so perfect and complete because, in a literal and figurative sense, he “became us.” (Hebrews 7:26.) In fact, “in all things it behooved him to be made like unto” us so “that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. For in that he himself hath suffered being tempted, he is able to succour them that are tempted.” (Hebrews 2:17-18.) Jesus walked a mile in our moccasins. Because of that, he has empathy and can love us perfectly.
True discipleship is characterized by empathy-driven love. It’s love that hits the mark and makes a difference. It’s love that results in people not only feeling loved by you but, more importantly, loved by God. It’s love that makes people feel understood. It’s love that makes people feel like they are not alone. It’s love and human compassion that meets unexpressed needs and concerns known only to God.
The temple isn’t the holiest place on earth. You are.
Ministering isn’t preaching the word. It is living the word. As St. Francis of Assisi so wisely observed, “Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
Ministering is loving and understanding from deep within another’s soul. In its highest forms, it does more than respond to the needs of another. It anticipates them. It does not ask, it acts. And when it acts, it exposes the hand of God, transforming ordinary acts of kindness into miraculous revelations of God’s love.
Of course, we cannot deliver this kind of compassion unless we, ourselves, are transformed and have the love of God inside of us. We do this by accepting our belovedness. You always hear in church how the temple is the holiest place on earth. That’s not true. YOU are the holiest place on earth. You are where God yearns to dwell. (John 17:21-26.) You are the temple of God. (2 Corinthians 6:16.)
Accepting yourself as the beloved of God, despite all your flaws, weaknesses and imperfections, gives you license to extend the same privilege to the others you are called to love. You don’t have to be perfect. In fact it’s your brokenness that will heal others as they identify with you and you identify with them in your common humanity. This is how the word becomes flesh, in deed.