My son and I spent hours on our driveway court, so we loved to challenge kids in the neighborhood to a game. When Diamond and his friends rolled through the neighborhood in his sporty Chrysler 180, base thumping, I invited them to shoot some hoops.
Diamond looked amused. “I’ll play you, old man.” He swaggered toward me carrying a brown bag of liquor. One of his friends joined us while the other leaned against the low rider.
“Loser buys the winner a soda and candy bar,” I dared him.
Diamond grinned, a gold tooth showing. He was counting on a win, clueless to the skills of my nine-year-old son or my days playing in college.
Every shot brought smack talk from Diamond’s friend. “You’re letting a little boy and an old man beat you.”
Diamond cursed, but he was clearly impressed. Our win brought respect.
“Tomorrow, old man. Tomorrow.” He promised to be back.
Diamond showed up at our house every day for the next six weeks. As we played basketball, I was impressed with the strong bonds he had formed in the community. His influence extended throughout the neighborhood because of his relational savvy. Even while we played basketball, little kids would come up and high five Diamond. His intentions were far from moral; he built relationships with kids, buying them bikes or giving them money so they would do his drug runs or protect his territory.
I learned a valuable lesson from my drug-dealing neighbor. Like Diamond, I needed to be as relational and intentional with my neighbors if I wanted to influence them for God’s kingdom.
Was I willing to develop the depth of relationships like Diamond had grown over the years? How far was I willing to go to reach my neighbors for Christ?
Love – Hope – Faith
Moving to the inner city wrecked me.
God broke my heart for my new neighbors. I hurt for them and wanted to share my hope. In an attempt to connect, I hosted neighborhood block parties. However, as I tried to share my faith, I came off as harsh and confrontational. Diamond made it look so easy; I was awkward and clueless.
Desperate, I asked God for revelation. He led me to 1 Corinthians 13:13. “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
“Love?” I exclaimed. “Why love?”
I must’ve read the passage a thousand times, but this time, a question popped off the page. Why did God consider love the greatest of these? Surely faith was the answer. After all, didn’t the book of Hebrews say it was impossible to please God without faith? Or what about Ephesians 2? “We are saved by grace through faith.” Surely faith—not love—had to be the most important.
“Lord, I don’t get this.” I wrestled with the passage for two weeks.
Ron, when you received me by faith, didn’t you get a hope that your life could be different? Doesn’t that hope translate into actions of love, making love the ultimate expression of your faith?
“Wow. Thank you, Lord,” I thought. “I like that.”
It’s as if those three words merged into one word where faith, hope and love came together.
The Lord spoke again. Think back to the years before you became a Christ follower. Wasn’t it love that drew you to me? Wasn’t it love that gave you hope that life could be different? As a result, didn’t that hope lead you to receive me by faith?
The revelation knocked the spiritual wind out of me.
I’d never considered the complementary principles of faith—hope—love and love—hope—faith. For the Christ follower, the movement progressed from faith, to hope, to love. Whereas, for the non-Christ follower, the movement flowed in the reverse, from love, to hope, to faith. Just as love is the ultimate expression of our faith, faith is the ultimate acceptance of His love.
As I reflected on this newfound understanding, God continued to give me insight.
I know you love me, Ron, but you’ve been trying to reach unbelievers for me based on “faith.” God paused as the words took meaning.
Stop reaching them based on “faith” and focus on “love.” Love people, Ron. Engage them with love. You don’t have to save people. I will draw all men to myself. When they ask questions, simply be prepared to give an answer for the hope that lies within you. I will draw them to myself and save them.
My own faith in Christ began with love. I didn’t automatically come to Christ because someone shared the gospel with me. I was first loved by my brother and friends in college who were Christians. I saw hope which led me to ask questions. Ultimately, I accepted Jesus as my savior.
As a Christian, this equation reversed. My newfound faith in Jesus gave me a hope that my life had meaning. This hope filled me with joy and resulted in expressions of love toward others.
This new revelation forever changed my understanding of the power of the local church and its capacity to reach lost people.
We simply need to love people. God will draw, save and change them—not us.
I don’t have to worry about the clash of my lifestyle with the unbeliever. I don’t have to share the gospel in a canned process.
Love brings freedom.
For example, as my team cleaned up an abandoned property in the neighborhood, a gang stole tools and broke out the new windows we’d installed. Rather than press charges, we invited the culprits out for pizza and burgers. Their shock showed the power of love to transform a life. The gang went from destroying the property to protecting it.
Intentionally loving people, no matter the circumstance, is powerful. When our lifestyle reflects the love of Jesus, we are unfazed by the chaos around us. We bring heaven to earth.
That’s the power of love.