Over a period of a couple years, we got to know Chris, a server and bartender at our favorite Mexican food restaurant. Our friendship grew, and we began to have open and vulnerable conversations with him while he served us.
One time when we visited the restaurant, Chris sat down, obviously quite disturbed. He went into detail about how he had gotten sloppily drunk the week before, and while at the restaurant had ended up arguing with a coworker. During the argument, he got so upset that he threw plates and glasses, breaking them around the kitchen. He was embarrassed, in trouble, and very vulnerable.
Our lifestyle and personal convictions were at odds with Chris’s behavior quite often. But our desire to be a fragrant aroma of Christ and love Chris unconditionally superseded placing ourselves in the seat of judgment. We chose instead to listen, asking questions to help him think through what had happened. After dinner that night, we left the restaurant amazed that this “infrequent friend” would trust us and lay his life open before us. Trust takes time, and people who are far from God need patient friends.
In the months that followed, I was able to connect with Chris for other conversations and dinner. During one of those times together Chris said, “I have a lot of regular customers at the restaurant, but there’s something different about you and Pam.” He couldn’t put his finger on it, but he said that he saw something in our lives and in the way that we loved him. We had a conversation about Jesus that night, which I’m sure Chris will remember for the rest of his life. As far as we know, Chris never accepted Christ before he moved out of state suddenly, but we hope that the sweet aroma of Jesus moved him down the road toward a relationship with Him.
Some media outlets, movies, and TV shows go out of their way to depict Christians as intolerant, stupid, uncompassionate, and hateful. It wouldn’t be so bad if the characterization weren’t so true of some members of the Body of Christ! This has made the term Christian one that can conjure wrong ideas for our not-yet-believing friends.
Because of this, I usually don’t use words like Christian and evangelical in my interactions with not-yet-believing friends. Please note—I’m not saying those are bad words, just that I want to use language that doesn’t create a barrier for the Gospel and for conversations about Jesus. I usually identify myself as “a follower of Christ” or “a follower of the teachings of Jesus.”
I take guidance from the apostle Paul. He had strong convictions about the Gospel and a fervor to bring the Gospel to people wherever he went, but it’s interesting that the people who attacked him most were the intolerant religious leaders. He brought the message of Christ with love, not allowing unnecessary meanness to create a barrier for his hearers. He was following the methods of Jesus. He wrote:
But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing (2 Corinthians 2:14,15 NIV).
When we unconditionally love people who do not yet understand God’s ways, we display the true power of the Gospel. This creates a safe space for budding friendships, sets up future conversations, and allows us to represent Jesus for people who do not yet believe.
What are some ways you can intentionally be a sweet aroma for your not-yet-believing friends? Do you think there are any opinions or words you can or should lay aside in order to remove obstacles from conversations that could lead people to Jesus?