by Gary Corwin
Any American who wasn’t on Mars for the past year is aware of the enormous impact Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, has had on the entertainment industry and the cultural and political life of North America.
Any American who wasn’t on Mars for the past year is aware of the enormous impact Mel Gibson’s film, The Passion of the Christ, has had on the entertainment industry and the cultural and political life of North America. Many believers are also aware of its reception in other parts of the world, especially the unanticipated but incredible reception the film continues to have in the Islamic world.
Jewish dislike of the film was enough to inspire a ready reception among Muslims, particularly Arab Muslims. Amazingly, this seems to be true even though it violates prohibitions against making visible representations of Islam’s prophets, as well as making the case that Jesus did in fact die on the cross—something that most schools of Islamic orthodoxy vigorously deny.
This is a great cause for thanksgiving, not least because many fruitful evangelistic opportunities have resulted. There is another lesson worth reflecting on, however, that may not be as easily grasped—the power of passion, or suffering, as a lever of persuasion. It is in coming face to face with Jesus’ loving and sacrificial giving of himself that Muslims and other unlikely viewers are moved to consider his claims.
Though certainly of a lesser sort, the loving and sacrificial giving of themselves for others by followers of Christ also has a power to persuade.
Of what does such sacrificial giving consist? Is it only in literally laying down one’s life for another? I doubt there are many who would suggest that. While that may be our calling and the ultimate expression of sacrifice, it’s not the most likely form.
More likely are the myriad acts of dying to personal ambition, comfort, honor and achievement that make up the daily lives of the Lord’s servants when they as branches stay in close connection with the Vine. Some of the more important ones from the standpoint of cross-cultural communication might include the following:
1. Dying to our own culture and language to incarnate the love of Christ into the cultures and languages of non-believers. This is the essence of “old-fashioned” missions, and millions have entered the Kingdom of God as a result of it. There is something highly compelling about a love message that is sent by learning the ways and tongue of another. It says you are important, and I care enough, and respect you enough, to make all the efforts necessary to learn your ways. It also says that the message and Person about whom I bring news must really be important.
2. Dying to the comfort and solace found in the close proximity of family and friends, for the sake of expanding God’s family. Few of life’s props are as important and meaningful as our relationships. Developing new “family” and friends is not always easy, but it is noticed. To those of cultures far less individualistic than our own—and that is almost all of them—separation from networks of belonging seems unnatural. The reason we do it, if communicated well, sends a message of love.
At the same time, few pains are as deep as the sense of powerlessness and guilt induced by long separations from aging parents, troubled siblings or heartbroken friends in their times of need. As relationships deepen in our new setting, sharing these trials can be a powerful reflection of the sacrificial love of God.
3. Dying to our natural desire for wealth and security in order to carry the gospel to those who know little of such things. There are many opportunities for this in today’s troubled world, and plenty of confusion regarding how best to do it. What may be a great sacrifice in comparison to what has been left may look very puny in relation to one’s current surroundings. Nevertheless, where there is a real sacrifice, it will almost always be noticed by at least some.
This is an area where missionaries have not been as aggressive or successful in communicating love as we would wish. The attractiveness of this world, concern for our families, and our own ideological understandings of the causes for wealth and poverty have combined to make this a far less effective message of love than it ought to be. The difficulties related to this area, however, and the fact that there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution to be found, must not keep us from pursuing the power of this love message in our lives and ministries.
4. Dying to normal human aspirations for power and prestige in order to make plain that gospel communication is simply one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread. While humbling and unnatural, it is a powerful persuader. And like the other acts of self-sacrifice cited above, it will require a passion to be Christ-like and to abide in him, even in his passion. Its promise, however, is that some will take notice: “I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).
Gary Corwin associate editor of EMQ and missiologist-at-large for Arab World Ministries, on loan from SIM-USA.
EMQ, Vol. 41, No. 1, pp. 6-7. Copyright © 2005 Evangelism and Missions Information Service (EMIS). All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS. All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMIS.