Evangelism by Example

St. Maria Skobtsova

Evangelism by personal exemplary behavior is a daunting idea.  There is of course the fact that a lot of people may ignore, misinterpret or ridicule our behavior.  Too few Christians have patience for that.  Then of course due to our own sinful natures there is the risk that we might fail in our example and be bad witnesses.   The media is full of such stories as they love to point out Christian hypocrisy and people seem to be natural voyeurs when it comes to watching others fall.   Easier it is to try to legislate behavior and to force people to “behave” whether they want to or not.  Christians also at times seem to think that preaching sermons or handing out scripture is evangelism; neither of those methods demands absolute exemplary behavior on the part of the preacher or distributor of scriptures.  Distributing bibles can be done in totally impersonal ways.  The preacher can have a public and private life which are quite different.

St. John Chrysostom (d. 407AD) thought the main Christian duty was simply to live the Christian life, to be virtuous.  This for him was the main form of evangelism, and this from a man who was acclaimed as one of the greatest preachers in church history.  His personal life seems to have been saintly as well.   We don’t need more people to proclaim the Gospel as if it is some law to be imposed on non-believers.  We need more Christians to live the Gospel so that others might see our commitment to God as well as contemplate the outcome of our lives.  We need to behave as if we ourselves really believe Christ and the Gospel.

“I am not warning against our mingling with other peoples, but recommending that we adhere to our own ways of virtue and when mingling with them we attract them to religion, and through a life of good works we may become the occasion of instruction for them. The reason, after all, that the common Lord of all permitted good people and wicked to mingle together, the religious and the irreligious, was that the evil might profit from the good and those still imprisoned in impiety might be guided to religion. Nothing, you see, is so anxiously sought by God as the soul’s salvation. Accordingly, let us not neglect it, I beseech you, neither our own nor our neighbors’, our own by managing our affairs in the way pleasing to God; our neighbors’, by being so conspicuous that without our saying a word those espying us may have sufficient instruction.” (Homilies on Genesis 18-45, p 398)