E. Stanley Jones was a widely respected Methodist missionary of the last century (and, I am proud to say, a fellow alumnus of Asbury College, although he graduated ninety-three years before I did). During his ministry, he had influence all around the world, from counseling American presidents to being an evangelist in Japan, but most of his efforts were focused on India. He even came to have the reputation as “the Billy Graham of India” because of how deeply he impacted the country.
During his time in India, he became a friend of Mahatma Gandhi. Jones’ autobiography, A Song of Ascents, recounts stories of their interactions with one another. Jones says that once, while holding a series of lectures with a group of students, it came to his attention that Gandhi was nearby and that he had been invited to visit. During their conversation, Jones wanted to ask Gandhi, at that time the nation’s leading Hindu, what he believed Christians should do to contribute to India’s uplift and redemption. Gandhi immediately replied:
“I would suggest four things: First, that all you Christians, missionaries and all, must begin to live more like Jesus Christ. Second, that you practice your religion without adulterating it or toning it down. Third, that you emphasize love and make it your working force, for love is central in Christianity. Fourth, that you study the non-Christian religions more sympathetically to find the good in them, to have a more sympathetic approach to the people.”
Jones goes on to talk about why, despite Gandhi’s tremendous admiration for Jesus, he never became a Christian: while living in South Africa, Gandhi saw Christians do horrible things in their religiously backed support of apartheid. In other words, although he had a great deal of respect for Jesus, he could never see the value of the Christian religion because he saw so little of Jesus’ character in the lives of many who claimed to be followers of Jesus.
Even though we are now so far removed from this conversation between Jones and Gandhi, both in time and culture, we would still do very well to heed his advice. If we are going to always seek to show God’s love to others in practical ways, people must be able to see Jesus’ character in us. We must begin to live more like Jesus Christ, practice our religion without toning it down, and emphasize love in all that we do. Imagine the impact it could have if even just ten percent of the people in your community resolutely decided to live this way. The impact would be staggering. If we continue seeking to find ways, big and small, to let others know that they are loved by God, while seeking to pattern our entire lives after Jesus, life as we know it would be radically different. Our families and friends would change, our communities would change, and we would never know the extent of how far around the world the ripples of such a commitment would reach.
We are sure to find that as we try this, God is there helping us. It is the life God wants for us, and grace to strengthen us is abundantly available along the way.