Castor Oil and the Gospel
By Tracy Jessup
“[F]or an obligation is laid on me, and woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel! … I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some.”
(1 Corinthians 9:16b, 22b)
In his book, Seismic Shifts, author Kevin Harney tells the following story:
It was a battle. A wrestling match. A test of wills. Every day, at exactly the same time, Margaret would go to the bathroom cabinet, open it, and take out a huge bottle of castor oil. Then she would head to the kitchen to get a tablespoon. At the sound of the drawer opening and the silverware rattling, Patches, her Yorkshire terrier, would run and hide – sometimes under the bed, at other times in the bathtub or behind Margaret’s recliner. Patches knew what was coming.
Someone had convinced Margaret that her beloved dog would have strong teeth, a beautiful coat, and long life if she gave him a spoonful of castor oil every day. So, as an act of love every 24 hours, she cornered Patches, pinned him down, pried open his mouth, and – as he whimpered, squirmed, and fought her with all his strength – poured a tablespoon of castor oil down his little doggie throat. Neither Patches nor Margaret enjoyed their daily wrestling match.
Then one day, in the middle of their battle royal, with one sideways kick, Patches sent the dreaded bottle of castor oil flying across the kitchen floor. It was a momentary victory for the canine, as Margaret let him go so she could run to the pantry and grab a towel to clean up the mess.
When Margaret got back, she was utterly shocked. Patches was licking up the spilled castor oil with a look of satisfaction only a dog can make. Margaret began to laugh uncontrollably. In one moment, it all made sense. Patches liked castor oil. He just hated being pinned down and having it poured down his throat (pp. 23-24).
Today’s passage reminds us that the gospel is to be lived and shared, not simply heard and enjoyed. It is a story that necessitates retelling. The Apostle Paul went out of his way to give those outsides of the faith no reason to feel uninvited or unwanted. He acted towards others in ways that demonstrated respect for them as individuals created and loved by God. But he did this, not so much as an evangelistic strategy, but as a compulsion. The God who pursued Paul also was pursuing others, and Paul knew that how to communicate the gospel was not by pinning others down, prying their mouths open, and pouring it down their throats, but by love spilled out insincere action and truth alongside meaningful words (cf. 1 John 3:18).
New Testament theologian Frank Crouch writes, “A casual appreciation for God’s love for others removes from them any sense of urgency about those people; it lays no burden on them to meet those people, know their names, understand their lives” (workingpreacher.org, 2/8/15). An effective witness seeks to identify with others, assuming the role of a servant, and pouring ourselves out to point them to Christ.
Prayer: “Lord, remind us that we can keep our bearings in Christ and still enter into the world of a wide range of people – experiencing things from their point of view – to lead them into a God-saved life (adapted from The Message).
Dr. Tracy Jessup serves as vice president for Christian Life and Service and senior minister to the University. He is a graduate of Gardner-Webb with a B.A. in Music and earned his M. Div. degree at Samford University’s Beeson Divinity School. He completed his Ph.D. at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He also teaches in the undergraduate department of religious studies and enjoys the opportunity to serve the local church through interim pastorates, pulpit supply, and preaching revival services. he and his wife, Teresa, have two children, Christian and Anna.
Read more Good Christian News from Dr. Jessup HERE.