The apostle Paul, writing to the Corinthian church, knew there was no avoiding sin if believers were to lead sinners to Christ.
I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people—not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world."
~ I Corinthians 5:9-10
That's what He did, after all. Jesus modeled the vulnerability of proximity in spectacular fashion. God came to us. It's easy to take that part of the Bible story for granted, but it's one of the most shocking salvation points differentiating Christianity from all other world religions. God came to be in the world, with us. He did not avoid immoral people. If He had, He'd have to avoid us all. Instead, He exposed Himself to the evils of the world. He made Himself vulnerable to our sin. He walked alongside us in our mess. He spoke into people's lives because He had the opportunity to speak into people's lives because He was there, "out there," where people were. In the Spirit, He meets us where we're at, in all our transitions. He comes to dwell not only in the world, but in us—the messiest and most vulnerable place for God to be.
The vulnerability of proximity is that it puts us into automatic relationship where we might not even want it. To be sure, many people in my life have used proximity as a means to bully, nag, pressure, and assume. Comparatively speaking, very few people have used proximity to ask... to understand... to share space and step into vulnerable areas of life. But those few people stand out like shining beacons of relief and sanctuary in an otherwise very narcissistic humanity. Those are the people who reached out the hand of Jesus to me in ordinary interactions that became extraordinarily impactful.
In John 4, Jesus didn't turn to the Samaritan woman and say, "What you need to do is..." Jesus just asked the Samaritan woman a question—a question He could ask of anybody on any day at any well. And something happened there. God had laid His cards just right for the two of them to end up in the same place at the same time and have a conversation about faith while they sat next to a well together and watched Jesus' disciples standing back and scratching their heads, wondering what their Teacher was up to.
After all, a Jew in Samaria was even weirder than a pastor in a guard shack. That got the Samaritan woman's attention and curiosity like nothing else. This woman, in her particular context—a woman accustomed to being ignored and ridiculed and shoved aside by God's chosen people—is surprised to be acknowledged at all. She responds with her own question, to the effect of "So, you're a rabbi? Why are you here?"
And from the vulnerability of proximity, Jesus steps into the vulnerability of disclosure, revealing to this stranger a part of Himself that He hasn't even explained to His own disciples yet. She is vulnerable to Him, and He makes Himself vulnerable to her. In no time at all, Jesus hits on the heart of this woman's current wounds and weaknesses: struggles with marriage and living in sin.
When Jesus encounters a fallen woman in the vulnerability of proximity, He takes time to meet her there, right in the middle of her mess and happenstance. By sharing space with her, Jesus has an opportunity to speak truth and hope into her life in a way that completely changes her attitude and outlook upon faith. Not only that, she goes on to influence many others from her community to come to hear the Savior (John 4:39-42), and many believe in Him because of her.
At the end of the day, Jesus goes on His way, and so does she, and as far as we know, she never sees Him again. And she will never forget the impact of that encounter or the unique intersection of proximity and ministry.
That's how it works. God wants us in the world. He put us here for a reason. Jesus' prayer is for His followers to stay in proximity, where we are vulnerable to the world, because that's where we can minister to the world.
So, you're a Christian? Why are you here?
Next >>> What Chip Gaines Teaches Me About the Vulnerability of Presence