A Labor of Love - Ulfilas, Missionary, Spent 30 Years CREATING the Gothic Alphabet and Translating the Bible for the Gothic People
Before Jesus went to the cross, John's gospel tells us that Jesus washed his disciples' feet. While his disciples initially objected to this, Jesus did this to teach them about service. He said, "14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you" (John 1:1, 14-15).
While it is implied in the passage, the opening verse of John 14 makes it clear why Jesus washes his disciples; feet--because of his love for them. In setting the scene for the foot washing, john says, "1 It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end . . . . " His washing of the disciples' feet was an act of love--that pointed to the larger act of love that he would show through through his death on the cross--which he was calling them to imitate.
Love and service go together. Without love, we are unlikely to serve very long or with a very good attitude. And love without service is hollow sentimentalism at best, or at worse, simply non-existent. Jacob served 7 years for Rachel--was fulled into marrying Leah instead--and served another 7 years to be able to marry Rachel. And yet, the time passed for him as if it was nothing.
One of the great stories of love and service in Christian history is found in the story of Ulfilas. Ulfilas' parents were apparently captured by the Goths--East Germans--and he was raised among the Goths. After moving away once he had grown up, Ulfilas was appointed as a missionary bishop to the barbarian and warlike Goths. And in his missionary efforts, Ulfilas spent SEVEN YEARS creating an alphabet for the Goths (a previously illiterate people) and translating most all of the Bible into that language so that he might share Christ with them. It was said that he translated the whole Bible from Greek into the Gothic language that he had created except the book of Kings, due to its violent narratives which he did not want to encourage in the warlike Goths.
What could motivate someone to serve a people by actually sitting down and INVENTING an alphabet and translating nearly the whole Bible for a people who once apparently captured/enslaved his parents? Only love. The kind of love that Christ showed for us. As Jesus said, "The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:28).
And if we are to reach people for Christ, we too must have love in our hearts for them. True love. If it is not a labor of love, then we likely will not last seven years. Probably not seven months. Maybe not even seven minutes! But if we love those we are reaching out to? Well, like Jacob and Ulfilas and Christ--the time will pass quickly!
What do you think of Ulfilas' love and sacrifice? What other stories like this do you know?
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Dr. James Nored is a preacher, evangelist, writer, and missional leader. He currently preaches and helps lead the church into mission at the Fairfax Church of Christ in Fairfax, Virginia, a suburb of Washington, D.C.