When I mention the name Ulifilas, does he sound familiar to you? Well…don’t be frustrated because I had never heard of him before I studied him in my Church History class this past semester. He is not one of the most famous names from Church History. We tend to think about Paul, Peter, Stephen, Augustine, Gregory I, Luther, Calvin, The Puritans, and Billy Graham. For much of history, however, the advancement of the gospel and the kingdom of God has not come from famous popes, councils, priests, and preachers. The truth is that the gospel has advanced through the sacrificial work of un-named and less famous people like Ulifilas.
Ulifilas was born ca.311 to a culturally mixed family in Cappadocia (modern Turkey). His parents were not Goths by decent, but were Gothic slaves. He was predominately raised in Gothic culture. The Goths were pagans who originated from modern day Germany. During the fourth century the Goths were considered “barbarians,” partially responsible for the fall of the Roman Empire. They were ulimately seen as enemies of the empire, the Church, and society.
Ulifilas, having become a bishop, had a growing desire to be a missionary. The people whom he desired to reach with the gospel were his people, the Goths. So, he packed up his life and moved to live among “the enemy.” He is most noted for his invention of the Gothic alphabet which he used to translate the Bible into so that the people he converted could read God’s Word for themselves. Not much is know about him after this. Yet, he spent the remainder of his life being a faithful missionary to people that the rest of society did not want to be around.
So what can we learn from the life of Ulifilas. There are 5 things we can glean from Ulifilas about being a missionary to our culture.
- Loved Jesus – It should be a given, but to be a missionary we must love Jesus with all our heart. As our heart is transformed by the Holy pirit, we are then given the capacity to love Jesus. 1 John 4:19 puts it this way, “We love because he first loved us” (ESV). Ulifilas loved Jesus because his heart had been regenerated. Do you love Jesus?
- Heart for the Lost – When our hearts are regenerated by the Spirit to love Jesus, we then are given the capacity to love those whom Jesus loves. As a disciple of Jesus Christ, Ulifilas had a love for the Goths whom he knew needed to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ. We too must think beyond ourselves and take a look a the world around us. Our culture today is in desperate need of the gospel! Do you have a heart for the lost?
- Engaged the Culture – Ulifilas engaged Gothic culture by spending time with them. It took him years to develop an alphabet that they could read. He had to learn the culture enough so that he could translate the Bible, not only in a way they could read, but also a way they could understand. As disciples of Jesus Christ we are all called to be missionaries in the culture around us. Each day we translate the Bible to the world around us. How are you engaging your culture?
- Pointed the Culture to Christ – Not only did Ulifilas engage the Gothic culture, he pointed them to Jesus. We too, as missionaries, point people to Jesus with the way we live and how we speak. This does not happen accidentally; we must intentionally live our lives in such a way that point people to Christ. How does your life point people to Jesus?
- Lived Faithful – Ulifilas lived faithful to the end. He helped found the national Gothic church that was used by the Lord to reach more people with the gospel. As disciples we are called to live faithful to the end. Times are getting tougher and we may find it harder to live as Christians in our culture, but this is no time to throw in the towel. The author of the letter to the Hebrews encourages us, “Since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV). Are you living faithfully?
I encourage you this week to ask yourself these five questions. The truth is, each one of us has room to grow. We too are like Ulifilas, no one may ever no our name. But we don’t live our lives for others to know our name. We live our lives because Jesus already does and has written it in the Lamb’s Book of Life! Love Jesus, love the lost, engage your culture, point them to Jesus, and live faithfully. This is what the Lord has called his disciples to do. How are you doing?