Saturday, August 30, 2008

The Both/And Of Biblical Evangelism

For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake.
2 Corinthians 4:5
I don't think I have a "life verse." But if I were to choose one, I'd be hard pressed to find a verse that better sums up what my life in this world is about.

I once heard John MacArthur talking about why we as Christians are in the world. There's really only one reason. We're not here to enjoy the world because it's not our home. We're not here to worship because our worship here is so messed up and doesn't come anywhere near what God is worthy of and what it will be like in heaven. We're not here to live holy lives because the holiness we attain here as we struggle with the flesh is nothing compared to what it will be when we are in heaven. Everything we do here, we will do better in heaven. Except for one thing: proclaim the gospel. Because there won't be anyone there to tell. So we're here for one reason: evangelism.

This verse is short. It's to the point. It's crystal clear, which well suits a guy like me who is so black and white and linear in his thinking. But every part of it oozes with meaning.

In a day when there are so many methods for sharing the gospel, this verse is so helpful for me. It beautifully sums up the life of evangelism.

For what we proclaim is not ourselves...

The first thing that marks Paul's life of sharing the gospel is proclamation. Evangelism is first and foremost about proclamation. He didn't say share. He didn't say suggest. He said proclaim. The Greek word behind proclaim is the same word that we translate as preach. It is what a herald does when he cries out in public, "Hear ye! Hear ye!" It makes an announcement. It makes a declaration. It has authority because it is based on what really is true. According to Matthew, the first thing that Jesus did after He was baptized was to "preach (same word - proclaim), saying, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand' " (Matthew 4:17). Jesus' first task before anything else was to make an announcement. It was to make a declaration. And it was done with authority. There was no doubt that Jesus had authority in His life and preaching (Matthew 7:29, Matthew 21:23). He had received it from His Father (Matthew 28:18). And then He says of us:
As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world.
John 17:18
Jesus was sent with authority. Likewise we are sent with authority (Matthew 28:18-20). We are given this authority in large measure because we are sent to proclaim. And we can't proclaim without authority.

...but Jesus Christ as Lord...

The message that we are given to proclaim is simple. It has one point to communicate. Jesus Christ is Lord. This is supposed to be the essence of all of my proclamation. It is supposed to be the essence of my life. Jesus Christ is Lord of heaven and earth who made me and you and everything in it and is worthy of all worship and praise and adoration. And He's not just my Lord. He's Lord of all. That's what the psalmist means when he uses two words to call God Lord in Psalm 8:
O LORD (Yahweh), our Lord (Adonai), how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Psalm 8:1
Yes, Jesus is my Master. But before that He is Yahweh, the One who rules over all and governs all, infinitely glorious and perfectly satisfied in Himself without me or any of His creation. We don't just proclaim a Lord who has revealed Himself to us. We proclaim a Lord who simply is and commands all men everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30).

... with ourselves as your servants ...

But in case we thought that gospel proclamation was simply about saying something, Paul throws in this phrase. It's easy to just say something to someone and be done. In fact, it's really tempting (at least for me), especially when you feel like you aren't "doing" enough evangelism, to feel like you need to tell someone the gospel because that's what you are supposed to do. If I could just let the words come out of my mouth that God is holy and we are all sinners by birth but Christ died to receive the punishment for and give eternal life to all who will trust in Him, then I would feel so much better about myself. I'd feel less guilty. At least until a couple of weeks go by and this same feeling returns. But there are at least a couple of problems with this.

The first problem is that having such a mentality tends to cause us to think that we are "off the hook" and have done our duty. Therefore, I don't necessarily have to share the gospel again today because I already did with so and so. Or I can feel better about not sharing the gospel today because I did so yesterday. The reality is that even if we were sharing the gospel once a day, we wouldn't even be close to doing "enough" evangelism. There is no such thing as "enough" evangelism, especially when you become convinced it's the only reason you're still in the world. There are too many perishing sinners around us to ever let such Satan-originating thoughts (I mean that) enter our minds. But maybe I'm the only one who thinks such thoughts.

The second problem is that having such a mentality leads to cultivating a heart that is the opposite of what it should be in our evangelism, one that is broken-hearted and longing for the salvation of perishing souls. What I mean is that our evangelism becomes focused on me (the proclaimer) when it is supposed to be focused on them (the one who is perishing). I'm serving myself because I simply need to find someone to share with so that I can get rid of my own guilty feelings rather than serving the perishing by enabling them to escape from the wrath to come. My main motivation becomes the ease of my conscience rather than the eternal life and joy of another.

But Paul says that we are their servants. The true meaning of the Greek word is slave. We are to seek their eternal well being in the way that a slave in all things lives to seek the well being of his master. We are to feel the burden that this person is perishing and ache for them to come to know Christ. This is what Paul means when he says of his fellow Jews who don't know Christ, "I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh" (Romans 9:2, 3). How many nights of sleep do you think this caused Paul to lose? Alot more than I have lost over even any of my own family members who don't know the Lord.

What is so challenging about this phrase is that it makes evangelism anything but cookie-cutter. In a certain sense, it's so easy to do cookie-cutter evangelism. I can "just do it," move on, and forget about it. But to be someone's slave is to meet their needs. That takes being interested in their needs and taking the time to learn what those needs are and then getting down on your knees and washing someone's feet. It means saying to them not just what I'm supposed to say ("Repent and believe"), but saying to them that which will minister to them in their need ("Yes you are guilty before God, but Christ died so that though you feel abandoned you would have a Father in heaven who has promised to never leave you nor forsake you"), which I can only say after I've taken the time to get to know how the gospel speaks to their specific need. Slavery is a time investment. It's a resource investment. It often means doing what I don't necessarily feel like doing, not because I feel guilty but because I'm indebted to someone. It means I regard the one I am enslaved to with honor (1 Timothy 6:1).

Where did Paul get this idea? From Jesus:
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."
Mark 10:44, 45

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, thourhg he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing , taking the form of a servant (slave)...
Philippians 2:5-7
Whose slave? Ours.

... for Jesus' sake.

Though our focus should be on the other person rather than ourselves when we do evangelism, our focus ultimately should be on Jesus when we proclaim the gospel. This is what He has commanded us to do. And it is our love for Him that causes us to keep His commands (John 14:15). Our longing for the Lamb who was slain to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing through the praises of as many men and women as possible from all tribes and peoples and languages is what the deepest motivation for our evangelism should be (Revelation 5:11-13, 7:9-12). The Lamb deserves nothing less than everlasting praises for spilling His blood. That's what my salvation is ultimately about. That's what their salvation is ultimately about. Therefore, that's what my evangelism is ultimately about.

I titled this post the way I did because there seems to be a contradictory nature to a couple of the aspects that I believe Paul lays out for our evangelism. How in the world does a slave proclaim? How does one walk in humble meekness while meeting the felt needs of others and at the same time declare with authority to these same people that they are blind to what their greatest need is?

When I look around the landscape of the church today, I see mostly one or the other. I see slaves who love to go around meeting felt needs but shy away from proclaiming with authority that apart from Christ "there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved" (Acts 4:12). The problem when we shy away from proclaiming with authority is that we do the very opposite of what Paul aims not to do: though we think we are proclaiming Christ, if we don't proclaim Him as Lord over all then what we are really proclaiming is ourselves in our own benevolence rather than Him.

Or I see "triumphalist" proclaimers who breathe down fire when they tell the world with authority that God is going to judge them in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed (Acts 17:21) and therefore you must repent and believe, start reading your Bible, and do what it says. Ourselves as your servants?

The devastating part of this is that the slaves who are hesitant to proclaim look over and see the "triumphalist" proclaimers and how others are responding to them and move farther away from a desire to proclaim with authority rather than closer to. And the "triumphalist" proclaimers look over and see the slaves who who are hesitant to proclaim and how others respond to them and move farther away from a desire to serve and meet needs rather than closer to. Both sides, instead of helping each other are hurting each other. Slaves refuse to proclaim. Proclaimers refuse to serve. But we must do both. It is not either/or. It is both/and.

What, then, is the answer? What it always is. We look to Jesus, in order that we might imitate the One who most beautifully and mysteriously shows us what it means to be a felt-need meeting slave who proclaims with authority for the glory of His Father.
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came into Galilee, proclaiming the gospel of God and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel."
Mark 1:15

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
Mark 10:45

And Jesus said to him, "What do you want me to do for you?"
Mark 10:51
Oh, the admirable conjunction of diverse excellencies in Your Son, Father! Thank You for those words that You gave Jonathan Edwards. It is so stunningly and beautifully true that at the same time that Your Son can cause the mountains to tremble by His infinite power He will not quench a smoldering wick or break a bruised reed. Please make that true of me in my evangelism. Give me a heart that proclaims with authority being rooted in a true servant's heart of love. Make me a man who makes His proclamation with broken-hearted contrition over the sins of those who reject You. In other words, conform me more into the image of Your Son. For Jesus' sake, Amen.

1 comment:

Justin said...