Evangelism

1 Thessalonians 2

wolf-sheep

Paul gives more insight behind the evangelistic spirit by recalling his own manner of walk with the Thessalonian church. After reading this chapter and keeping in mind Galatians 6:12, there is stark contrast between true evangelism and false. In Galatians, the proselytes were only trying to make “a fair show in the flesh,” a zeal that is void of any godly influence but rather seeks to pander to and gain the applause of  their constituents so that they may enjoy their vain, earthly approval. Instead of going forth to spread the gospel out of a love for God and His truth, and a concern for man’s eternal well being, it is done, whether conscious or unconscious, so that they may be approved in the sight of men.

It is also done in this manner so that they would avoid any “persecution for the cross of Christ.” It was to maintain their own ease. By bringing forth a message that would be more appeasing to the masses, it would cause them to shy away from the controversy of the cross, which would guarantee affliction and disapproval from the more worldly-minded men whom they feared. This is a man-centered, cowardly way of “evangelism.” It is not seeking the good of those to whom you speak, for what greater benefit can a person gain than the salvation procured by the cross through faith alone in Christ? Rather it is seeking your own glory by doing things through eye-service, stooping to flattery as men pleasers, rather than fearers of God.

In this text, though, there is no fear of men in Paul’s words. Rather, Paul has no motive of personal gain and has the simple desire place before them the whole truth- for God’s sake, because it is His truth- for the truth’s sake, because he seeks to spread no falsehood- for the Thessalonian’s sake, because they are able to be saved. There is honesty and sincerity in trying to win the Thessalonians over to the truth of God without compromising that truth, hence the no flattery or guile. It is as John Calvin said in summarizing Paul’s motives: “I have not abused the gospel so as to make it an occasion of catching at gain.” The eternal truth of God is more important than any fleeting opinion of man or society, no matter how controversial men perceive its propositions to be.

Calvin goes on: “Thus, if we would distinguish the genuine servants of Christ from those that are pretended and spurious, they must be tried according to this rule, and every one that would serve Christ aright must also conform his aims and his actions to the same rule. For where avarice and ambition reign, innumerable corruptions follow, and the whole man passes away into vanity, for these are the two sources from which the corruption of the whole ministry takes its rise.”

How often do we see this bending and caving to the fear of men in our society? How many organizations, churches, and individuals have crumbled under the pressures of “being on the right side of history?” How many truths of scripture have been compromised by these people so that society would deem them to be acceptable?

Don’t think you are above succumbing to the pressures of society.

Deeply examine yourself. What are your reasons for evangelizing? Is it only the social pressures from your organization or community motivating you to evangelize? Are you doing it so that they can see you do it? Do you have selfish motives so that you can mark a tally for a fair show in the flesh? Are the modern, social norms hindering you from bringing the controversial aspects of the gospel? If these are your motives, then stop what you are doing in being a disservice to the gospel. Pray for your fear of God to increase and for the fear of man to decrease. Pray for your love to God to increase out of a growing sense of your fear of Him, and may that move you to love your fellow image-bearers aright. Only once your fear of God exceeds that of your fear of men, and your love for His truth exceeds that of your love for man’s approval, will you begin to be evangelizing from proper motives.

Evangelism: Part 5

stoning of stephen

Some may not look forward to evangelism because of the fear of men. But this is a joyous service, and the love to and from God will preserve the hearts of His servants from the promised onslaught of persecution and reviling when the evangelist goes out and does his work. This love of God that the evangelist has will be superior to the variety of distresses that may come his way.

It is the love to God and the godly love to men that keeps him away from the “slough of despondency” when it seems that his seed has been cast upon the trodden path and stony fields and has taken no root in anyone’s heart, tempting him to believe his strenuous efforts were in vain. It will preserve him from the promised oppression and will cause endurance, boldness, and even joy in the face of persecution. Though abuse will be aimed directly at the evangelist’s body and soul designed for maximum grief and pain, it will not hinder him from going forward to face this scorn and reproach.[1]

It is also because of the love of man that will cause the servant of Christ to face these bitter situations with confidence and strength.

This love toward man is a different kind of love that is commonly understood within the general realm of humanity. There certainly may be a kind of civil goodness that unbelievers extend to one another, and it may be characterized by a “common grace” kind of love. After all, Jonathan Edwards notes that love disposes men to exercise all favorable duties toward his neighbor.

Instead of seeking their harm, you seek justice for them. Instead of strife and contention, peace and friendship is desired. Instead of fraud and deceit, truth. Instead of arrogant competition, it will be met with humility and a seeking of their good reputation. It disposes men “to all acts of mercy toward their neighbours.”[2] To some degree, these are the kinds of activities that can be observed on the surface of all walks of life, believers and unbelievers alike.

However, Kuiper would have us know that there is a difference between the love that God graciously grants to preserve the common population of mankind and the love that is a fruit of saving grace.[3] Though it is possible for the unregenerate person to love another in a common way, it is a love that only goes so far. It seeks merely the temporal and material good of man and has no concern for their eternal wellbeing. It is divorced from the love of God and co-exists with the hate of God in unbelief.

Through the common grace love, it is easy to love those that love back, but it will not incline a man to love those that seek his destruction for his love to God. Because of this, it is wholly deficient and is no true love to their neighbor.[4]

Galatians 6:10 says that we are to seek the good of all men, including the good of our enemies. Since the natural love to our fellow man will drive us to help them in their times of material and emotional need, then consider how much more needful they are of spiritual good, so what better good is there than to seek their salvation by sharing the work of Christ? “Insofar as we really love our neighbors as ourselves, we shall of necessity want him to enjoy the salvation which is so precious to us.”[5]

When Christian love is rightly exercised, all expressions of it are from the same motives. It is because of the Christian’s spiritual regeneration that he begins to love God rightly, for His holiness, and so people are loved for holiness’s sake because they bear the image of God.[6] True Christian love toward their fellow man will not stop at one’s material wellbeing, but it will have their eternal wellbeing in view. It will seek to glorify God by seeking to make them glorifiers of God on earth.

Part of the nature of true conversion is that the one who has been renewed to love God is increasingly conformed to Christ’s likeness through the instrument of the Holy Spirit’s sanctification. Part of the character of Christ is that He has loved men and died for them even while they were His enemies, giving us a true example of what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves.

This same quality is to be in His servants. Just as it would be natural and expected for a family member or friend to rise quickly to share something that would greatly affect those he loves, so it should be the same for the believers, whose situations have been affected eternally for the better, to readily express their love and concern for all their neighbors’ eternal wellbeing by sharing the gospel of Christ.[7]

apathy 2

It is unbecoming of Christian love to have an attitude of leaving the world to their own devices.

Jonathan Edwards explains this through commenting on Luke 9 where Christ’s disciples were calling for Jesus to reign hellfire down upon the Samaritans for not receiving the Messiah. Jesus met their request with a sharp rebuke: “Ye know not what manner of spirit ye are of.”

Edwards notes that Jesus rebukes them not so much because they were ignorant of what spirit was within in them, but that they were ignorant of what spirit they were ought to have as followers of Him. “[T]hey did not know and truly feel what kind of spirit was proper and becoming to their character and spirit as his professed disciples, and becoming that evangelical dispensation that he had come to establish, and under which they were now living.”[8]

They were ignorant that Christ had come to establish a kingdom of love and peace, even toward the unbelievers like the Samaritans. He came to rescue them, as well.

Many of us have an attitude of leaving outsiders like them to their own devises, hoping and waiting for the hellfire of God to consume the ungodly as an act of infinite and just retribution for being His enemies. But this kind of attitude is “exceedingly unbecoming”[9] of one who has attached Christ’s name to his own within this age because the believer, too, was once an enemy of God.

Yet He not only showed love to His enemies from afar, but His love for His enemies caused Him to come down from His glorious seat of majesty, to clothe Himself in our flesh, to take upon our nature, to dwell among us, to serve us, and to die for us. If anyone has gone out of his way to show love to another, it is Christ. Believers are to put on the same spirit as imitators of God and be willing to extend love to those we may deem to be unseemly.

This same Christian love demonstrated to unseemly enemies has been exercised toward every believer through a string of evangelists throughout history. Evangelism has been done by families having been preserved within the household of God, or by the current pastors or evangelists who have preached to or conversed with men about Christ. All believers are a product of evangelism.

It is also unbecoming of a Christian to be reluctant to share the good news and to find excuses not to do so. Pride often causes believers to be ashamed of the gospel because they would be viewed by men as strange or ridiculous and their reputations would suffer. “Ought these things to stop us loving our neighbor? … We need to press on our conscience this question: Which matters more- our reputation or their salvation?”[10]

Christians are given a great truth and are stewards of it upon this earth. One of the facets of this truth is that there is a great need in the world. Everyone is “on their way to a never ending eternity. But their plight is desperate… Men and women are hastening to destruction, and the sad part of it is that they are not conscious of their own plight.”[11]

If one were to be standing in the middle of the road and, unbeknownst to him, a truck was barreling toward him at full speed, the loving thing to do would be to call out to the man and bid him to get out of the way. But an act of hatred would be to let the truck run him down.

Ezekiel 3:18 illustrates the seriousness of bearing the gospel message: “When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand.” This ought to rouse us to the fact that we certainly are our neighbor’s keeper.[12]

All believers are being renewed to the proper exercises of love. It is being renewed vertically to God, and renewed horizontally to man. The Christian who is consumed by the glories of God will hold dear to him the gift that keeps on giving: his salvation through faith in Christ. Though not all Christians are called to traverse the earth or to be a street preacher, we all have been given the responsibility to share our faith in whatever capacity or gifts that God has given to us. It can often be an intimidating thing, but Christians are to take heart at the prospect of evangelism. Whether we are speaking to a co-worker, the cashier, or a dear friend, we have the promise of the Spirit of Christ to be with us in every situation, even unto the end of the age.

[1] Kuiper, God-Centered Evangelism, 103–105.
[2] Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, 7–8.
[3] Kuiper, God-Centered Evangelism, 99.
[4] Kuiper, God-Centered Evangelism, 100.
[5] Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 76.
[6] Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, 5–6.
[7] Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 77.
[8] Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, 17.
[9] Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, 23.
[10] Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 78.
[11] Grand Rapids Board of Evangelism of the Christian Reformed Churches, Reformed Evangelism: A Manual on Principles and Methods of Evangelism, 143.
[12] Grand Rapids Board of Evangelism of the Christian Reformed Churches, Reformed Evangelism: A Manual on Principles and Methods of Evangelism, 145.

 

Evangelism: Part 4

 

diamond necklace

Jonathan Edwards notes that a true love to God will incline us to esteem Him: “If a man sincerely loves God, it will dispose him to render all proper respect to him; and men need no other incitement to shew each other all the respect that is due, than love. Love to God will dispose a man to honour him, to worship and adore him, and heartily to acknowledge his greatness and glory and dominion.”[1]

A love to God will not have a concern for one’s own honor, but it will have a concern for God’s. Glorifying God is man’s chief end and man’s greatest joy because he loves the One who is being glorified. So, the love that a person has for God will incline him to give the proper honor that is owed to God, and telling of His glory and mercy through evangelism is one of the ways that God is honored.

For example:

At any kind of ceremony that would honor an athlete, actor, or some other profession, the people will view their honored guest with much respect for his work which has made considerable strides in their area of expertise. The ceremony will be filled with stories that paint the person in a wonderful light and to make known the things he has done. Perhaps the stories would be about his great character that led him to the marvelous accomplishments that have been done by him, or perhaps about how these accomplishments have had a positive impact upon people. The overall mood of the occasion would be an air of love that the people have of that person. Because of that love, the people will laud his great accomplishments.

If people are quick to worship in this way concerning the character and work of mere men, how much more should Christians do this about the character and work of God through His Son?

The sum of all His works are of infinitely more value and worth than all the honorable works of men combined, works that merited a ceremony or not. Christ is of an infinitely more honorable character than any man that has ever walked the face of the earth. His accomplishments are infinitely more glorious than what any man has done, partly because no man could have taken upon his shoulders the punishment that Christ bore. And His work has had an infinitely greater consequence than any other man in the world, because Christ’s impact forever takes the punishment of His people’s sins away.

His character, work, and eternal impact have all been brought to bear in its infinite might upon each, individual believer. Because of this, the true believer cannot help but to return his own love for the undeserved love shown to him. So, the proper response of the believer who has had all this work done for him by the very person of Christ would at least be the inclination to tell of it.

The believer’s love of God will have the bend to boast of His wondrous acts because the  believer loves to glorify God, and this act of salvation makes God glorious.

A loving wife would show off to her friends a new piece of jewelry with which her loving husband has given and adorned her. Though the piece of jewelry itself is beautiful and costly, the wife does not show it off only for the gem’s or diamond’s sake, but out of a love for her husband, she shows it off to display this expression of his love for her, thereby increasing his reputation and causing him to look honorable, generous, and loving.

So, the believer should boast all the greater for the infinitely more precious gift of salvation because it boasts of God’s love for the world.

The Christian is to love to honor God and to speak of the work of Christ in salvation to others. It glorifies God because it speaks to His glorious work and, as it were, increases His reputation. “God is glorified when His mighty works of grace are made known… For a Christian to talk to the unconverted about the Lord Jesus Christ and his saving power is in itself honoring and glorifying to God.”[2]

[1] Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits, 6.
[2] J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Books, 2008), 76.

Evangelism: Part 3

if-ye-love-me-765618-print

A notable characteristic of love in a believer is placing Christ within the central place of his heart so that all affections and actions are done with a view to honor Him. This centrality of love is made visible by an activity of respect that confirms that Jesus is truly the Lord of his life.

Jonathan Edwards argues in chapter one and throughout of his book “Charity and Its Fruits” that true love to God will dispose a man to a free honoring of His commands. Since He is Lord and has authority, this means that a love to God is a ready submission to all His commands.

Having been purchased by Christ’s blood, and Him having all authority in heaven and on earth, His believers are then to do His will on earth. The final command in Matthew 28:19 that He bid His disciples to heed is to “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations,” which is the command to evangelize to all people.

However, this is not a command given only to the 11 disciples that were with Him at the time. The last words in this commission, “and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world,” extend this command to the church universal in all ages. From this extension, no one can say that this command no longer applies to modern day Christians.

Christ’s authority abides equally as strong in this day as it did when He gave this command, and this binds all followers to evangelize to the ends of the earth until the age closes, when Christ comes again. J.I Packer said that if the promise that is contained in the gospel message extends to us, then so does the commission and responsibility to share His word. “If, therefore, we love God and are concerned to glorify Him, we must obey His command to evangelize.”[1]

If we compare this text to what Jesus said to Peter in John 21:15-17, “Do you love me… feed my sheep,” then Edwards’ implicit warning in his book about love becomes manifest and true, that the opposite of heeding His command would not be an expression of love, but hatred.

Edwards often goes about explaining the nature of love by comparing it to what is opposite, because the default state of mankind has characteristics that are opposite to true, godly love. So, by disobeying the command to evangelize would not be an exercise of love toward God, but at its root, it would show to be a hatred of God.

Instead of being a faithful servant who, out of love, follows his master’s commands, he is rather disrespectful to the commander and spiteful of the command, and would rather that his own will be done than Christ’s. In fact, it is making a statement that he is ashamed of the gospel, that he cares not for the work of Christ, nor for the free gift of grace given to him. It is not trusting in His promise that He will be with us unto the end of the world, nor is it trusting in His assurance, as John 14:15-26 reveals, that it is the work of the Holy Spirit working in men.

R.B. Kuiper notes that upon Peter’s expression of his love of Christ in John 21, Jesus charges him, and ultimately us, with the evangelistic duty of feeding His sheep of those not only within the church, but “which have not yet been brought into the fold.”[2] This command is given almost as a condition to prove the love that was professed.

This is not some sort of unhealthy, emotional manipulation to get Christians to make Jesus the most popular person on earth, but is a reaction appropriate to and necessitated by a love equivalent to the stature of Christ’s person and work. To echo the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 5:14, it is a love that is constrains Jesus’ followers.

According to Kuiper, this constraining love of Christ does not mean that the disciple’s love of Christ forces the men forward to proselytize, but that Christ’s love of the disciples joyously restrains them to not live unto themselves, but unto Him. Jesus’ ultimate display of love manifested on the cross “ought to constrain our affections that they go in no other direction than that of loving Him in return.”[3]

If we love Him in return, we will do His commands and feed His sheep, including the ones that are not yet in the fold. Our lives, by the natural response to Christ’s love to us, are devoted to the charge of His service, which is to glorify Him. And no greater service is there than to spread the truth of His glorious work.

[1] Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, 75.
[2] R.B. Kuiper, God-Centered Evangelism (Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1966), 102.
[3] Kuiper, God-Centered Evangelism, 103. Quoting John Calvin.

 

Evangelism: Part 2

Heart of Stone

Rev. William Van Peursem would have us know that true evangelism is a duty prescribed to true believers. Any writing or conversation regarding the motivations to evangelism is naturally going to be directed towards the true children whose duty it is to evangelize:

“A discussion of breathing will never make a dead person breathe… A mere discussion of the motives and incentives for evangelism will never make a nominal Christian or an unbeliever a real evangelist. They need to be born again… They need to be evangelized.”[1]

Given the two main motivations for evangelism that will be discussed, the love to God and the love to man, there first needs to be a true renewal of that inward principle of godly love. This is so that the act of evangelism is exercised from proper motivations making it proper evangelism, and not motivated from selfish guile, deceit, or whatever false incentive might spur one on to make a good show in the flesh.

Evangelism cannot be done so that one may make a tally for themselves as to how many “converts” they got, nor is it to be done out of a motivation to constrain God to justify them or to prove themselves to God as worthy in themselves.

The proper motivation for evangelism is the godly love that looks outside of himself, that strives to do nothing from selfishness or vanity, but it is done from thankful humility in response to the greatly undeserved mercies of God, and it is done not looking upon his own things, but also upon the things of others.[2] It is done with a true love to God, and a true love to man.

These true principles of love are only received after having been reborn by the Holy Spirit. But after this Spiritual rebirth, the believer can take comfort that they have within themselves the necessary principle for evangelism. That principle is the indwelling of the Spirit who is the fount that spurs them on to greater, often visible, exercises of love to God and to men.

Prayer for an increased drive toward evangelism, a dependence upon the Spirit’s working in your heart and in the world, and a submission to the Word’s truth and sufficiency are tools through which the Spirit uses to spur people on to evangelism.

IntrospectionCrop2

There are questions that need to be asked within one’s self concerning his love to God:

Have I this Spirit of renewed love?

What are the falsehoods within me that are quenching the Spirit and prevent me from expressing this love in a manner commanded by God?

What are the falsehoods within me that are causing me to seek my own honor through this?

These questions must be always in the background of one’s mind while endeavoring to do evangelistic work. Ulterior motives and defiance are incompatible with a renewed heart of love to God, they rather show a favor and honor of one’s self above God.

Christians have been called to a life of service, freely giving up their autonomy and self-rule because of his renewed love toward God who calls all men to honor Him.

Jonathan Edwards said: “And so reason teaches, that there is no sincerity in the obedience that is performed without love; for if there be no love, nothing that is done can be spontaneous and free, but all must be forced. So without love, there can be no hearty submission to the will of God, and there can be no real and cordial trust and confidence in him.”[3]

[1] Grand Rapids Board of Evangelism of the Christian Reformed Churches, Reformed Evangelism: A Manual on Principles and Methods of Evangelism (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1948), 138.
[2] Romans 12:1; Philippians 2:3-4
[3] Jonathan Edwards, Charity and Its Fruits: Christian Love as Manifested in the Heart and Life, ed by. Tryon Edwards, New Ed edition. (London: Banner of Truth, 1969), 10.