Saturday, July 13, 2019

Evangelism - For the Joy Set Before Us

In my last post, I made a scriptural case that evangelism is not a spiritual gift that is reserved for the few, but one that all believers should be engaged in at some level.  Of course, some may have natural characteristics that makes them seem more gifted in evangelism and others may be called to full-time ministry that allows them to devote more time and energy to intentional outreach, but all Christians are called to be ambassadors of Christ.  

However, that last thing that I want to do is create a burden and leave Christians with a feeling that this is something that they "ought" to do.  I have found that the law leaves us with powerless “oughts,” but the Spirit can give us powerful “wants.”  I have found this true in many areas of my Christian life.  For example, I know that I “ought” to not have lustful thoughts, but that “ought” has very little restraining power.  I have learned, however, if I focus on a greater desire, then the Spirit driven “want” is very powerful.  That is why, when I feel tempted to lust, I don’t say “don’t, don’t, don’t,” but instead, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8).  When my desire to see God is greater than my desire for the fleeting promises of lust, I have defeated the temptation.  

I believe that Jesus uses similar reasoning when he compares the Kingdom of God to a treasure hidden in a field or a pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44-46).  He doesn’t condemn desire in general, as some religions do, but directs our desires to that which is infinitely valuable and worthy of our affection.  In other words, he uses a rightly placed joy as a source of motivation.  We even see this in Jesus’ own life.  For the joy set before him, he endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2).  While Jesus completely followed the Father’s will, he didn’t endure the cross just because he “ought” to, but because of the unparalleled riches and joy that would follow.

In the same way, scripture is filled with promises that, when harnessed properly, can transform our attitude about evangelism from "ought" to "want."  These promises show that by boldly sharing the gospel we are pursuing better rewards - our joy, the joy of others, and, most importantly, the glory of God.  These rewards far outweigh the rewards of staying silent.

To begin, our attitude should be the same of that as John the Baptist.  Early in Jesus' public ministry, John's disciples expressed consternation that people were leaving John's baptism ministry to follow Jesus.  John replies, "The bride belongs to the bridegroom. The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom’s voice. That joy is mine, and it is now complete. He must become greater; I must become less" (John 3:29-30).  This ought to be the heart of every evangelist.  The point of sharing the gospel is not to bring glory and admiration to ourselves or to earn spiritual merit badges, but to magnify Christ and rejoice when others make much of him.  With our hearts set in that direction, I believe that there are five reasons that we can seek joy in the call of evangelism.

1) God is glorified

The ultimate reason that we can rejoice in the task of evangelism is that God is glorified when we proclaim the gospel, both when it is accepted and when it is rejected.  Jesus promised his followers that they could  expect rejection and should consider themselves blessed when "people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.  Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matthew 5:11-12).  When we are able to rejoice in the face of rejection because we have a better treasure in heaven, it glorifies God, not the approval of people, as our ultimate source of satisfaction.

Furthermore, God's mercy is magnified in light of his righteous judgment.  The Apostle Paul asks, "What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory?" (Romans 9:22-23).  Without going too far into the deep theology of God's sovereignty in salvation, the passage clearly shows that God's wrath justly poured out on the sins of the unrepentant highlights his glory to those who have experienced his mercy.  When the gospel is rejected, God is just in punishing sin, and his people more clearly understand the depth of mercy which they have been shown.

Better yet, however, is when the gospel is accepted.  There "is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents" (Luke 15:10).  There is great joy in heaven when a person turns from their sin and accepts the free gift of eternal life in Christ and we have the privilege of joining in this celebration.

2) Our joy abounds through relationships with fellow believers – particularly those we have led to Christ – in the presence of God

There is an experience of joy that comes from worshiping the Lord with brothers and sisters that cannot be matched through personal spiritual experiences.  While readily available online sermons and worship music can be a great encouragement to our personal walks, this is why we are called to regular worship in a local church.  

If you have had the privilege of leading someone to faith in Christ or mentoring a younger believer, you may have experienced another level of joy that comes from worshiping with your "spiritual children."  Biological parents experience a similar feeling when their children embrace one of the parent's passions.  For example, I love hiking and nature, and it is incredible to share these experiences with my daughter who is beginning to love those same things.  How much more so do we experience deep joy when we worship our redeemer alongside those whom we have been blessed to help grow in their own faith?  Paul shares this sentiment repeatedly in his letters to churches that he planted, calling these believers his "joy and crown" (Philippians 4:1, 1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).

3) Others joy is made full in Christ

At first glance, it may seem self-centered to pursue our joy in evangelism, but ultimately this pursuit is radically others and God focused.  We share the gospel out of a love for neighbor and a desire for others experience joy and freedom in Christ.  In the book of Acts, the Apostle Philip was prompted by the Holy Spirit to engage in a conversation with an Ethiopian eunuch and was able to use Old Testament scripture to share the gospel with this high ranking official.  After the Ethiopian received Christ and was baptized, "when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord suddenly took Philip away, and the eunuch did not see him again, but went on his way rejoicing" (Acts 8:39).  When we are open to the Lord's leading in evangelism, we have the opportunity to send others out rejoicing, as well.

Isaiah 9 starts with a beautiful prophesy about the one who will be called "Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6).  This passage begins by explaining part of the mission of this Messiah:

The people walking in darkness
    have seen a great light;
on those living in the land of deep darkness
    a light has dawned.
You have enlarged the nation
    and increased their joy;
they rejoice before you
    as people rejoice at the harvest,
as warriors rejoice
    when dividing the plunder.

Isaiah 9:2-3
The Prince of Peace has come to increase the joy of the people.  By sharing the gospel, we have the opportunity to be used by him in that work.

4)  There are people who will respond to the gospel

Perhaps someday I will do a series of posts on soteriology or the doctrine of salvation.  The good news is, whether you are a Calvinist, an Arminian, or don't even know what those terms mean, the following promise of Jesus is still true: "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd" (John 10:16).  It is easy to put pressure on ourselves when sharing our faith, fearing that one misspoken or unspoken word is going to prevent someone from responding to Christ.  This verse should relieve those fears and enable us to breathe.  Jesus' sheep, those currently outside the fold and not following him, will respond to his voice.  Whatever our position on pre-destination, we don't know who those people are, so it is our job to faithfully preach the gospel knowing that it is ultimately the voice of God that leads to repentance.  We can trust that what happened in Pisidian Antioch will continue in our day - "When the Gentiles heard this (the gospel), they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed" (Acts 13:48).
5)  So that we may experience the full depth of Christ

When we share something that we love, it deepens and completes our enjoyment of that pleasure.  Think about the best meal you have ever tasted, your favorite movie that you could see over and over, or the most amazing sporting event you have ever witnessed.  Do you keep it to yourself?  No!  You tell people about it.  You post it all over social media.  Sharing the experience with others completes the enjoyment.  For example, I almost four years later, I can still talk about the following sporting moment and a huge smile will come over my face.  Sorry, Michigan fans, I couldn't resist!

Similarly, we were not made to keep the gospel to ourselves.  We are meant to be rivers of God's grace, pouring it out to others who are thirsty for living water, not keeping it to ourselves like a reservoir.  Paul exhorts his friend Philemon, "I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ" (Philemon 6).  When we share the gospel, not only do we have the hope that others will experience joy in Christ, but we end up understanding the gospel more deeply ourselves.  We better understand the depth of grace that we have received.  We more fully grasp that we are not some superior, self-righteous Pharisees, but wretched sinners who have been granted a gift of mercy that we don't deserve.  We taste the goodness of God and fathom how high, long, wide and deep his love is that "while we were still sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8).  That alone, is reason to rejoice.

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