In this series of articles we will explore the need for evangelism by individuals and local churches, and make some suggestions about the opportunities for evangelism today. It is easy to forget that evangelism should be part of the routine activity of every believer and to relegate it to only being a specialist activity of a select group of individuals. I know that there is the specific gift of the evangelist (Acts 21.8; Eph 4.11; 2 Tim 4.5) but the example of the early church (Acts 8.4) would lead me to the view that all believers were involved in this work as a natural consequence of enjoying their own salvation.
"We do not well" (2 Kings 7.9)
One of the motivations for reaching out with the gospel could be summarized in the words of the Samaritan lepers who discovered the deserted camp of the Syrian Army. On arriving at the camp it looked to them like the Syrians had fled in a hurry leaving everything behind. All the food and provisions that the people of Samaria needed so badly was there for the taking. How selfish it would have been if they had just sat down and enjoyed the free food while their fellow countrymen were starving and dying just a short distance away. Listen to what they said: "We do not well: this day is a day of good tidings, and we hold our peace" (2 Kings 7.9). Generally speaking it looks as if most Christians are enjoying the free grace of God but failing to recognise that there is a world of people out there who are desperately in need of what Christians already have. Imagine the impact on our society if we were so thrilled with the joy of our salvation that we were consistently driven to tell our friends, neighbours and colleagues about it because we did not want them to miss out. Will we be embarrassed when we stand before the Lord at the Judgment Seat of Christ (Rom 14.10) to be reminded that we lived a life of ease or spent most of our life studying and discussing Scripture and spent so little time reaching out with the gospel? If you read the life story of men like C T Studd and Jim Elliott you will find the common thread of their infectious desire to know God more intimately and to reach out to men with the love of God as commended in Christ (Rom 5.8).
The Prime Motivator
The prime reason for getting out and about with the good news of salvation is that the Lord Jesus told us to. Matthew records that the Lord told "the eleven", "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations" (Mt 28.19). Mark repeats this instruction in his Gospel. In this mealtime incident the Lord appears to them, deals with their lack of faith and tells them to go "into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16.15). There are a number of lessons that we can glean from this passage.
1. Gospel outreach is not dependent on the strong faith of the individual but on their obedience to the Masters commands to get out with the message.
2. The Lord can deal with our doubts and fears.
3. The gospel message does not have "no go" areas, geographically or socially i.e. the gospel spans all cultural barriers, all social distinctions, and is for every living person on Gods earth.
A quick reading of the end of Mark 16 is also encouraging. The disciples obeyed the Lords instruction and He blessed the work. If only we had the courage to get up and do what the Lord tells us to do we would be encouraged to see His hand in blessing. This still happens in our day the Lord works with those who serve Him. His Word is confirmed as the soul-saving and life-changing Word of God by the signs following in the lives of those who believe.
Lukes description of these final moments in the life of the Lord Jesus on earth includes conversations with individuals who are not identified as being part of "the eleven". The term "the eleven" describes the apostles after Judas had taken his own life. In verse nine of Luke 24 a group of people are simply described as being "all the rest". Verse thirteen sees the start of the famous "road to Emmaus" story. One of the two individuals is identified, as Cleopas, while the other person remains unidentified. Many have theories about who they were, but what we can be confident of is that they were not of the "eleven"!
Lets continue with the story - after the Lord reveals himself to them they rush back to Jerusalem and find "the eleven gathered together, and them that were with them" (Lk 24.33). As they are explaining what took place on their journey home, the Lord comes into the room. He once again teaches them what Scripture says about Himself and He opens their understanding "that they might understand the scriptures" (Lk 24.45). I must stop and comment. What an amazing occasion that must have been! Imagine listening to the risen Lord explain the full meaning of the Biblical prophecies that related to Him awesome in the extreme! Hard on the heels of this teaching the Lord tells all of those gathered in the room that day that "repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem". They are challenged by the Lord to be His witnesses as they have had first hand experience of the events surrounding the cross and the resurrection. My main point here is not just that the gospel message was to be communicated, but that it was to be communicated by all followers of Christ not just the select group of "the eleven". In summary of the Luke 24 passage, note the following:
1. The Lord calls all of His people to bear testimony to who He is and what He has done.
2. Unnamed people are His witnesses as well those who have a higher public profile.
3. We need to have our eyes opened to the teaching of the Word of God if we are going to witness effectively.
4. Preaching and witnessing should be about the facts of the gospel, i.e. Christs suffering and resurrection (Lk 24.46), the response to the gospel, i.e. repentance (Lk 24.47), and the effect of the gospel on those who repent, i.e. remission of sins (Lk 24.47).
5. The witness is recounting a personal experience with God and explaining the faith that they have in Christ. It is eye witness testimony, not professional selling of salvation, that is the basis for effective evangelism (Lk 24.48).
6. The power for effective evangelism is from God the Father through the Spirit of God (Lk 24.49).
As I write this I am concerned that I have not given enough passion and time to knowing my Lord better and to spreading His gospel to lost souls. There are many more reasons in Scripture for gospel outreach some of which will be dealt with in further articles. However, to me the primary force behind evangelism is a true valuation of the person of our Lord and Saviour. The ultimate maxim of Christian life is, "This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent" (Jn 17.3). Genuinely living out this verse will transform me and stimulate my desires that others might come to know Him, whom to know is life eternal.
To be continued.