Sunday, August 12, 2007

Why Evangelism 6?

Then we come to the ministry of the Apostle Paul. Undoubtedly Paul was utterly motivated to preach the gospel. Luke tells us in the accounts of his conversion (Acts 9, 22, 26) as does Paul himself in Gal 1:15-16 that he received a call to take the message of God's salvation to the non-Jewish world (the Gentiles) when he was converted. He was seriously devoted to this task, declaring that he deserved God's curse ('woe to me') if he did not fulfill his commission to do so (1 Cor 9:16). He felt an incredible internal obligation to preach the gospel to all peoples (see Rom 1:14).

There are a number of evidences that Paul envisaged others working in the same business of sharing the gospel with the lost.

Firstly, he saw the gospel as the means by which people found salvation i.e. for people to be saved, they must hear the gospel, which is God's power for salvation (see Rom 1:16; 1 Cor 1:18; Eph 6:17; Eph 1:13-14). So, the gospel must be preached for people to be saved. This is seen in the rhetorical questions of Rom 10:14-17 where the questions indicate this.

Secondly, his understanding of the gospel itself demands that it be preached. He clearly saw humanity split into two groups, the saved and the lost; those in Christ or in Adam. Those who are not in Christ will experience eternal destruction rather than the eternal life God intends for all humanity. Thus the gospel must be preached so that people have the opportunity to be saved.

Thirdly, his missionary strategy demonstrates his concern to preach the gospel to all nations. Beginning in Jerusalem he first went north into Syria and Cilicia (Acts 9-12). He set up his base in Syrian Antioch for the evangelisation of the world of the Gentiles. On his first missionary journey he went west into South Galatia with the Gospel (Acts 13-14). After the Jerusalem Council in which he and the other Christian leaders resolved the issue of whether the new converts needed to be circumcised and adhere to the Mosaic law; he went west again. His intention was to go to the regions of Asia but was directed further west to Greece; Macedonia and Achaia (Acts 16-18). He then returned to Antioch and set out on a third journey going to those places he missed on his second journey in Asia and also collecting money for the poor famine-stricken Jerusalem Christians (Acts 19-21). He wanted then to go west to Rome and onto Spain (Rom 15:24-33). We know he made it to Rome but are unsure if he got to Spain. This all indicates a geographic strategy to go through the main centres of the Roman world and beyond with the gospel. We should take up his passion to take the gospel to virgin territory, that all can hear it, and so be saved. He was probably motivated by Jesus' declaration that the end will come with the task of taking the gospel to all nations was complete (cf. Mk 13:10; Mt 14:14).

Fourthly, his desire was that the churches he planted would continue the work. We see this in a number of ways.

* First, we see churches active in preaching. The Thessalonians took the gospel through Macedonia and Achaia, the word of the Lord resounding forth from them through the region (1 Thess 1:6-8).

* Second in Philippians we read of a group of co-workers who worked in Philippi to evangelise the town and area including 2 women Euodia and Syntyche, a man Clement, and other's unnamed. We can include in this Epaphroditus (2:25), an apostle of the church.

* Third he urges the Philippians to contend for the faith of the gospel in the face of pagan opposition and persecution (1:27), to hold forth the word of life (2:16a), to resolve their conflict and witness in unity.

* Fourth he urges the Colossians to ensure their logos is seasoned with salt, prepared to answer enquiry. Logos here is not general speech as many translations, but proclamation as in the previous verses (4:1-6).

* Fifthly, he urges his converts to imitate him. In Phil 4:9 they are to imitate everything he has taught them and demonstrated to them, no doubt including evangelism (see Acts 16; Phil 4:2-3; 1 Thess 2:1-2). He urges the Corinthians to imitate him as he imitates Christ. Christ of course was a preacher of the gospel! Paul too in 1 Cor 9:15-22 has described his own passion and commitment to cultural relevance in preaching. His purpose is to save the lost (1 Cor 10:31-33). Believers too are to do everything they can to ensure others are saved including sharing the faith with them!

* Sixth, he wanted Christians to share the gospel in the face of opposition. There is no retreatism when the going gets tough or the gospel is resisted. Rather, like Christ (Phil 2:5-11) and he himself (Phil 1:6-7, 12-13; 2 Thess 2:1-2), they are to press on, sharing the faith despite imprisonment, rejection, persecution, death!

* Seventh, we see his attitude to what happens when others are inspired to share the faith in Phil 1:12-14. He is in prison in Rome and the gospel is spreading through soldiers and city. Some of the Roman believers are excited to preach the gospel as he does. Some are actually poorly motivated seeking to cause his suffering! Others are rightly motivated. Yet Paul doesn't care, he is simple thrilled that the gospel is preached!

* Eighth, we see his passion for evangelism in that two of the elements of Christian armoury are evangelistically inclined. The shoes of the readiness to proclaim the gospel of peace indicates a preparedness to preach the gospel at all times. Notably this is the only aspect of the armour devoted to movement i.e. mission lies at the focus of the movement of Christian life. The Word of God is the sword of the Spirit. The only attacking weapon is the rhema of God, the word proclaimed. This involves evangelistic, apologetic and teaching proclamation.

* Ninth Paul's theology of church leadership in Ephesians 4:11-16 speaks of Christian leaders equipping others for works of ministry. Thus the apostle and evangelist trains the others to do the work of evangelism, to speak the truth in love, to see the church built up. The other Christian leaders, the pastors and teachers, do the same of course so that the body lives the full range of Christian ministry.

* Tenth, Luke's record of Paul speaks of his equipping of others for mission. In chapter 13 after the Psidian Antiochian sermon, many come to Christ, and the whole region hears the gospel. In 19:9-10 in the lecture hall of Tyrannus Paul teaches his new converts and these new disciples take the gospel through the whole of Asia in two years. One of these undoubtedly was Epaphras who planted the church in Colossae (Col 1:6).

So all in all it is clear that Paul wanted others to evangelise. His ministry was not a one man show or even a one-team show. He preached and equipped others to preach. He wanted others to take up the mission as he has done and see the gospel spread.

Of course he also believed in spiritual gifts and so some would be more inclined to evangelism than others through the empowering of the Spirit. However, all were to be motivated as he was to see others come to Christ and remain in Christ, cared for, loved, discipled and nurtured in the faith. He wanted the body of Christ built up in numbers and in maturity. Each of us is to express the faith authentically, according to our gifts, with love, through whole lives given over to Christ, in unity; works, attitude and words designed led by the Spirit to draw people to Christ.

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