Note: A piece prepared for a newsletter.
If Paul was writing a letter to the New Zealand churches today, he might write something like this: ἀλλὰ πείθεσθῶσαν ἐν τῷ εὐαγγελίῳ (alla peithesthōsan en tō euangeliō), which can be translated: ‘but, let us be confident in the gospel.’ This lack of confidence is because many Christians in NZ have lost their confidence in the gospel and have adopted a quietist approach to sharing Christ. They live out the supposed mantra of Francis of Assisi (which he never actually said): ‘preach the gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.’ There may be good reasons for our reticence, with many New Zealanders very resistant to the gospel. One could imagine Paul becoming very testy if he was to observe our unpreparedness to open our mouths and share Christ. For what counts for Paul is that in every way, Christ is proclaimed (Phil 1:18).
Christ himself demonstrated the importance of sharing the message of God, even when the gospel was repudiated. He died because he refused to be silenced. After his resurrection, much of his teaching was to urge his followers that their primary task was to proclaim the gospel to all nations. Then the end would come (Matt 28:18-20; Luke 24:46-48; John 20:21; Acts 1:8, also Mark 13:10; Matt). One of the primary functions of the Spirit in us is that God may speak through us with Spirit-inspired words (Mark 13:11; Luke 12:12). In this way, the lost are found. The early Christians were fearless and determined to share Christ refusing to relent even if they were commanded to be silent, flogged, imprisoned, and killed (esp. Acts 4:19-21; 5:29-32; 6:8-8:4).
This is because they had complete confidence in the word of God. When a Christian opens his or her mouth and shares the gospel or some part of it, God speaks through us, working in and through these words prompting response from the hearer. Aside from much prayer, seeking to be as clear as possible with our words to ensure the gospel is plainly heard (Col 4:2–4), and sharing with the right attitude of agapē love and grace (2 Cor 5:14; Phil 1:16; Col 4:5-6), we carry no responsibility for the effect of the message. God does his work. Some will hear it and not comprehend it, even repudiating it with stubborn hearts and antagonism (Acts 28:26-27). Others will hear it, appear to receive it with faith, but it come to nought (e.g. Mark 4:1-20; Acts 17:32). Yet others will hear the word and believe, faith born in their hearts (Rom 10:17). Their hearts will be opened (Acts 16:14), faith will flower, the Spirit will enter their lives (Gal 3:2), and they will be born anew from above (John 3:5). We do not control this process. This is between God and the hearer. Our responsibility is to preach the word in season and out of season, and let the word of God do its work (2 Tim 4:2).
It is critical we find our voice as New Zealand Christians. We find as we do that although there remains much resistance, the fields of NZ are white for the harvest (John 4:35). What is needed is people who are deeply prayerful at all times, immersed in the word who know the gospel, motivated by the Spirit with holy passion, full of agapē love, who will find their voice and let God speak through them to the lost. The time is urgent. Will we take up the challenge? My prayer to the God of nations is the same one prayed by the Jerusalem Christians after being told to cease sharing the message of Jesus: ‘And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness. while you stretch out your hand to heal, and signs and wonders are performed through the name of your holy servant Jesus’ (Acts 4:29-30). May it be that after we pray, that we are filled with the Spirit and this nation is shaken to its core, not with an earthquake, but the power of God.