Friday, September 25, 2015

But It's (Not) My Job!

Acts 8:4 Now those who were scattered went about preaching (lit., “evangelizing;” telling the good news about) the word.
Is it the responsibility and privilege of every Christian to tell others about Jesus? Is personal evangelism everyone’s job, or is it reserved for those with special talent, passion, and ability? Does it spring from joy (“I can’t wait to share this news!”) or duty (“I don’t feel equipped to, but I must force myself to do something because God requires it.”)?
Some say that every Christian must evangelize. They might even say, “You can’t go to heaven unless you take someone with you! The fruit of a Christian is another Christian!” That sounds like it's a required condition of salvation rather than the joyful result of being saved by grace (Eph 2:8-10). That is, it’s everybody’s job. Do it or else.
More recently and more often I now hear people saying that evangelism is a special gift. Not everyone is a teacher. If one is not talented or comfortable with telling others about Jesus, that person should not take too personally the command to evangelize. It applies to those who are qualified in some special way, with talents and training that others lack. Instead others may (or even should) focus on other important matters, such as prayer, hospitality, encouragement, meals, visitation, etc. Some may think that (or act as if) evangelism is primarily the work of the preacher, elders, deacons, etc.
We may begin to resolve these matters by defining the word “evangelize” in two ways, one more broad and the other more narrow. Let’s start with Scriptures that direct every Christian in a broad sense to find a way to tell others about Jesus. Let’s realize that those with no special talent, skill, or training, still have the privilege and call to spread the news with joy.
Take the woman at the well (John 4). Or the man with the “Legion” of demons (Mark 5:18-20). Or the paralytic (Mark 2:1-12), the man at the pool (John 5), or the man born blind (John 9). There was even the leper, who against Jesus’ instructions spread the news so widely that Jesus could no longer openly enter a town (Mark 1:40-45). Then there are the women who discovered the empty tomb (Luke 24:8-10). Did any of these possess a special "talent" for telling what they had seen and heard? No. They were just too excited and grateful to remain silent. If you told any of them to leave sharing the good news to others with special talent, you might well offend them.
Is there a command for all of us? There is. Jesus said in Luke 12:8-9, “And I tell you, everyone who confesses me before men, the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God, but the one who denies me before men will be denied before the angels of God.” To whom was Jesus referring? Only those who want Jesus to confess them in the future - that's all of us! - should take these words to heart and apply them personally.
Jesus told the apostles to evangelize the world, and then He told them to teach the new disciples “to observe all that I commanded you.” Does that not imply that the commission applies to all Christians of every generation? Are you and I not Christians because someone took these words seriously and told us about Jesus?
Then in Acts we find everyday people – not just the trained apostles – spreading the Word wherever they went. In Acts 8:4, when the apostles stayed in Jerusalem, it was the other believers who left and preached (literally, “evangelized”) the Word. The text simply means, “They told good news.” “Preached” may be misleading to many, because it implies a public, group proclamation by one specially prepared, perhaps at a pulpit! This was not the case.
Now read carefully Acts 11:19-21.
Ac 11:19 Now those who were scattered because of the persecution that arose over Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia and Cyprus and Antioch, speaking the word to no one except Jews. 20 But there were some of them, men of Cyprus and Cyrene, who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord.
Some people today hear “evangelize” and they think primarily of door-knocking, conducting a one-to-one Bible study, or something similar. They think that they lack the knowledge, the personality, the talent, and/or the people skills to share the good news in this or that specific way. The Lord did not limit us to any one method. He simply told us to confess Him before men. As an example, not every father is a gifted speaker, but every father is to tell the good news to his children, to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord” (Eph 6:4). Instead of saying, “That’s not my talent!” every Christian man must say, “I will use my talents – even if they are few and poor – to tell my children about the Lord!”
So we affirm that every follower of Christ is to find some way to confess Jesus before men, no more and no less. The way that one does that will depend on his or her gifts and talents. There are countless ways that one may choose. One may leave a gospel card with a generous tip at a restaurant. One may post a Scripture on social media. One may mail a letter to neighbors, friends, and relatives, telling the story of Jesus. Where there is a will, there is a way. One man I know who shares his faith continually has cerebral palsy and speaks slowly and with great difficulty – yet he speaks. I know a married couple that prepared a kind letter and placed it in the doors (and on some windshields) in an entire neighborhood. In doing so they enjoyed a nice summer walk, each other’s company along the way, and a sense of satisfaction that they had evangelized.
So when a Christian says, “Evangelism is not my job,” I’d like to define evangelism as described above and say, “Yes it is! It’s everybody’s job! Use your talents and gifts to tell someone about Jesus!”
As an example I’ll use the air conditioning (HVAC) in my home. I know very little about the workings, settings, installation, and maintenance of an HVAC system. However, one of my good friends, an elder in the Keller church, is in HVAC sales. Since we had his company install our new equipment, I have been delighted! I am eager to “tell good news” to others who may benefit from a cooler house in August in north Texas. Regardless of my talent – or lack of it – I could find some way to let others know. I could mail cards to people I know. I could email everyone in my contact list. I could leave his business flyers in people’s doors.
Evangelism is like that, in the broad sense. If you know enough about Jesus to follow Him, you know enough to tell others. As a satisfied “customer,” you can introduce people you know to the “HVAC expert,” who can take it from there. This is what the Samaritan woman at the well did.
John 4:39 Many Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them, and he stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of his word. 42 They said to the woman, “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Savior of the world.”
Now let’s talk about the other side of the coin, the narrower sense of evangelism. The Bible uses the word “evangelist” in a limited way, to refer to a man who, in a special way, is appointed to proclaim the gospel. In fact the word only appears three times in the New Testament.
Acts 21:8 On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him.
Eph 4:11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers,
2 Tim 4:5 As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
Here is a person who can lead the Bible study, who can present God’s truth most effectively because of the talents and gifts God has given him. There are many examples: the apostles on Pentecost, Stephen in the synagogue, Philip in Samaria, Philip in the Ethiopian’s chariot. I have preacher friends who bring the Word in power in revivals and gospel meetings. Through them God’s Word draws the lost to repent and be baptized and draws the weak to be restored. I know a man who, outside the pulpit, talks and studies with people every day. By using him God has led scores, perhaps hundreds, to follow the Savior.
I know a man who was extremely effective in teaching one-to-one Bible studies. He even declined the opportunity to become an elder, because he thought he should stay focused on winning the lost. He had a special ability, and he used it well. Not everyone could do what he did, in just the same way. Others can assist such a soul-winner by providing babysitting, preparing meals, visiting the new Christians, coordinating prayer teams, sending cards, etc. In this narrow sense the “evangelist” may be seen as one person on a team, with others participating in support roles that help to nurture and secure new converts.
This “narrow” sense can be seen also in Acts 11. Above we noted From Acts 11:19-21 the broad idea of Christians telling others about Jesus. However, the time came that those with special gifts were needed. Note Acts 11:22-26.
Acts 11:22 The report of this came to the ears of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he was glad, and he exhorted them all to remain faithful to the Lord with steadfast purpose, 24 for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. 25 So Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, 26 and when he had found him, he brought him to Antioch. For a whole year they met with the church and taught a great many people. And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.
Evangelism in the broad sense led to evangelism in a more specialized sense. So it is today. One may plant the seed, another may water, and a third may see the harvest that God brings. Leaders, like Barnabas and Saul, have an important part to play, but so do all who follow Jesus.
Recently I participated in the baptism of a father, his wife, their teenage son, and their teenage daughter. Though I had preached a message that day from Romans 6, entitled, “Up from the Grave WE Arose,” that lesson was not their primary motivation. One of our couples in the church, neighbors to this family, had invited them to worship and had met with them often as friends. This couple gave this family a book to provide the teaching content. Because of their friendship, this family accepted the book, studied it, and discussed it with the Christian couple.
The couple “evangelized” – told their neighbors about the good news – but they did not knock doors or preach a sermon. In the context of trust and friendship, they introduced the Lord to people they cared about. They used a tool (the book) to provide the content of the teaching. As a result four lost people came to Christ.
If every person did what this couple did – according to his or her own talents – think about what could happen! What about you? Are you confessing Christ before men, in a way that fits your personality, your talents, and your faith?
Let me get personal. In my own case, I seek to tell the good news publicly and privately, both via pulpit preaching and one-to-one contact. I wish I could be more effective in every setting! I have not seen the kind of visible results that other preachers may have, and I admire them so much. However, I ask myself, “If I don’t offer the gospel to the people I know, using the talents God has given me, who will? If they are lost in hell forever, can I somehow excuse my silence by saying that it just wasn’t my gift?”
So I try. I pray. I stretch. I work.
Evangelism, in both the broad sense and the narrow sense, is my privilege and responsibility. I want to do better. Lord, help me!
Evangelism, at least in the broad sense, is your privilege and responsibility, too. Find a way – your way – to tell others about Jesus! Introduce them to others who can water and cultivate with additional teaching. To God be the glory.