A Philosophy of Evangelism
Cultivating Requires More Time than Reaping
Most models of evangelism center on “reaping”, and this is understandable, since the harvest is the desired result of the whole process. The problem, however, is that this tends to promote a more confrontational style than most people would prefer, and it could also foster a superficial “hit-and-run” technique that leads to questionable conversions and a general lack of follow-up.
Evangelism Is an Eternal Investment
The parables of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son in Luke 15 are really one parable in three movements. In each case something of value was lost, an effort was made to find it, and when it was found, the result was joy and celebration. The application of these stories is that “there is joy in heaven in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents” (v. 10). Each person is of great value to God, and when we participate in the process of helping people come into the Father’s household, we share in the Father’s joy.
In the parable of the unrighteous steward that follows in Luke 16, Jesus teaches that we can leverage the temporal assets of time, talent, treasure, and truth into eternal gain when we use them to build into the lives of people. “And I say to you, make friends for yourselves by means of the wealth of unrighteousness, so that when it fails, they will receive you into the eternal dwellings” (v.9). This is what the apostle Paul anticipated when he told the Thessalonians, “For who is our hope or joy or crown of exultation? Is it not even you, in the presence of our Lord Jesus at His coming? For you are our glory and joy” (1 Thessalonians 2:19-20).
When we invest our lives and resources in the spiritual service of others in our walk and in our words, we are investing in eternal relationships. In effect, we are building a “portfolio” in heaven and sending our assets ahead of us. We are also pursuing what pleases the Father and participating in His purposes.
There are a variety of things we will be able to do better in heaven than we can possibly do on earth. But we tend to overlook the one thing we will not be able to do in heaven that we can do on earth—serve those who are in desperate need. When we leave this planet we will never again have the privilege of sharing the gospel and serving the lost.
Those who want to be rich toward God will give their lives in exchange for the things He declared to be important. Jesus said in Luke 16:15, “that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.” Those who seek the Father’s heart will respond to His Son’s call: “Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men” (Matthew 4:19).
We Can Evangelize for the Wrong Reasons
In his letter to the Philippians, Paul told them that some people were “preaching Christ even from envy and strife, but some also from good will” (1:15). The former were doing it out of selfish ambition, while the latter were doing it out of love (1:16). But Paul’s wise response was, “Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice” (1:17). Regardless of our intentions, if the gospel is proclaimed, God’s Word will accomplish His purpose, even if it is in spite of the messenger’s motives (Isaiah 55:10-11). Still, as ambassadors of Christ, we do well to examine our reasons for sharing our faith, so that we will align our hearts with what delights our Father.
Two unseemly motivations for proclaiming the gospel are guilt and pride. Many believers have been taught to feel guilty when they fail to share their faith with outsiders. When this happens, the burden can grow so great that they may suddenly buttonhole some unsuspecting victim and blurt out the gospel before running back into hiding until the guilt builds up again. This kind of “gospel grenade” experience is painfully embarrassing for all involved.
Others have slipped into the error of pride by sharing their faith to hang more scalps on their spiritual belt or carve more notches on their Bible. Those who take pride in numbers and in comparing results with others have a way of trying to force the decision, like a salesman who won’t remove his foot from the door until the person signs on the dotted line.
By contrast, Paul mentions three biblical motivations in 2 Corinthians 5 for proclaiming the Good News. First, he does so because he seeks to be pleasing to the Father. “Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him” (v. 9). It pleases the Father when we speak well of His Son to others. Second, he wishes to receive the Lord’s reward at the judgment seat of Christ for faithfulness to the opportunities he has been given (v. 10). “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (v. 11). It is a rich reward to have friends who will spend eternity with us because we were privileged to participate in God’s purposes for their lives. Third, he is compelled by Christ’s love and his love for Christ to be His ambassador in this world (vv. 14-20). The secret to loving the unlovable is to be controlled by Christ’s love for them.
Evangelism Involves a Combination of Words and Deeds
In recent years, the concept of lifestyle, relational, or friendship evangelism has been taught in a growing number of churches and ministries. This relational approach to evangelism as a way of life has the advantages of stressing the cultivation process and of being less threatening to most believers than methods that are more confrontational. But it is important to avoid the two extremes of all friendship without evangelism and all evangelism without friendship. By being dependent on the Spirit and sensitive to the opportunities He provides, we can seek the right balance between incarnation and proclamation.
Biblical evangelism is a lifestyle to be lived, not a lesson to be learned; it is a process more than a program.
Evangelism and Discipleship Should be Integrated
Just as discipleship should lead to evangelism, evangelism in turn should lead to discipleship. Evangelism is the beginning of the journey of knowing Jesus, not the end. Our Lord commissioned us to make disciples, not decisions (Matthew 28:18-20).
The joy of the journey commences with conversion and increases with maturity. As a spiritual father, Paul wanted his converts in Thessalonica to grow into the fullness of formation in the image of Christ: “You are witnesses, and so is God, how devoutly and uprightly and blamelessly we behaved toward you believers; just as you know how we were exhorting and encouraging and imploring each one of you as a father would his own children, so that you would walk in a manner worthy of the God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory” (1 Thessalonians 2:10-12).
Taken from Ken Boa's Handbook to Spiritual Growth
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