To Evangelize Or Not To Evangelize

Today someone tweeted a link to one of my posts, which I of course appreciate. I looked at his Twittermeme page, and I appreciate guys like that. They’re awesome, and anyone that’s zealous for proclaiming Jesus is my brother. I’m proud of and thrilled with such people.

But …

It is with fear and trepidation that I disagree with the header on his account:

In Acts 5:42, all shared the gospel. Fact: today only 2%. What’s changed?

All shared the Gospel in Acts 5:42?

I looked it up. Acts 5:42 is talking about the apostles and maybe even just a couple of the apostles. A chapter earlier, Luke writes:

And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of Christ. (Acts 4:33)

Believing the Scriptures Even When We’re More Righteous Than the Scriptures

How’s that for a heading?

The Scriptures say, "How shall they preach unless they are sent?" (Rom. 10:15). But we want everyone to preach.

Our righteousness is supposed to exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees (Matt. 5:20), but it is not supposed to exceed that of the Scriptures or of Christ! Bad things happen when we get ourselves in that position!

Paul didn’t travel and preach the Gospel until many years—more than a decade—after he was saved.

Now keep in mind Paul was a preacher by nature. He was zealous and outspoken enough to be trying to crush the Christians, even by violence, before he was saved. You can be assured that people like him will always be trying to convince everyone around them of what they think.

Others are not so. Should we all be Pauls?

Well, I’ve pointed out that Acts has only the apostles, plus some additional men like Stephen, Philip, Apollos, and even a woman, Priscilla, preaching the Gospel, but not the general populace of the church.

Nor is there a single command in the New Testament to preach the Gospel except commands directed to the apostles or to Timothy, an apostle himself.

Really.

Shut Up!

The Scriptures, in order to see the Gospel spread, tell us …

Honor yourself by shutting up! Work with your own hands, like we told you, so that you are living decently in front of outsiders! (1 Thess. 4:11)

You’ve probably never seen that translation before. It’s from the PAVAO Bible (Paul’s Annotated Version and Anointed Opinions).

Okay, I made it up, and I’m kidding around a little bit, but it’s not an illegitimate translation. It’s overboard, but I’m not misrepresenting the gist of 1 Thess. 4:11. That verse is trying to say, in context, "Quit being a busybody. Leave people alone. Quit ‘living by faith’ and get a job so that people don’t think you’re a bum."

Read it yourself. That’s the point. And if you move on to 2 Thessalonians and read the 3rd chapter, you’ll see that he had to tell them the same thing all over again.

Evangelizing the Bible Way

It has always stood out to me that when Justin Martyr, around A.D. 150, described how people had become Christians, he listed only three things:

  • By the consistency they witnessed in their Christian neighbor’s lives
  • By the extraordinary forbearance they witnessed in Christian travelers when they were cheated. (I guess this was common in the 2nd century.)
  • By the honesty of the Christians with whom they’d transacted business.

In other words, Christians had shut up, gotten jobs, and lived honorable lives in front of outsiders, and those outsiders saw it and wanted in.

Would it be fair to say that we’re failing miserably at that today?

As a whole, we are. Christianity in America, as a whole, is embarrassing. Overall, it produces no change in people’s lives except an occasional obsession with right-wing politics. Christians are divided, and they are not distinguished by honesty or by anything else.

And, in general, they’re sure not going to be forbearing when they’re cheated at a hotel!

Individually, though, there are some Christians, and everyone who’s ever lived like that knows that people take notice.

I remember only one real Christian that I knew as a child. I never forgot her. It put an openness to the Gospel in me that never went away.

Before I lived in a Christian community where everyone is patient, forbearing, and kind, I was told several times that I was the first real Christian that a person had met. I was even told by an atheist once that meeting me across the internet and seeing my honest dealings with the Gospel shook his atheism.

I’m not bragging. Anyone who’s really devoted themselves to the Gospel, whether they’re lousy at it like me or real good at it like that lady I knew as a child, has had such experiences.

But we ruin it when we try to turn every Christian into a used-religion salesmen. Those people are no better a testimony for the Gospel than is a used-car salesman.

In Danger of Rambling On, I Conclude …

For most of us, shut up, get a job, and be a good testimony with your life until you’re sent, then preach, is good advice.

Here’s Jesus’ general command to evangelize: Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.

If you think that is a big enough goal for the average Christian to pursue all by itself, you don’t know the half of it! That "your" is plural! It’s not okay to shine "this little light of mine." You have to shine the great light on a hill that can’t be hidden. That means you not only have to live for Jesus, you have to find others, join yourself to them, and live for Jesus with them, exhorting one another every day so that none of you are hardened by the deceitfulness of sin.

If you do that, then maybe one day, God will say, "Set aside <your name here> and <your co-workers name here> for the work to which I’ve called them."

This post’s a disorganized mess, but I’m happy with that conclusion.

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7 Responses to To Evangelize Or Not To Evangelize

  1. Pingback: Defenders of a Cheap Philosophy? -or- You mean… I Don’t Have to Defend You? « "And now… it is your block of wood."

  2. Java says:

    Shammah, Thanks for sharing this. I personally connect with this post since, like Ben mentioned, I spent some years with a group that taught that everyone needed to "do the work of an evangelist" on some level. It wasn't all bad, to be sure. Teachings like that can end up derailing some folks from learning to grow and enjoy genuine fellowship with the Lord because of someone else's overemphasis on what they perceive to be a central aspect of discipleship for everyone. In fact, it was taught that you couldn't be a disciple of Jesus if you weren't agressively and verbally inviting people to church. There was also some very good teachings in the group, but it is interesting how one, or a few, teachings, even with other good things happening, can end up doing some significant harm to certain people's personal and corporate walk with our Lord. May God keep us on the path He wants us to walk.____Thanks, again, Shammah. And, God bless you.____java

  3. Alaina says:

    Thank you. This is awesome. I am finding that this is so true. I work with a bunch of unbelievers and I haven't really said anything about my faith. They know that I am different though and for the most part treat me differently than others. I love your blog. Thank you for being so faithful with it. I feel honored that I know you. Thank you for sharing what God has given you. I love and miss you.

  4. Dassi says:

    That is awesome, Shammah. I am one of those people who has asked questions about whether or not we are supposed to be sharing our Christian life and what that looks like. It's good to know that by "shutting up and working" I am still "preaching".

    Thanks.

  5. Ben says:

    Shammah, I also wanted to thank you for this encouragement. I've heard this teaching and similar ones many times, agree with the testimony of Scripture that you discussed, but with my background (and probably a lot of folks who grew up in Baptist or similar circles), it's still sometimes hard to accept that it could be okay with God that I'm not out "evangelizing" constantly. There is probably an entire generation of believers bound in guilt and condemnation over this thing. A life born out of obligation to some evangelistic obligation isn't going to produce a very compelling testimony of the riches of God. Anyway, just wanted to say thanks, been really loving your blog lately.

    • shammahbn says:

      Thanks, Ben! It's always good to hear from you.

      What's neat is when you get over the need to be a used-Christianity salesman and the other kind of guilt comes–the guilt that comes from God, which is always full of hope, joy, and direction. When you're not obligated to evangelize and you love the Lord, he provides opportunities that require those of us who are less than outgoing to overthrow our personalities and simply be friendly, kind, and open about what we know: that God made us to know him; that fullness of joy is in the Lord's presence and pleasures forevermore are at his right hand.

      You don't have to tell a Christian that loves the Lord to evangelize; therefore, if we will simply walk with God, and learn to love him because he first loved us, that will take care of the evangelism.

      It's good for us all to remember what Francis of Assissi said. "Preach the Gospel at all times. If necessary, use words."

  6. John Cullimore says:

    Shammah, thank you so much for this encouragement. I'm gonna post this a few different places. I hope ya don't mind. This needs to be heard.

    I love you friend.

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