We’re Not Convinced We’re Supposed to.
This series of posts will examine the various things that hinder us from speaking to others about Christ. I assure you it is not my purpose to shame, condemn or prod people. Those ways of seeking to motivate people are not worthy of the gospel, nor do they lead to meaningful evangelism. Instead, I want to acknowledge some of the things that hinder us and help us work through them. I have been hindered at times by all the barriers we will discuss and still am sometimes, so I’m not coming from a position of superiority. I’m simply wanting to help us think through these barriers in hopes that we can reduce them and promote meaningful conversation about our Lord.
I think it’s appropriate to begin with the barrier of thinking God doesn’t really expect us to speak to others about Christ, or at least he does not expect everyone (=me) to. Please be aware that if we conclude God really does want us all to speak about Christ, that does not mean we have to go out and accost strangers on the street corner or go knock on people’s doors. Such approaches are some of the other barriers we’ll address later, but I mention them now because I don’t want them to hinder us from hearing what the Scriptures tell us about God’s will.
Before we explore whether God wants us all to speak about Christ, I want acknowledge that there are other ways to help the good news grow besides speaking. Such things as prayer, setting an example, serving people, a loving fellowship and nurturing new Christians are all helpful and even necessary. One of these may end up being your primary calling. I also want to acknowledge that some people in the New Testament had a special role or gift of telling the good news and so would talk about Christ a great deal. The apostles (Mark 3:13-15; Acts 4:33; 6:1-4) and evangelists (Acts 21:8; Ephesians 4:11; 2 Timothy 4:5) are the clearest examples.
We need to recognize, however, that these were not the only ones who told others about Christ. In Acts 3-4, Peter and John, some of the prominent spokesmen, were telling the good news and were arrested for it. When they were released, they went back to their friends for support. They lifted up their voices “together” with their friends in prayer and asked the Lord to grant his “servants” courage to continue to speak (Acts 4:24, 29). Afterward, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and “they were all” filled with the Holy Spirit and “continued to speak” the word of God with boldness (Acts 4:31). In other words, it wasn’t just the apostles who were speaking. The whole group was.
A careful reading of Acts 8:1-4 shows the same thing. Persecution caused “all except the apostles” to be scattered throughout Judea and Samaria (v. 1). The text then says “those who had been scattered” preached the word wherever they went (v. 4). The word for preaching here is the regular word for announcing the good news (euangelizomai, which is the source of our word evangelism). The immediately following example of Phillip verifies that this was telling others about Christ. Though Phillip was one of those gifted spokesmen, an evangelist, he is only one example of what “those” (plural) who had been scattered were doing. Later we read that “those who had been scattered” by the persecution spread the word among Jews in various other places and then some of them even “began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus” (Acts 11:19-21). Here again, the word was spoken by more than just the apostles and evangelists (see also Acts 15:35; Philippians 1:12-14).
That many people were telling the good news to others and not just the “specialists,” is not really surprising. Following Christ and becoming like him are at the heart of Christianity (Luke 6:40), and Christ exemplified telling others the good news (Matthew 4:23; 9:35). As we seek to be more like him, we learn to tell the good news as well.
After his resurrection and before his ascension, Jesus gave a final charge to his apostles. His resurrection had shown him to be Lord and Christ, and consequently all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him (Matthew 28:18). Based on this authority, he instructs the apostles to go to the whole world, tell the good news, and make disciples. It is helpful to notice that each account of Jesus’ final commission emphasizes that God’s power is available to help us with what would otherwise be an impossible mission (for more on these commissions, see post).
Since Jesus’ final commission was spoken directly to the apostles, some have said the words do not apply to Christians today. Understanding the passage that way, however, would mean the commission is now defunct. That is very difficult for me to believe. Does God no longer want the message about Christ to be told?
Looking carefully at Matthew’s account of the commission will give us insight into who it applies to. Jesus charges the apostles to make disciples of all nations, saying this includes baptizing them as well as teaching them to observe “all that I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). To teach new believers “all I have commanded you” would include the command he just gave them—make disciples of all nations. The apostles were to teach the new disciples to make yet more disciples. In this way, the commission is self-perpetuating. Though it was originally spoken to the eleven apostles, it passes itself on to the church at large.
True, we won’t all be able to follow Jesus’ final commission in the same way or to the same extent as the apostles. We may not be able to do the signs they could do (2 Corinthians 12:12), but we can still demonstrate the truth of the kingdom (Philippians 2:14-15; Titus 27-10; 1 Peter 2:15; 3:1-2, 16). We may not be eye-witnesses like they were, but we can still testify to what we have learned and experienced of the gospel (2 Timothy 1:8). We may not be “sent” (apostello) to all nations like the “apostles” (apostolos, this title means “sent,” cf. Mark 3:14), but we are sent out in the name of Christ to our neighborhoods, schools and places of work (Matthew 6:33). Even though there were some unique aspects to the role of apostle, we can still follow Jesus’ command in principle. We can still make disciples, tell the gospel, and proclaim repentance for forgiveness of sins. The mission Jesus first gave to the apostles has been passed on to us.
Colossians 4:2-6 puts some flesh and blood on this. There Paul not only asks the church at Colossae to pray for him in his evangelistic mission, he also instructs them to “walk in wisdom toward outsiders” and “make the most of every opportunity” (v. 5). He includes speaking in this, and says is to be gracious and seasoned with salt so that we might know “how to answer each person” (v. 6). I realize knowing how to answer people is another barrier, and we’ll get to that later. My point right now is simply that the church at large who received the letter to the Colossians was called to be involved in setting a good example toward outsiders, speaking to them and answering them. (For more on this powerful passage, see post.)
1 Peter 3:15-16 is another passage about speaking that is addressed to Christians at large. In it Peter urges us to set apart Christ as Lord in our hearts, an often overlooked prerequisite to living with a sense of mission. We are also to be prepared to give an account of the reason for our hope. This does not mean we have to be experts in modern apologetics. Rather, the specific thing we are called to be ready to give an account of is the basis for our hope. That basis is the ministry, death, and resurrection of Christ. In other words, we need to be ready to tell the good news. Peter seems to envision that we will live with such hope that people will notice and ask us about it. That means when people today notice and comment on our Christian attitudes, traits, and actions, we should not downplay it due to a fear of pride but should instead tell them the real reason for who and what we are. Coupling this with the Colossians 4 passage above suggests an approach of preparing ourselves, praying and actively watching for opportunities to speak to others about Christ. Then, when we get an opportunity, we make the most of it. We do so with gentleness and respect, as Peter also reminds us (1 Peter 3:16). (For more on this powerful passage, see post.)
Is it really asking too much for us to be able to tell the basic story of Christ, how we responded to it, and how it is changing our lives? If you are a member of a social, recreational, or service organization, is it unreasonable for people to expect you to be able to explain the purpose, message and membership pathway? That seems pretty basic to me. I realize that when it comes to Christianity, the situation has become complicated, conflicted and controversial. Addressing the things that make it so is the purpose of this series. My point right now is simply that what God asks of us is reasonable.
If you need me to say it plainly, then yes, I do believe it’s God’s will for us all to speak about Christ. I hope this realization does make you feel defensive or backed into a corner. My next point is not going to be “so let’s get out there and evangelize!” Remember, having this responsibility does not mean we have to speak in some particular or stereotyped way. We should not approach this responsibility legalistically, and we certainly should not just go blurt out something religious to try to prove our commitment. We can find natural, meaningful ways of talking about Christ. So let’s continue by honestly examining some other barriers that make it difficult for us to do so and see if we can find some new perspectives that will help us represent our Lord properly.
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