Empowering Subjects of the King to Change the World-2

Biblical.

I think it is clear that we can be engaged in religious activities without actually being engaged in God’s mission. For example, we may substitute some other mission like “being nice” for what God sent us to do. Or we may not have any sense of mission whatsoever. In order to be involved genuinely in God’s mission, we must listen to what he reveals to us in Scripture and allow it to actually guide our work. In short, we must be biblical.

Being biblical does not mean carrying a Bible around with us wherever we go nor quoting a verse for every point we make. One can do such things and still not be biblical. Instead, being biblical especially means listening humbly to what Scripture actually says and then shaping our lives and ministry accordingly. Let me highlight three aspects of being biblical that are important for our mission and that I have tried to incorporate in Empowering Subjects.

First, we must rightly handle the word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15). If we don’t really want to participate in God’s mission, we may be tempted to “explain away” certain passages that call us to be involved in it. For example, some people say “evangelism is not my gift,” with the implication that they do not need to be involved. It is clear that not everyone has every gift and that we should emphasize the gifts we do have. At the same time, there are some things that we are all called to do whether we have the gift or not. A not-too-emotional example is serving (cf. Romans 12:6-7 with Galatians 5:13). More emotion may be involved when it comes to the matter of evangelism, so it may be more difficult for us to see, but the same thing is true. Though some have a gift as an evangelist (Ephesians 4:11), Scripture shows that many were involved in spreading the word (Acts 8:1, 4), and the whole church is called to be involved in at least some ways (Colossians 4:5-6; 1 Peter 3:15). We must not negate these Scriptures.

Conversely, if we really believe in God’s mission and want everyone to be involved in it, we may be tempted to “stretch” or “distort” certain passages to try to get others involved. For example, we may tell people that, “He that winneth souls is wise” (Proverbs 11:30, KJV), even though true evangelism didn’t exist when that passage was written and other more modern versions show that this verse doesn’t mean what people have taken the KJV to mean. Similarly, when a previous edition of the NIV translated Philemon 6 as, “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ,” some people said we should get involved in evangelism because it helps you understand what we have in Christ. While there may actually be some truth in that, the sharing mentioned in the verse is not referring to evangelism but to Christian fellowship (koinonia), as other versions show.

Whether our personal inclination is to evade evangelism or bolster it, we must set it aside and listen to what God actually says. Admittedly, it is sometimes difficult to discern this, and sincere people will sometimes disagree. But our heart and desire should be to hear what God is actually saying, not to twist his words to say what we’d like to say. The only way we will be genuinely involved in his mission is if we listen humbly to his words (cf. Matthew 11:25-26).

In Empowering Subjects, I have tried to give plenty of Scripture support for the statements I make in the seminar and in the follow-up materials. I have also tried hard to rightly handle the word as I do so, considering word meanings and both historical and literary context. No proof-texting allowed. Again, if the work we are doing doesn’t grow out of God’s word, it isn’t God’s work.

A second aspect of being biblical that is essential for us to be genuinely involved in God’s mission is to notice the key aspects of God’s mission that are highlighted in Scripture and make sure these are the matters we include in our approach to his mission. Or as James Thompson says, something is biblical when the points come from the Bible. I won’t say that it’s necessarily wrong to list “My top ten recommendations for reaching out to others,” but I will say that is a dangerous approach. If the person listing their recommendations has actually sought wisdom from God through Scripture, I will be open to their list. But if it is based only on outside books, observation, and experience, I am less open. While there are things we can learn from such sources, none of them has the weight of God’s wisdom in Scripture.

In both Empowering Subjects and also this series of posts, I will address a number of aspects of God’s mission. It is hoped that the aspects I mention do indeed emerge genuinely from the Bible, instead my own ideas. Instead of listing these here, I will address them in the rest of the posts in this series.

Noticing the key aspects of God’s mission in Scripture also includes emphasizing the aspects that it emphasizes. There is a real danger of emphasizing our preferred aspects of the mission over what the Scriptures emphasize. Today there is a strong emphasis on “connecting” and “being relevant,” and I do see some support for these ideas in the Bible. For example, Paul connected to Jews by quoting Scripture and to Greeks by quoting poetry (Acts 17:1-3, 23-28), and he sought to “become all things to all people” (1 Corinthians 9:19-23). Still, it seems to me that Scripture places a much greater emphasis on speaking the message about Jesus and the working of God than on relevance. If not many people are praying about the mission and telling the good news about Jesus, it doesn’t matter how relevant we may be.

Going back for a moment to rightly handling the word of truth (first point above), let me add here that we often miss an important part of Paul’s statement about becoming all things to all people.  The larger context in which that statement occurs is that we all ought to be willing to sacrifice our way so as not to cause other believers to stumble (1 Corinthians 8-10). The practice he describes in 1 Corinthians 9:19-23 is but an illustration of the general principle of denying ourselves and forfeiting our way for others. That smaller passage 9:19-23 does contain truth for us to consider as well, but it seems to me we should not apply it in a way that goes against his point in the larger context. I realize the issues are complex and difficult at times, but I believe that using this shorter passage to justify bringing something into the church that will cause our brothers and sisters to stumble is not handling the word rightly.

Back to the matter of emphasizing what is emphasized, another perennial example of this is emphasizing the human role and responsibility so much that we neglect God’s role. One could also get out of balance in the other direction, of course, by just sitting back and waiting to see if God is going to do anything. But for those who have any sense of mission at all, it seems to me the former tendency is more common. For example, emphasizing the attractional model of church can subtly lead us to trust our own abilities to attract people more than we trust God. It might also cause us to downplay such central matters as the cross, self-denial, obedience, and anything else we think our culture doesn’t really want to hear.

In Empowering Subjects I have tried hard to reflect the biblical emphases as best as I can see them. One example is that I seek to develop a balance between doing good deeds, telling good news, and giving good teaching. We might call these service, evangelism, and discipleship. Even in my lifetime I have seen different ones of these emphasized in churches while others are neglected. If we genuinely listen to Scripture, however, we will see that all three are prominent and specifically mentioned in Jesus’ ministry (Matthew 4:23; 9:35) as well as seen elsewhere in the New Testament.

Third, being biblical means obeying what God tells us in Scripture even if others say otherwise. When secular society almost universally rejects something Scripture tells us, it can be difficult for us to persist in what God says. One very clear example is that society definitely does not want to hear that Jesus is the only way to God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12).

When not only secular society but also other Christians reject something in Scripture, it is all the more difficult for us to hang on to God’s word. The desires of our own flesh may further compound this difficulty. A pretty clear example is our desire to avoid suffering. Scripture couldn’t be clearer that following Jesus will entail difficulties (Matthew 16:24; Acts 14:22; 2 Timothy 3:12), but it is difficult for us to accept this.

One particular commandment from God that is discouraged by much of society and even many Christians is his instruction for us to speak about Christ. Much of secular society will accept your right to have Christian views if you keep them to yourself. Some would even say you are entitled to state your own opinion as long as you don’t judge those who disagree with you. Others are simply anti-Christian and have no place for Christ whatsoever.

Unfortunately, many Christians who otherwise hold biblical views also downplay or even oppose speaking to others about Christ. Sometimes this is a matter of neglect or omission, and other times it is more deliberately stated. Thankfully the godly practices of serving and helping others are strongly emphasized today, but unfortunately telling the good news about Jesus is often omitted or downplayed. Surprisingly, some Christians are now even saying it is wrong to talk to others about Christ, presumably because they consider it “judgmental” or “forcing our views” on others. A 2019 Barna Research Report found that 27% of practicing Christians believe it is wrong to share their religious beliefs with people of other faiths in hopes that they will come to share their faith. Among young adult practicing Christians, 47% believe it is wrong to do so (Reviving Evangelism, 2019, p. 46).

God’s contrary view is stated in several places (see post). I have been surprised in my recent reading of the book of Revelation that it, too, strongly endorses evangelism! The secular Roman society in which the recipients of the book of Revelation lived didn’t mind people having their own religion as long as they also acknowledged and placated the gods of the State, including emperors who were “deified.” But they strongly opposed the idea that Jesus is the only way to God, just as much of ours does. A significant part of John’s message is that believers must continue to testify about Christ, even if it kills them (1:2, 5, 9; 2:13; 3:14; 6:9; 11:3-7; 12:11; 20:4). Indeed, the two main keys to how they can be victorious in their faith are the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony (Revelation 12:11). The fact that God wanted them to testify even if it cost them their lives is further underscored by the fact that our word “martyr” grows out of the Greek word “witness” (martus, Revelation 2:13; 17:6). The ultimate witness is to speak about Christ even if it costs a person their life. 

Another helpful example is found in Acts 4-5 where the Jewish leaders are trying to prevent  God’s messengers from speaking about Christ. Note that this is an example of religious people trying to prevent evangelism. It’s beneficial to read the whole story, but the climactic scene comes when the Jewish leaders say, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” Their blunt reply was, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:28-29). After previously being told not to teach in Jesus’ name, they nevertheless “filled Jerusalem” with the teaching. Then again, even with the renewed threat, they made clear that they must obey God rather than men.

So must we. If we want to follow God’s guidance in his mission, we continue to speak no matter who or what might seek to prevent us. As already noted, Empowering Subjects seeks to equip believers not only to do good deeds and give good teaching but also to tell good news—the news about Jesus. It’s a matter of following Scripture, no matter what anyone says.

For more on how Empowering Subjects is equipping people for God’s mission, see here.

Published by Marvin Bryant

After serving as a minister for churches for forty years, Marvin founded the Empowering Subjects to equip subjects of the King to change the world like Jesus did.

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