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                  Why Evangelize?

 

The following passages are from J. I. Packer’s book, “Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God,” published in 1961 by InterVasity Press.

 

        There are, in fact, two motives that should spur us constantly to evangelize. The first is love to God and concern for His glory; the second is love to man and concern for his welfare.

    

     1. The first motive is primary and fundamental. The chief end of man is to glorify God. The biblical rule of life is: ‘do all to the glory of God.Men glorify God by obeying His word and fulfilling His revealed will. Similarly, the first and great commandment is: ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God.’ (Matthew 22:37f KJV) We show love to the Father and the Son, who have so richly loved us, by keeping Their commandments. ‘He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me,’ said our Lord.’ (John 14:21) ‘This is the love of God,’ wrote John, ‘that we keep his commandments.’ (1 John 5:3) Now, evangelism is one of the activities that the Father and the Son have commanded. ‘This gospel of the kingdom,’ Christ tells us, ‘shall’ (according to Mark, ‘must’) ‘be preached in all the world for a witness.’(Matthew 24:14; Mark 13:10) And before His ascension Christ charged His disciples in the following categorical terms: ‘Go ye. . . and make disciples of all the nations.’ To this command He added at once a comprehensive promise: ‘and lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.’(Matthew 28:19f RV) The comprehensiveness of this promise shows us how wide is the application of the command to which it is appended. The phrase ‘even unto the end of the world’ makes it clear that the ‘you’ to whom the promise was given was not solely and exclusively the eleven disciples; this promise extends to the whole Christian Church throughout history, the entire community of which the eleven were, so to speak, founder members. It is, therefore, a promise for us no less than for them, and a promise of great comfort too. But if the promise extends to us, then the commission with which it is linked must extend to us also. The promise was given to encourage the eleven, lest they be overwhelmed at the size and difficulty of the task of world evangelism that Christ was laying upon them. If it is our privilege to appropriate the promise, then it is also our responsibility to accept the commission. The task laid upon the eleven is the Church’s constant task. And if it is the Church’s task in general, then it is your task and my task in particular. If, therefore, we love God and are concerned to glorify Him, we must obey His command to evangelize.

        There is a further strand to this thought. We glorify God by evangelizing, not only because evangelizing is an act of obedience, but also because in evangelism we tell the world what great things God has done for the salvation of sinners. God is glorified when His mighty works of grace are made known. The psalmist exhorts us to ‘shew forth his salvation from day to day. Declare his glory among the heathen, his wonders among all people.’(Psalms 66:2f) For a Christian to talk to the unconverted about the Lord Jesus Christ and His saving power is in itself honouring and glorifying to God.

 

        2. The second motive that should prompt us to assiduous evangelism is love to our neighbour, and the desire to see our fellow-men saved. The wish to win the lost for Christ should be, and indeed is, the natural, spontaneous outflow of love in the heart of everyone who has been born again. Our Lord confirms the Old Testament demand that we should love our neighbour as ourselves.(Mark 12:31; Luke 10:27f) ‘As we have therefore opportunity,’ writes Paul, ‘let us do good unto all men.’(Galatians 6:10) What greater need has any man than the need to know Christ? What greater good can we do to any man than to set before him the knowledge of Christ? Insofar as we really love our neighbour as ourselves, we shall of necessity want him to enjoy the salvation which is so precious to us. This, indeed, should not be a thing that we need to think about, let alone argue about. The impulse to evangelize should spring up spontaneously in us as we see our neighbour’s need of Christ.

        Who is my neighbour? When the lawyer, confronted with the demand of love for one’s neighbour, asked our Lord this question, Christ replied by telling the story of the Good Samaritan.(Luke 10:29ff) What that story teaches is simply this: that any fellow human being whom you meet who is in need is your neighbour; God has put him there so that you may help him; and your business is to show yourself neighbour to him by doing all that you can to meet his need, whatever it may be. ‘Go, and do thou likewise,’ said our Lord to the lawyer. He says the same to us. And the principle applies to all forms of need, spiritual no less than material. So that when we find ourselves in contact with men and women who are without Christ, and so face spiritual death, we are to look on them as our neighbours in this sense, and ask ourselves what we can do to make Christ known to them.

        May I stress again: if we ourselves have known anything of the love of Christ for us, and if our hearts have felt any measure of gratitude for the grace that has saved us from death and hell, then this attitude of compassion and care for our spiritually needy fellow-men ought to come naturally and spontaneously to us. It was in connection with aggressive evangelism that Paul declared that ‘the love of Christ constraineth us’.(2 Corinthians 5:14) It is a tragic and ugly thing when Christians lack desire, and are actually reluctant, to share the precious knowledge that they have with others whose need of it is just as great as their own. It was natural for Andrew, when he found the Messiah, to go off and tell his brother Simon, and for Philip to hurry to break the good news to his friend Nathanael.(John 1:40ff) They did not need to be told to do this; they did it naturally and spontaneously, just as one would naturally and spontaneously share with one’s family and friends any other piece of news that vitally affected them. There is something very wrong with us if we do not ourselves find it natural to act in this way: let us be quite clear about that. It is a great privilege to evangelize; it is a wonderful thing to be able to tell others of the love of Christ, knowing that there is nothing that they need more urgently to know, and no knowledge in the world that can do them so much good. We should not, therefore, be reluctant and backward to evangelize on the personal and individual level. We should be glad and happy to do it. We should not look for excuses for wriggling out of our obligation when occasion offers to talk to others about the Lord Jesus Christ. If we find ourselves shrinking from this responsibility, and trying to evade it, we need to face ourselves with the fact that in this we are yielding to sin and Satan. If (as is usual) it is the fear of being thought odd and ridiculous, or of losing popularity in certain circles, that holds us back, we need to ask ourselves in the presence of God: Ought these things to stop us loving our neighbour? If it is a false shame, which is not shame at all, but pride in disguise, that keeps our tongue from Christian witness when we are with other people, we need to press upon our conscience this question: Which matters more---our reputation or theft of salvation? We cannot be complacent about this gangrene of conceit and cowardice when we weigh up our lives in the presence of God. What we need to do is to ask for grace to be truly ashamed of ourselves, and to pray that we may so overflow in love to God that we shall overflow in love to our fellow-men, and so find it an easy and natural and joyful thing to share with them the good news of Christ.

        By now, I hope, it is becoming clear to us how we should regard our evangelistic responsibility. Evangelism is not the only task that our Lord has given us, nor is it a task that we are all called to discharge in the same way. We are not all called to be preachers; we are not all given equal opportunities or comparable abilities for personal dealing with men and women who need Christ. But we all have some evangelistic responsibility which we cannot shirk without failing in love both to our God and to our neighbour. To start with, we all can and should be praying for the salvation of unconverted people, particularly in our family, and among our friends and everyday associates. And then we must learn to see what possibilities of evangelism our everyday situation holds, and to be enterprising in our use of them. It is the nature of love to be enterprising. If you love someone, you are constantly trying to think out what is the best you can do for him, and how best you can please him, and it is your pleasure to give him pleasure by the things you devise for him. If, then, we love God---Father, Son, and Spirit---for all that They have done for us, we shall muster all our initiative and enterprise to make the most that we can of every situation for Their glory---and one chief way of doing this is to seek out ways and means of spreading the gospel, and obeying the divine command to make disciples everywhere. Similarly, if we love our neighbour, we shall muster all our initiative and enterprise to find ways and means of doing him good. And one chief way of doing him good is to share with him our knowledge of Christ. Thus, if we love God and our neighbour, we shall evangelize, and we shall be enterprising in our evangelism. We shall not ask with reluctance how much we have to do in this realm, as if evangelizing were a distasteful and burdensome task. We shall not enquire anxiously after the minimum outlay of effort in evangelism that will satisfy God. But we shall ask eagerly, and pray earnestly to be shown, just how much it is in our power to do to spread the knowledge of Christ among men; and once we see what the possibilities are, we shall give ourselves wholeheartedly to the task.

        One further point must be added, however, lest what we have said be misapplied. It must never be forgotten that the enterprise required of us in evangelism is the enterprise of love: an enterprise that springs from a genuine interest in those whom we seek to win, and a genuine care for their well-being, and expresses itself in a genuine respect for them and a genuine friendliness towards them. One sometimes meets a scalp-hunting zeal in evangelism, both in the pulpit and on the personal level, which is both discreditable and alarming. It is discreditable, because it reflects, not love and care, nor the desire to be of help, but arrogance, and conceit, and pleasure in having power over the lives of others. It is alarming, because it finds expression in a ferocious psychological pommelling of the poor victim which may do great damage to sensitive and impressionable souls. But if love prompts and rules our evangelistic work, we shall approach other people in a different spirit. If we truly care for them, and if our heart truly loves and fears God, then we shall seek to present Christ to them in a way that is both honouring to Him and respectful to them. We shall not try to violate their personalities, or exploit their weaknesses, or ride roughshod over their feelings. What we shall be trying to do, rather, is to show them the reality of our friendship and concern by sharing with them our most valuable possession. And this spirit of friendship and concern will shine through all that we say to them, whether in the pulpit or in private, however drastic and shattering the truths that we tell them may be.

        There is a famous old book on personal evangelism by C. G. Trumbull, entitled Taking Men Alive. In the third chapter of that book, the author tells us of the rule that his father, H. C. Trumbull, made for himself in this matter. It was as follows: ‘Whenever I am justified in choosing my subject of conversation with another, the theme of themes (Christ) shall have prominence between us, so that I may learn of his need, and, if possible, meet it’ The key words here are: ‘whenever I am justified in choosing my subject of conversation with another’. They remind us, first, that personal evangelism, like all our dealings with our fellow-men, should be courteous. And they remind us, second, that personal evangelism needs normally to be founded on friendship. You are not usually justified in choosing the subject of conversation with another till you have already begun to give yourself to him in friendship and established a relationship with him in which he feels that you respect him, and are interested in him, and are treating him as a human being, and not just as some kind of ‘case’. With some people, you may establish such a relationship in five minutes, whereas with others it may take months. But the principle remains the same. The right to talk intimately to another person about the Lord Jesus Christ has to be earned, and you earn it by convincing him that you are his friend, and really care about him. And therefore the indiscriminate buttonholing, the intrusive barging in to the privacy of other people’s souls, the thick-skinned insistence on expounding the things of God to reluctant strangers who are longing to get away---these modes of behaviour, in which strong and loquacious personalities have sometimes indulged in the name of personal evangelism, should be written off as a travesty of personal evangelism. Impersonal evangelism would be a better name for them! In fact, rudeness of this sort dishonours God; moreover, it creates resentment, and prejudices people against the Christ whose professed followers act so objectionably. The truth is that real personal evangelism is very costly, just because it demands of us a really personal relationship with the other man. We have to give ourselves in honest friendship to people, if ever our relationship with them is to reach the point at which we are justified in choosing to talk to them about Christ, and can speak to them about their own spiritual needs without being either discourteous or offensive. If you wish to do personal evangelism, then---and I hope you do; you ought to---pray for the gift of friendship. A genuine friendliness is in any case a prime mark of the man who is learning to love his neighbour as himself. (73-82)

 

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