Spirit of Grace Ministries
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Spirit of Grace Ministries
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The Great Commission # 2

The Priority of Evangelism

The Great Commission

by Dennis Pollock

When our Lord Jesus Christ charged the church with those famous words we know as “The Great Commission,” He forever established evangelism as a major priority for His people. His words are as valid for us today as they were at the beginning, as He declares:

All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age. (Matthew 28:18, 19)

We must not miss the import of His opening statement: “All authority has been given Me in heaven and on earth.” Here we have divine license and authority to go throughout the world, giving ourselves wholeheartedly to the cause of changing men’s hearts, religions, opinions, and values. When we, through the power of the Holy Spirit, convert Muslims, Hindus, nature-worshippers, new age adherents, Buddhists, and Jews to Christ, we are doing so under the highest authority. The One who has all authority in heaven and earth has commanded us to do so, and anyone who has a problem with our evangelistic efforts should take it up with Him. Call us presumptuous, narrow-minded, or simplistic if you will, but when we insist that men and women should forsake all other religions, or the lack of religion, and put their trust entirely upon Jesus, we are simply following orders.

Actually Jesus did not say “Go and evangelize.” He told us to go and make disciples, but discipleship always begins with the new birth, and the new birth is the result of evangelism. People never wander into the kingdom of Christ accidentally. Salvation never occurs randomly out of the blue, without someone, somewhere sharing the gospel with someone else. The apostle Paul writes:

How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? (Romans 10:14)

The Need to Speak

Paul is not suggesting that only preachers can turn men and women to Christ. He is telling us that someone must at some point open his or her mouth and start talking about Jesus. A saying we sometimes hear in Christian circles is: “preach the gospel always, and if necessary use words.” The idea here is that we should reflect such Christian love and such a sweet savor of Christ that people will be converted to Jesus just by observing our lives. Occasionally we may need to use words, but often we will not. This sounds pretty good, but in truth it leads to a lot of confusion and error. First, there are sinners who are sweet and kind, and probably some who are quite a bit nicer than you are. If you are depending on your niceness alone to turn people to Jesus, you may be waiting a long time. Second, according to Paul, people cannot believe in a Jesus of whom they have not heard. It may be comforting and a lot less scary to think that you can go through life being nice, and that is all the evangelism you’ll ever have to do, but it is in fact a gross deception. If you want to be involved in helping people find the Savior, by all means be nice to them, by all means demonstrate the love, patience, and humility of Christ, but also be sure at some point to open your mouth and start talking about the life and death and resurrection of Jesus. And don’t forget to add that we can be born again through faith in Him.

Matthew makes this command to make disciples of all nations the conclusion of his lengthy gospel detailing the life of Jesus. The only further word he adds is a quick “Amen” to finish his book. He is clearly highlighting this commission of Jesus, and giving it added emphasis. God wants you, Christian man or Christian woman, to recognize that this command is for you. Jesus is telling us that it will not be enough for us to receive Him, and then stay in our houses, praising God for saving us and giving us eternal life. It is not enough to spend our days growing in holiness, and living honest, decent, respectable lives. In addition to this, we must also get out into this dirty, scary world and talk to people, making every effort to persuade them to become followers of Jesus, just as we are.

Early Church

The early church took this command of Jesus very, very seriously, and as a result, saw a huge increase in their numbers. In the record of that first generation of believers, the Book of Acts, we read:

  1. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved. (Acts 2:47)
  2. And every day, in the temple and from house to house, they did not cease teaching and preaching that Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 5:42)
  3. Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. (Acts 8:4)
  4. And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. (Acts 11:21)

It is obvious that these early believers could not contain themselves. They went around feverishly sharing Jesus with all who would listen. Sometimes they paid for their enthusiasm with their freedom or even their lives, but nothing could stop them; no one could shut their mouths.

Implications for Us Today

What we have been observing, both in the command of Jesus and in the response of those early Christians, is the priority of evangelism. Jesus has commanded those who would call themselves His followers to make the converting of the world a huge priority in their lives. His desire is that every local church, from the tiny fellowship of thirty-five people to the huge mega-church with twenty thousand members, should engage in serious efforts at turning non-Christians into Christians. He also wants every single believer to energetically seek ways and means to turn individuals they know or meet from darkness to light, from the power of Satan to the kingdom and family of God. This can be as simple as a loving mother sharing Jesus with her six-year-old daughter at bedtime, or a man inviting his neighbor to his church home fellowship gathering that meets on Friday nights. Making evangelism a priority means that we are always looking for creative ways to help non-Christians find their way to the Savior of the world.

It also involves a willingness to face rejection. It would be wonderful to suppose that every person with whom we share Christ will immediately fall to their knees, eagerly and passionately calling upon the name of Jesus for salvation. Sadly, it rarely happens that way. Many people we share with will not receive our message. Others will inform us by an awkward silence that this is a subject they would rather avoid. Some will even become hostile, despite our efforts to be as wise and sensitive as we possibly can. Perhaps one of the enemy’s most effective tools in keeping the people of God from sharing their faith is that simple thought: “What if they don’t want to hear any of this, or perhaps even get rude about it?”

evangelismChristians could learn from their secular friends, especially those in the business of sales. Every salesman knows that he will have to endure far more “no’s” than “yes’s.” The majority of his potential clients will not be interested in his product, regardless of how wonderful it is or how cleverly he speaks about it. But the salesman also knows something else – a wonderful piece of information that gives him the courage to endure the many rejections he will face. He knows that if he keeps on talking, keeps on opening his mouth and describing his product or service, he will sooner or later run into someone who will listen carefully and will actually be interested. And if he is wise, and gives a reasonably solid presentation, he will make a sale.

So it is in the kingdom of God. The Bible tells us: “In the morning sow your seed, and in the evening do not withhold your hand; for you do not know which will prosper, either this or that, or whether both alike will be good” (Ecclesiastes 11:6). If we keep on planting the seeds of the gospel in the hearts of men, women, and children, we will see some successes; we will be led to people prepared by the Holy Spirit to receive our message and our Savior.

Use What You Have – Do What You Can

There are some people who possess incredible evangelistic gifts and will see far more results than others. And there will be many Christians who will come to recognize that, try as they might, they will never win large numbers of souls to Christ. But whether we are highly gifted or have trouble discovering even the slightest trace of evangelistic talent in our life, it is our duty to do what we can. “Everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required.” For some Christians, winning five souls to Christ over a lifetime may be seen in the eyes of God as a spectacular success. And for others possessing powerful gifts of speech and personality, winning a hundred souls to Christ over their lifetime may be viewed as underachievement.

One way those possessing little talent or opportunity can still be major players in Christ’s command to evangelize the world is to become supporters of individuals and ministries which are able to do this. One lady who supports our African missions wrote me a note which said in essence, “We are happy to support your ministry – you are doing things we never could.” I was touched and blessed at that thought and realized that she was speaking for many who entrusted our ministry with their financial contributions. It would have been unrealistic and unproductive for most of these folks to try to set up African evangelistic missions on their own, but by joining their hands with ours they were able to participate in evangelistic efforts in Africa, and do their part in complying with our Lord’s command to go and make disciples of all the nations. Not all can preach, and even of those who do have speaking abilities, few have the contacts and the resources to set up mass evangelistic missions. However every Christian can easily find ministries that are going out and proclaiming Jesus to the nations, and become active participants in such ministries.

The Hook of Evangelism

The Great Commission of Jesus throws its shadow over every Christian endeavor, or at least this is the way it should be. Every Christian ministry, every class, every sermon, every teaching, every book, every article, every fellowship gathering, every youth meeting, every Sunday school class, every women’s meeting, every men’s meeting, every “prayer breakfast,” and every seniors’ gathering should exude the fragrance of Christ and possess some measure of evangelistic content.

We can take our cues from the apostle Paul. Although Paul’s epistles were clearly written for Christians, those already in the faith, they also contain unabashed and unapologetic evangelistic thoughts, expressions, and passages. The same Paul who told men to love their wives, women to respect their husbands, and children to obey their parents also freely threw in many evangelistic declarations such as: “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). The fishhook of the gospel was tied to his letters to believers, so that if and when they should be read by those not in the faith (such as me when I first read the New Testament at the age of nineteen), they might hear the gospel, believe on Jesus, and be saved (just as I was, and so many others before and after me).

The nineteenth century evangelist D. L. Moody once asked a stranger about his relationship with Jesus – a man who had no desire to hear such a thing. He retorted angrily, “That’s none of your business.” Moody quickly replied, “That is just my business.” Moody had it right. But the business of salvation is not merely for famous evangelists. It is for all men, women, and children who call themselves Christians. Our Master has commissioned us to go throughout the world and be His witnesses. We dare not disobey. We serve the One in whom all authority, in heaven and on earth, rests.

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