Monday, June 3, 2013

Acts 2:14-24: "Is Every Christian an Evangelist?"

TEXT:  Acts 2:14-24
TITLE:   Is every Christian an Evangelist?
DATE:   2nd June 2013 

We continue with our   reflections upon  the subject  of  Evangelism. The  Great Commission in Matthew  28:18-20 is an explicit command of Christ  to all His  disciples : ”Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you...”.
This commandment    forms part of our  church’s  mission statement.

Today I want to focus on  an important question: Is every Christian an evangelist?  Many would say,  ‘no’ because it is commonly thought that   since evangelism  is a spiritual  gift,  and that  it applies only to those who  have been gifted by God in this  area.  The problem is  that  the   NT only mentions  the word ‘evangelist’ three times: 

      1. It  is mentioned among the foundational   ministries of the church  in  Eph. 4:11. 
     2.  Philip , one of the 7 deacons in  Acts 6:1-7 is also called “Philip the Evangelist” in Acts  21:8. It is not difficult to see why. In Acts  8:4-8 we read how he  preached Christ to the city of Samaria  and  in  Acts 8:26-40 we read how he  helped the Ethiopian eunuch  to  believe in the Lord Jesus Christ . 
      3. Paul exhorts Timothy in 2 Tim 4:5 , “do the work of an evangelist“.  Timothy  was the Pastor  at Ephesus.

So then, how do we combine this   specific call  of an evangelist  with that general call to  evangelism?  It is clear that  if  evangelism was only  based on the work  of  a specific class of evangelists, the work of getting the witness about Jesus out into the world  could have never happened  as it did. The book of Acts  reveals  to us that  every believer was busy  testifying about Christ and the gospel. Acts 8:4,5 says : “Now those who were scattered went about preaching the word. Philip went down to the city of Samaria and proclaimed to them the Christ…”. From the very beginning, becoming a  disciple of Jesus  always included becoming a  ‘fisher of men’ (Mk 1:17). This work did not belong  to a  class of gifted people. It did not belong to  the   bold and  to the extroverts . This  work belongs to everybody!   Everybody  who is truly born again  can  testify to Christ! Think about this in another way.  Can  any Christian say: “I am not gifted in prayer. I will leave that work to the  spiritually gifted  praying people!” ? Or can any  Christian say: “I am not gifted in giving. I will leave that  to the rich and the generous  and to those who are gifted to give.”? Can anyone say : “ I don’t have the gift of faith. I will leave that to those who have  received  such a gift from God” ,  or  “I won’t engage in personal  Bible study – I will leave the spiritually gifted to teach me ?”   You have never heard this said  because  you know  that such arguments are ridiculous. But  one does hear Christians saying from time to  time  “I am not  gifted to be an evangelist”, and the implication is therefore – “leave it to those that are gifted”,  thereby leaving the  great commission  to a few- a professional  group of evangelists.  

Let’s  try to get the perspective right.  Where the Bible does speak about the evangelist, one may assume that  they have been gifted  by God in a larger measure and with more   visible success  in this field. One may also assume that these are the ones  that  encourage  and equip the saints for the work of such  ministry (Eph. 4:11-12) since they are mentioned here in that context. So the point is that  we as ordinary Christians do not need  to be uniquely gifted to evangelize. But we need to be encouraged and we need to be equipped to do   this work which,  like praying and giving  and worshipping, and exercising of faith  belongs to all. After all, one of our main callings as followers of Christ is  to  help others to become followers of Christ!

So  you need to see evangelism not only as a  spiritual gift, but also  as a spiritual discipline.

Every  Christian an Evangelist 

Nowhere  is this point made clearer  than in  Acts  2:16-21, which is  a quote from the  prophet Joel  2:28-32 : ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants  in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

The coming of the Spirit  at Pentecost  had  one major purpose: to  equip all  kinds of believers with power to be  effective witnesses to Christ, in all the world (Acts 1:8). The prophet Joel foresaw this, and the apostle Peter  understood this when he  spoke  to the assembled multitudes on that Sunday, when  the Holy Spirit  came, and when  the promise of Jesus to them was fulfilled (Acts 1:5). The people dwelling at that time in Jerusalem were enabled  to speak in other languages. What were they speaking about in these other languages?  Acts 2:11 tells us: “they were telling the  mighty works of God“. What were the mighty works of God?  They were the works that Jesus  displayed in His life and in His death and in His resurrection. He came as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin  of the world and to reconcile those who would believe  in Him with  Almighty God the Creator of mankind and of the heavens and the earth. Everybody was talking about this, and as a result of this first witness by the church, ‘those who received  his word were baptized, and there were  added  that day about  three thousand souls.’ (Acts 2:41).

Pentecost was  first the corporate witness of those present  to a watching world, who initially thought that they were drunk. This was followed by the Spirit empowered  preaching  of Peter, a direct, clear, evangelistic sermon which moved  many  people to repent  of their sins by turning to Christ  God’s Mediator for the forgiveness  of their sins, testifying to the same in  baptism and being added to the church, the  sign of God’s kingdom on earth.

But notice the emphasis of  Joel’s  prophecy:  ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants  in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy.

Try not to get lost in the words  prophecy … dreams … visions…  Rather ask yourself : What is all this for?  And the answer is plain – all flesh, that is  sons, daughters, young men , old men, male servants, female servants,  all who are born  of the Spirit,    are  empowered  to   bear witness  to  the Lord Jesus Christ and to the  mighty works of God. Pentecost  was not primarily about  tongue speaking. It  was not about  being able to   dream dreams and  seeing visions . These are  all secondary matters.  You have to ask yourself: What was the purpose of  these  abilities? The answer is  that   prophecies, dreams,  visions  (or if you would like to add -sermons and testimonies)  are  simply tools which the Holy Spirit  chooses to use in  testifying to  the person and work of Christ. The rule in 1 Corinthians 14 is  this : the plainer the speech , the easier the testimony is to  understand.  The primary concern is  that  an  effective witness   is brought  to  sinners.

The effect  of  that witness in Acts 2 is seen in this statement:   ‘…they were cut to the heart.’ (2:37). And what was the response?  “…Brothers / sisters what shall we do (in response to this) ?” I want  you to see that this is not a  movement  of  evangelists , or of  pastors  and elders-  that is people who would naturally lead by example. I want you to see that alongside these  spiritual leaders (and we need them to lead us!)  there is an army of people that are equally committed  to  testify  about  Christ.

What then is the relationship between  the pastor or the evangelist  and  the rest of the church? The context in Eph. 4 makes this clear.  The pastor- teacher, the  evangelist, the prophet and apostle  exist  to   encourage  and equip the saints  for the work of ministry (Eph.  4:12).  The ministry of  sharing the gospel of Jesus does not belong to the pastor or  to the evangelist. It belongs to the whole church, of which pastors and evangelists are a part.

Evangelism is a  natural response  to  the good news! You cannot help  but  share it. 
This  is at once  a liberating truth, but also a worrying  concern.

The liberating aspect is that you do not have to wait for anyone to give you permission to share  the gospel  with  all you come in contact with.  If   you have been born again , then tell the world ! May the Holy Spirit seal  this truth to your hearts, brothers and sisters, and be bold!  
The worrying concern is  that there seems so little desire to share the gospel ,  the truth as it is in Jesus ( to borrow a phrase from  Eph. 4:21) SO THAT  evangelism  is no longer a lifestyle  in our modern church.  There is little exporting of our faith. This is not right  and it is certainly not normal .

To illustrate this  from the   testimony of the Thessalonian church:  Paul says :”… not only   has the word of the Lord sounded forth from you in Macedonia and Achaia, but your faith in God has gone for the everywhere…” (1 Thess. 1:8). Understand  this : The gospel had come to them ‘ not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction…’ (1:5)  but it  worked through them and  influenced their world and beyond – everywhere!  That is Christian evangelism, and this fact l has led  to the  quick expansion of the early church  (see Paul’s testimony in  Rom 15:19). The point is this: No one forced them  to evangelize. This was  the spontaneous expansion of the church  through people who were utterly convinced that  the world was  in a terrible spiritual  crisis, and they believed   that Jesus was who He said He was; they believed  that He was the only solution to  everyman’s dilemma . And so I say to you: The Christian without an evangelistic or a missionary heart is an anomaly! 

What is an evangelistic- missionary heart?  

Here are a few pointers :  

·    1. a heart  that  regularly  prays for the lost in this world.  Join  us as we pray for the world every Sunday night! Join us for our week of prayer   for Missions and revival this coming week.

·    2. a heart  that has   a  loving concern for the eternal  welfare of every person  we meet ; 

·    3. a heart  that  seeks to  turn  every conversation with  the lost  to  a gospel  conversation – be it  ever so brief or long ; in different  ways and contexts  and yet  the same message.

·     4. a servant heart that spends itself  for others  for the sake of Jesus ;

·     5. a gracious heart, and yet  a provocative heart that causes  the lost to examine themselves  to seek answers to ultimate questions.

·     6. a heart that brings light into a dark world ; a heart that  ‘ salts’ this world’s putrefying effects.

·     7. a heart grounded in sound doctrine ,  and which  also  knows how to make Jesus attractive to the world.
a    8.  a holy heart that  issues in a holy life  and  a good  testimony

We  have to conclude that  a Christian with no  passion for the lost  is in serious need of self examination and repentance. How is the Holy Spirit  applying this to your own conscience today?

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