The Practice of Evangelism
Bible Text: 1 Thessalonians 2:1 – 16 | Speaker: Clayton Fopp | Series: Foundations | 1 Thessalonians 2:1 – 16
The Practice of Evangelism
Paul’s performance review
Those of you who spend your days in paid employment will be familiar with the concept of a job performance review.
Some of you will have to endure that process regularly,
Some of you are the ones reviewing other people’s performance,
But all of us I think know the experience of feeling that some aspect of our performance is up for evaluation, or critique.
Just ask any of our new mums, and I think they’ll tell you that they sometimes feel that everything they do is being scrutinised like some kind of performance review!
This week I read some comments from people’s job performance reviews. I got these from a human resources company, which assured me that they were all legit, but, see what you think!
Since our last review, this employee has hit rock bottom, and has started to dig.
Or, his team members would follow him anywhere, but only out of morbid curiosity.
This team member is really not so much of a has-been, but more of a definite won’t be
He is a gross ignoramus;, 144 times worse than an ordinary ignoramus
Some drink from the fountain of knowledge;, he only gargled.
And lastly, perhaps a very Australian one, Intellectually he’s got a full six-pack, but he lacks the plastic thingy that holds it all together.
Well, I’m not convinced that anyone actually ever said those things, but this part of 1 Thessalonians that we’re in this morning, is a little bit like Paul’s performance review.
There are any number of places in the Bible we could turn to see examples of evangelism, that is, as we’ve seen, speaking the good news of a relationship with God in Jesus, the call to live with Christ Jesus as Lord, as Paul said in 2 Corinthians.
The Bible teaches us that everyone has ignored and rejected God,
Everyone lives with themselves in charge, deciding what’s right and wrong. And even if the Bible didn’t tell us that, we’d know that from looking around us, wouldn’t we?
But because of this, what the Bible calls sin, we face the terrible, though entirely just and proper prospect, of being separated from God and his blessings forever.
But the Christian message is called “good news”, because it offers relationship and reconciliation with the God we’ve ignored.
And so right through the New Testament, we see examples of people, like the Apostle Paul, sharing this good news with people who are far from God.
But we’ve chosen this section to end our little series thinking about evangelism, precisely because it’s a bit like a job performance review. That is, Paul describes his evangelistic ministry in Thessalonica, and says “the way we went about evangelism, is the very model of evangelistic ministry,” he says.
And so, Because Paul holds up this example of how to speak the good news of forgiveness and relationship in Jesus, it’s a good place for us learn some lessons for our own evangelism, and whatever our context.
Evangelism isn’t always welcomed
So what happened in Thessalonica?
Well, in about 50 AD, Paul, and Silas, and Timothy arrived in the city, during what we call Paul’s second missionary journey.
The trip was intended as a pastoral visit, to the churches that Paul and his colleagues had previously planted. In the sovereignty of God, though, they’d ended up somewhere where they hadn’t already shared the good news;, Thessalonica;, the capital city of the Roman province of Macedonia.
Let me remind you of some of the significant moments from Acts 17, where we heard about Paul’s evangelism there.
As was his custom, Paul went into the synagogue, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, 3 explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer, and rise from the dead.
4 Some of the Jews were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a large number of God-fearing Greeks, and quite a few prominent women.
5 But other Jews were jealous; so they rounded up some bad characters from the marketplace, formed a mob and started a riot in the city
Paul’s in the city for 2 or 3 weeks,
He shares the gospel of Jesus,
There’s a significant response among Jews and Gentiles,
But also significant opposition.
If you’ve ever felt that your efforts in evangelism have ended badly, take some encouragement, it was probably nowhere near as bad as this!
There is an organised attempt to stop people hearing the good news of Jesus.
I’m sure you’ve noticed that many people in positions of leadership or influence in the public sphere today, when they come up against a message, or point of view, that is at odds with their own, something that challenges the dominant, prevailing, world view of our day,
Their response is now not to argue against it,
They simply use whatever influence they have to stop that message being heard.
In September last year, a group of feminists in London planned a public lecture called “What is gender? The Gender Recognition Act and beyond.”
However the venue where it was to be held, cancelled at the last minute, because trans activists, threatened the staff who worked there, and then contacted and threatened every other venue in the area, warning them not to allow the lecture to take place.
When the meeting eventually happened in a university women’s club, the trans activists stood outside the building, chanting “burn it down.”
This approach to an idea or message that you don’t like has become so common, it has it’s own name. It’s called “no platforming”; using whatever means at your disposal, but usually lies, intimidation, and threats of violence, to stop any alternative voice being heard.
Perhaps ironically, in an age that idolises tolerance, this is intolerance and bigotry of the very worst kind.
It’s increasingly common, and I get quite angry when I see it, but it’s nothing new.
Evangelism is speaking the good news that it’s possible to know God only through Jesus,
A message that says each one of us has ignored and rejected the God who made us, and that we face the right and just penalty for treating the creator of the world so appallingly,
A message that Jesus is Lord;, he determines what’s right and wrong, not us, Not majority opinion,
And so we shouldn’t be surprised that the good news of Jesus will get, no-platformed.
Some of those formed a mob and started a riot in the city.
The response to your efforts, to speak the good news of Jesus to people, probably won’t generate this level of response, but we absolutely ought to be prepared for the same kind of refusal to hear.
Our society has been cultivating this mentality that anything that challenges my preconceived ideas is automatically and by definition harmful to me, and I must not be exposed to it.
The good news of Jesus challenges, almost all of our preconceived ideas!
So we will find this kind of response.
I suspect that throws the responsibility back on us, Christian people, even more, to show, and demonstrate, and live out the proof, that the gospel of Jesus is challenging, yes.
But very, very, good for people.
The Christian gospel is about relationship with God through Jesus, and that relationship shapes life now for the best.
I am entirely convinced that there is no substitute for gospel conversations, for words, that tell people the good news of Jesus. There’s no other way for people to be reconciled to God.
But I wonder, if today, the lives of Christians demonstrating the impact of the gospel, are becoming more and more significant, at least in the West.
We saw it a few weeks ago, the apostle Peter urges us to live lives that that clearly show that the gospel of Jesus is good news,
Will we live lives that demonstrate that our message that confronts and challenges is far from harmful,
In fact, is very, very good?
So opposition, that’s the first thing that the example of evangelism prepares us for,
But come back over to 1 Thessalonians with me, because I want us to see 4 distinctives of Paul’s evangelistic ministry.
Four essential components of evangelism
There are 4 characteristics of Paul’s evangelism, that he seems to say, “things happened as they did,
You were brought from death to life,
You’ve experienced the glory of God in the face of Christ,
Because, under God, this is what we did,
This is what our evangelism looked like.
So I’ve called these essential components,
The centrality of God in evangelism,
The impact of love in evangelism,
The necessity of integrity in evangelism,
And the response of lost people in evangelism, and that one’s a little bit different, as we’ll see.
The centrality of God in evangelism
Right up front, Paul is clear, that his ministry of evangelism is entirely dependent on God from start to finish.
Last week we saw that when we engage in evangelism, when we speak the good news of Jesus to someone, that’s actually God himself making an appeal through us.
Paul says the same thing here in a different way.
It’s only because of what he calls the help of our God, verse 2, that he’s able to tell people the gospel.
He also says that he does evangelism as someone approved by God,
He even goes so far as to say that God is a witness that his evangelism is genuine.
It might seem to us like it should go without saying, that God is central to evangelism, but Paul can’t not emphasise it, can he?
In verse 8, his message is, the gospel of God.
Verse 9, the gospel of God again.
What people who were far from God heard from Paul in verse 13, was the Word of God. He mentions that twice.
And through hearing and responding to word of God, people who were God’s enemies are gathered into God’s churches, verse 14.
Who is, above,
And achieving his purposes through Paul’s evangelistic conversations?
Like I said, it might seem odd to make such a big point of it, but I think we sometimes leave God out of our evangelism, strange as that sounds,
Sometimes I’ve found myself talking about Jesus with someone, because I think someone need to enter into a new lifestyle, rather than into a new relationship.
Have you ever found yourself in that situation?, “I really wish so and so would become a Christian so they stop living like that, making those kinds of choices, whatever.”
And, absolutely, seeing the glory of God in the face of Christ can totally transform someone’s life, but shouldn’t we be more concerned about our friend’s standing before God, rather than their bad habits and anti-social behaviour.
It’s easy for us to replace evangelism with social improvement, and God gets left out.
I also think we leave God out of our evangelism, because we forget that he wants people to be saved, and because of that, he helps us in our evangelism.
Verse 2 is a great encouragement to me, with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition
The Apostle Paul’s got to be one of the most effective and gifted evangelists in the history of the Christian church, if even he thought he needed God to help him share the good news of Jesus with people, why on earth would we, who consider ourselves normal, everyday kind of Christians, think otherwise?
Don’t leave God out of evangelism.
We’d be disheartened, exhausted, and possibly fruitless.
So, let’s get practical, How do we not leave God out?
Well, a couple of obvious things, and some suggestions from me.
One, Pray! 1 Thessalonians 2 makes it clear, It’s God’s work,
That person you know who needs to hear the good news of Jesus, ask God to give you opportunities to speak to them.
Ask God to give you the wisdom to know how take those opportunities!
Ask God to make you humble, and gentle, and gracious, as you speak with them.
Ask God to be at work in that person, revealing himself to them.
Thank God for choosing you, and pouring out his grace on you.
Ask that God will help you dare to tell his gospel, despite whatever opposition comes your way.
I think it was Augustine, the 4th Century church leader in North Africa who said “Pray as if everything depends on God, and speak as if everything depends on you.”
Another way to make sure we don’t leave God out of our evangelism, is to make sure we’re doing it God’s way, that is, as Paul says here, actually using the word of God.
Paul says a Christian person speaks as one approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel
The message that comes out in our evangelism should be what God has said, the message he’s entrusted to us, not some variation of that message that we think might get a better reception in 21st Century Australia.
Once we start “updating”, or “sanitizing” our message in order to make it seem more appealing in our eyes, we’ve no longer got God’s message, so why would God be at work through that kind of evangelism?
People ask me, and I was asked again this week, “Why do people become Christians here at TMB, and in other churches this person had in mind, when it doesn’t seem to be happening in, these other churches?”
And part of my answer to that, is that it seems to me, that people are putting their trust in Jesus, in churches where the Bible, God’s Word, is valued, and taught,
Where people hear God’s Word.
But whole denominations are collapsing in some instances, where churches have wanted to sideline, or tried to move on from the word of God.”
Evangelism is God’s work.
And Paul says he went about God’s work, using God’s word.
Try something else, and we can’t expect God to be at work through it.
One way for us to equip ourselves in this, and we’re down to the practical detail level of Clayton’s suggestion here.
This is just what I think might be a good idea,
But why don’t we memorise particular parts of the Bible, familiarise ourselves with what God’s Word says about who God is, what he’s done for us in Christ, so that when it comes to explaining what we believe, we can reflect on the very words God has used to make himself known.
What better way to make God known, than to use his own words of self-disclosure?
Or maybe here’s an idea we haven’t thought much about;,
What importance do you place on the fact, that God has established the universe in such a way, that he placed you as a Christian among people whom he loves, your family and friends. None of that is accidental,
God could have put a professor of theology or a gifted evangelistic preacher in your family or workplace, but he chose, you, his ambassador.
Of course, if you’re not a Christian, we’re really pleased to have you with us today, and if you’re at least convinced that there is some order and purpose in the universe, that God, whoever he is, is responsible, for things that happen,
If you want to blame God when things go wrong,
Then perhaps you also need to consider why God placed that Christian person you know in your family, or in your workplace,
What’s the purpose behind that?
Well, 1 Thessalonians gives us the answer, doesn’t it?
One more thought:, Like Paul, seek approval from God, not from people.
On all those personality tests, I always rate off the scale on the measurement for wanting people to like me! Don’t hold it against me! That will make me even more insecure!
But that can be a trap for talking about Jesus because it means I’m really tempted to leave bits out of the message, so people don’t get offended.
I can start evaluating my evangelistic efforts by whether the person is still talking to me afterwards or not, rather than on whether I kindly and humbly spoke the truth of God’s Word to them.
Remember the centrality of God in our evangelism.
The impact of love in evangelism
I want us now, though, to think about how Paul’s love for people, impacts his evangelism.
Rarely do my evangelistic efforts require me to flee the city under the cover of darkness! But that’s what happened in Thessalonica.
And now, even in Paul’s absence, those who were opposed to the message of the gospel, were trying to undermine his ministry, and probably trying to paint him as someone who was only interested in telling people about Jesus for what he could get out of it.
But Paul says, verse 7, Just as a nursing mother cares for her children, 8 so we cared for you.
Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well. 9 Surely you remember, brothers and sisters, our toil and hardship;, we worked night and day in order not to be a burden to anyone
Then down in verse 11 the parental metaphor changes, and Paul says he was like a father, encouraging, and comforting.
It’s a pretty high bar, isn’t it?, to love like a parent.
And I can’t help but wonder if sometimes, our evangelism, lacks a genuine love for people.
My family, my close friends, that’s fine, I love them, and I long for them to come to faith, But when we’re trying to raise our evangelistic temperature as a church, the temptation can be to see people as, well, targets.
We’re not always like that, but that kind of thinking can creep in.
A friend told me once that he’d made friends with a man in order to share the gospel with him, only to do that, and find out that the man wasn’t interested.
He then didn’t know what to do with this new friendship, because it was really only a friendship for the purpose of sharing the gospel!
Not a real friendship at all.
Paul uses probably the most, touching picture of love we’re familiar with, and says, “that’s the love that drives evangelism.”
Some mothers here get up every 2 hours overnight to feed their baby, greater love has no man than to give up sleep for their child!
“no man” perhaps being the operative word!
But Paul draws in the image of a father also, doesn’t he? And so we’ve got this picture of parental love.
Parents who care for and comfort, the kind who stay up night after night caring for a sick child. If you’ve witnessed that kind of love from a parent, you’ve seen the kind of love that undergirds evangelism.
So how do we cultivate this love for lost people?
Well, you can’t manufacture it, that’s for sure.
I think it was Groucho Marx who said “The most important thing in life is sincerity, and if you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made”?
You can’t fake this, if you do, it’s no longer love.
We need to pray and ask God to give us his heart, for lost people, that we would see his lost sheep, the way he does.
Also, this love grows when we share life with people, as Paul did. You know the old proverb, “Distance makes the heart grow fonder”, well the realist says “distance makes the fond heart wander”,
There is no substitute for being right there in the midst of someone’s life, in order to grow in love for them. It’s hard to love someone if you hardly ever see them or speak to them.
Paul says we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well
Here’s the warning about congregating in little Christian groups with no time for investing in the lives of others.
The necessity of integrity in evangelism (v 10, 12)
The third essential component of evangelism, is integrity.
If it’s obvious that I’m still living with Clayton as Lord, not with Jesus as Lord, then that’s not going to commend the gospel to my friend or colleague, is it?
When I get stopped in the street, or someone knocks on my door asking me to give money to some charity, I usually ask them how much they’re giving to this campaign.
But with the sole exception of the Salvation Army, since I started asking that question, I haven’t met a single collector, who’s given to the campaign they want me to contribute to.
And they’re often a bit taken aback, when I ask, “How can you expect me to give to something that you don’t think is worth your money?”
But when it comes to evangelism, the same question applies.
Our friends could ask us, “Why are you asking me to live with Jesus as Lord, when you don’t seem to live with Jesus as Lord?
How can I believe there is no greater good than knowing God in Jesus, when there seems to be lots that you value above a relationship with God?”
Verse 10, You are witnesses, and so is God, of how holy, righteous and blameless we were among you who believed
Now, Paul’s not saying he’s perfect, just that the gospel has shaped all of his life. There’s no part that good news of Jesus doesn’t overflow into and change.
Of course, this gets exponentially more difficult, the more we do what we were just looking at;, sharing life with people.
If all you see of me, is 10 AM to 11:15 Sunday morning, you’d probably think I do alright on the holy, righteous and blameless yardstick.
Oh, but sit with me in traffic!
Talk to me after my gospel plans are hindered by someone who opposes the good news of Jesus, and you might reach a very different conclusion!
See, these weren’t just the marks of Paul’s evangelism., this was how he lived, we were, among you, who believed, and this is how he taught the Thessalonians to live, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives, worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory
The 19th Century Baptist Preacher Charles Spurgeon once described a fellow minister, who although a gifted preacher, lived a terrible life that appeared entirely unaffected by the priorities of the gospel!
The contrast was so stark, that when he was in the pulpit people said he was so good he should never get down, and when he wasn’t in the pulpit, people said he was so bad, he should never be allowed in it!
But what about us? If you were to ask my non-Christian friends how I measured up on holiness, righteousness, and blamelessness, I wonder what sort of response you’d get?
Probably, still be some, ah, room for improvement, shall we say!
More room for the gospel message to have its effect.
But remember it’s not just in their eyes. Paul appeals to God as his witness.
God who hears my words of frustration when I’m alone,
God who sees my anger, even if I manage to keep it inside,
God who watches my sinful habits, eat away at the effectiveness of my evangelism, even if nobody else does.
God who knows my motivations aren’t always pure.
And just so you don’t’ think that, you know, I’m this really bad person, I think you’re probably exactly the same!
So what do we do about it?, how do we develop integrity in our evangelism?
Well, pray! As with our previous points, this is perhaps obvious, but easily forgotten. Keep asking God to be at work in you,
By his Spirit,
Ever increasing your holiness, and righteousness, and blamelessness.
Flee sin. Work hard to avoid putting yourself in situations where your behaviour might compromise your witness.
ie, If going to the pub with your mates, puts you in a situation where you’re likely to drink too much, and therefore compromise your integrity, find some other context to spend time with them.
If having your in-laws come around for dinner, stresses you out to the point of ungodliness, find another context, a neutral space.
Ask someone, another Christian, a family member, to help keep you accountable in the way you live your life. So that when your language or behaviour verges on that which is at odds with your gospel message, they can tell you. And listen to them when they do tell you, don’t get defensive.
For me it’s tiredness. I need to be really careful when I spend time with people when I’m tired, because that’s when I speak without thinking,
I say things I shouldn’t,
And I’m much more likely to treat people poorly.
And I’m pretty much always tired! So this is a big one for me!
Remember also though, that falling short in one of these areas, doesn’t make evangelism impossible. If you treated someone badly, or said something you shouldn’t have, you aren’t forever banned from being able to share the good news with the people who witnessed that, or bore the brunt of it.
It means you need to acknowledge it, ask for forgiveness where necessary, and move on from it.
Lost people must make a response in evangelism
Finally, evangelism requires a response.
We can’t make someone become a follower of Jesus,
We speak a message, perhaps over minutes, days, months, or years, and then the person who hears God’s Word, must respond.
Verse 13, And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.
Simply hearing the gospel isn’t enough is it? If all it took for our friends to become Christians was just to hear the good news once, We would have told everyone we know a long time ago. We would have snuck it onto their iPod or something, so that they’d hear it!
Those in Thessalonica heard the Word of God from Paul, and he says they received it, and they accepted it, as a message from God himself.
Now, I don’t want to be too reductionist in our approach here, but look at the 5 steps of our evangelism according to verse 13.
God breathes out his Word,
We speak God’s Word,
People hear God’s Word,
People receive God’s Word,
And some of those people accept God’s Word,
It’s a simplification, but if the process of us sharing the good news of Jesus with someone can be represented by those 5 steps, then when you think about it, only one of those steps is actually something we do!
Step 2. We speak God’s Word.
It’s not all about us!
Not only do people need to hear the message, they need to receive it, and accept it. And all the time, we need to be mindful, as we’ve already seen, of God’s central role in evangelism.
Sharing the good news with people who don’t know Jesus starts with God and his Word, and finishes with our friends and family, by God’s grace, accepting that message as being from God, and therefore, able to work powerfully within them.
So what do we do with this?
Well again, you guessed it, Pray!
If what we call our evangelism is actually something that starts with God, and ends with God’s Word at work in someone’s life, it makes sense to ask God to do his work.
Pray, by name.
Pray for specific opportunities,
And pray for specific responses.
Ask God’s Spirit to help people understand the message that you share with them.
I don’t think praying for specifics makes it easier for God to answer. I think it does make it easier for to learn to trust, and to believe that God’s at work.
Also, Share the gospel of Jesus, repeatedly. I have family and friends who need to hear the good news, who I’ve shared with, 10, 15 times, specifically. Almost no one responds to the good news of Jesus the first time they hear it.
I’m not quite sure how they measure it, but the statistics says someone hears the gospel 8 – 12 times before they respond. Don’t be discouraged if people don’t respond the first time, or the 2nd, or whatever.
I think we also need to think carefully about the language we use in evangelism. If people are going to hear, receive, and accept the message we bring, they need to understand the message we bring!
Can you, for example, speak of Jesus’ death in our place, without resorting to Christian jargon that will just confuse people?
That might be a little project for the next few weeks.
Practice explaining the gospel of Jesus, in a way that someone who knows nothing of the Bible or church can understand.
You can practice on me!
And you have my permission to ask me if I’m able to do it as well!
Let’s finish there, and let me pray.