The Proclamation of Evangelism
2 Corinthians 4:1 – 6
The Proclamation of Evangelism
What is the gospel?
I’ve got a little activity for us to start with,
I know that for some of us, just thinking about evangelism, of saying to someone we know, “can I talk to you about what I believe?”, that might be the very last thing we want to do.
But I really want us to be equipped and encouraged for this task before us, so I’d like you to imagine if you will, that you’re talking with a friend, maybe while you’re walking the Laratinga Wetlands, or maybe sitting in Sazon, whichever of those is your happy place! and in the conversation, your friend asks, “So you’re a Christian,
What is Christianity all about?
What is this gospel, that you people are always talking about?”
How do you answer?
What do you say?
If the person sitting next to you today looks, more or less, friendly, you might like to share your idea with them, otherwise, there’s some space on your outline where you can write something down.
Let me say, you might not know, and that’s fine! You might have come here today to try and find out what Christians believe, you weren’t expecting to have to tell someone else!
So if that’s you, just ask the person next to you what they think! And they can tell you their idea!
Have a think about it for a moment, or talk to the person next to you.
I’ll give you a second.
I wonder what you came up with
And is it something that you find easy to do, or difficult, knowing what the gospel of Jesus is?
And even there, calling it the gospel of Jesus, suggests that at its heart, the good news of Christianity is a message about Jesus.
And of course, we saw last week in 1 Peter 2 that Jesus is the foundation, the Cornerstone, of God’s work in the world, and so we won’t be surprised to find here in 2 Corinthians that the message of Christianity is a message about Jesus.
Let me read you a couple of lines out of chapter 4 of this letter, written by the Apostle Paul to the church in the Greek city of Corinth, in around 54, 55 AD.
Look at verse 4 there,
The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.
For what we preach is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake.
For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
Often in my evangelism, I tend to think of the gospel, and tend to explain the gospel as a series of promises;, The really great blessings that can be ours if we come to Jesus.
See, “gospel” is simply a word that means “good news.” It wasn’t originally a religious word but more something that described what you’d read in a newspaper headline.
We’ve seen photos of the front page of the papers announcing the end of World War 2.
“The War is Over!”
That kind of announcement was called “gospel”, good news.
And so you can see why the Christians appropriated that language to describe their message.
What the early Christians wanted to tell the world was good news!
See the Bible is clear;, although we often like to imagine ourselves as being on God’s side,
Or at the very least that we’re neutral when it comes to God,
The truth is, left to our own devices, we’re neutral when it comes to God, we’ve actively rejected him.
We’ve taken all the good gifts that God gives us;, life, family, relationship, friends, and we take them all from God, but we ignore God.
And you can’t treat the loving creator and ruler of the world like an ATM that never runs out;, just constantly dispensing good things that we take whenever we feel like it.
That’s what the Bible calls sin, and the cost for treating God so appallingly is death and separation from God forever.
But Jesus offers forgiveness and reconciliation with the God we’ve rejected so frightfully by dying in our place and taking the punishment for sin that we deserve.
And so in my evangelism, my explanation of the gospel tends to be speaking about all the great promises that we can take hold of because of Jesus;,
The promise of an eternity free from suffering, and crying, and pain.
And those are all wonderful promises that can be ours, can be taken hold of by the people we love and care about, if they trust in Jesus’ life and death and resurrection, as sufficient to pay the penalty for their sin and bring them to God.
But the Apostle Paul, who was one of the leaders, his picture of the gospel here, well, it’s slightly different, isn’t it?
The heart of the gospel – knowing God through knowing Jesus (v 4 – 6)
He said there in verse 4 that the light of the gospel, displays the glory of Christ
He says in verse 5, his message is not abstract, or conceptual, but about a person, Jesus Christ as Lord.
And then in verse 6, the light of the gospel that he mentioned, it’s the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ.
See, for Paul, the gospel, the good news, is not just about us receiving good things from God, great gifts like forgiveness and eternal life,
For Paul, at the heart of the gospel is a relationship with God, specifically a relationship with God in Christ Jesus.
All those great gospel promises or blessings, where do they point us?
To God himself.
Because, what good would those great gospel promises be, if they didn’t actually lead us to God?
What good is eternal life, without God?
The heart of the gospel, is a relationship with God, through Jesus.
We’ve spoken about Simply Christianity already this morning.
That little course defines Christianity, as “responding appropriately to Jesus”.
Whatever message we hold out to people,
Whatever good news we have to offer people, it’s only the Christian gospel, if, verse 4, it displays the glory of Christ
If it introduces someone to Jesus.
It’s only the gospel of the New Testament, if our message points people to Jesus as Lord, that he is God’s chosen king.
Some of you will have read some of John Piper’s book, he’s a pastor and author in the US. He says, “This is the all-encompassing gift of God’s love through the gospel, - to see and savour the glory of Christ forever.”
And Piper asks question, “Would you be happy in heaven if Christ were not there?”
Now, it’s a hypothetical question, and it’s impossible,
But it does highlight the danger of focussing so much on the benefits that God gives us, that we forget to focus on God himself.
Does the promise of an eternity free from war, and suffering, and crying, and pain, appeal to us so much, that we overlook the ultimate good of the gospel, God himself, in the person of Jesus Christ,
You and me, living under the lordship of Jesus.
In his letter to the Philippian Christians, Paul speaks about the huge cost that he’s incurred for being a follower of Jesus. He speaks of having lost all things, which in his case is no exaggeration;, he went on to lose his life because of his faith in Jesus,
But he says there in Philippians 3, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of, knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.
I consider them garbage, that I may, gain Christ
There is no gospel, there is no evangelism, without holding out for people, a relationship with God through Jesus.
The glory of God in evangelism
Paul uses this language of glory though, doesn’t he? Which, I don’t think for us is normally associated much with evangelism
But here where Paul is explicitly talking about his way of doing evangelism, defending his ministry, the glory of God is front and centres, isn’t it?
We saw that both in verse 4 and verse 6.
So what is it to speak of God’s glory, or for people to see the glory of Christ?
And would we say, like Paul, that the goal of his ministry is that people see God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ,
He’s convinced that his gospel displays the glory of Christ, what is that?
And what will it look like if that’s part of our evangelism?
Think about how we use the word “glory.”
Occasionally we might speak about someone being seen “in all their glory”! which is a bit rude, but what do we mean by that?’
Well, we mean we’re seeing things as they really are, don’t we?!
Nothing’s hidden from us!
Or think of an old car. There’s a couple of people here who have restored old cars. How do you describe what you do? You’re restoring it to its former glory.
You’re taking it back to what it was, when everything was as it’s supposed to be,
Its former glory is the splendour that it once had.
To see God’s glory, is to see God as he really is. With nothing hidden.
And like the restored car, to see God’s glory is to see him in all his splendour.
To see God’s glory is to see his true character, his nature.
His power, and so on.
And the same goes for Jesus’ glory. We see his glory when his character is revealed,
When his perfection is revealed,
When we see his great love.
When we understand his role at the centre of God’s plans to redeem creation.
So evangelism that displays the glory of Christ, will involve people coming to see Jesus’ glory when they learn of his character,
When they learn of his great love,
When they see his role at the centre of God’s plans to redeem creation.
And the place where the glory both of Jesus, and his Father are most clearly displayed, is at the cross.
God displays his glory in all kinds of different ways. We saw one example in Psalm 19 a couple of weeks ago,
But the ultimate display of glory, is at the cross of Jesus.
On the cross we see Jesus in all his glory.
As he steps into our place and deals with sin and the penalty for rebellion, Jesus is glorified.
You might know of Jesus’ big long prayer the night before he was crucified. It’s recorded by John, who was there in the room at the time. And Jesus begins the prayer, as he looks to the cross, Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you
So as Jesus demonstrates the extraordinary lengths that both he and his Father would go to, that we might know God, he reveals his Father’s character.
He, glorifies his father,
And in doing so, he himself is glorified.
The cross is the place where glory is seen more clearly than any other.
The splendour of God,
The character of God,
The wonderful plans of God to open the way for relationship.
So that’s our message.
That’s the proclamation of evangelism, as we’ve called the topic today.
The message of the gospel,
The good news that we have to offer to the world, is that it’s possible to know God, through Jesus, and the focal point we look through, is the cross of Calvary.
The content of our evangelism, is a glorious God, Jesus, in all his splendour.
What is not evangelism?
Which means there are some things that we do, that we perhaps think are evangelism, but are actually not.
Think about telling your personal testimony. Lots of us who are Christians have spent time thinking about our story, how we came to faith in Jesus,
Perhaps what our life was like before we trusted in Jesus.
And personal testimonies are great. But if that story doesn’t set forth the glory of Christ, who is the image of God,
If it doesn’t present God as glorious, and loving, and gracious, and determined to rescue us even while we were his enemies, well, it’s not evangelism, is it?
It’s not bringing the good news of this gospel into someone’s life.
I’m not saying we shouldn’t be doing it.
But let’s not confuse it with proclaiming the gospel that displays the glory of Christ.
In chapter 9 of John’s gospel, Jesus heals a man who was born blind.
And so afterwards the man gives his testimony,
He speaks of what Jesus has done for him,
He talks about the difference in his life since Jesus came along, but he doesn’t even know who Jesus is.
Clearly, for people to come to saving faith, they need to hear more from us than just our story.
They need to meet Jesus.
They need to know that Jesus is Lord, not them!
They need to know that Jesus determines what’s right and wrong, not them, and so on.
Or pick a different example;, apologetics.
Apologetics is making the case that belief in God and trusting in Jesus are reasonable decisions made on good evidence.
Demonstrating that the Bible’s reliable, all that kind of thing.
Apologetics is excellent! That little book on the Welcome Desk, ‘Why Believe the Bible?” is an attempt to engage in apologetics.
But doing apologetics is not telling someone we care about, the gospel of the glory of God that brings salvation.
It’s not saying, “look at Christ in his glory, his love, his holiness, and how far short we fall of his standard of perfection.”
Apologetics might well be a step in the process of sharing with someone the gospel of God. If I want my friend to read of Jesus in the Bible, they need to be convinced that the Bible is more than just a collection of fairy tales.
But it’s easy for me to think, “I’m doing apologetics, I’m talking about why the Bible can be trusted, therefore I’m doing evangelism.”, I may not be.
Is my friend hearing the good news of the offer of a relationship with God?
Are they hearing a gospel that urges them to consider Jesus, the image of God, the display of God’s glory?
Are they hearing, “Jesus is Lord?”
Or are they now convinced that Jesus existed, but they’re still going to live with themselves in charge, because no one’s ever told them, “Jesus is Lord”?
Social action is another activity that Christians sometimes confuse with evangelism.
Great thing to serve others and be generous,
And a Christian person being generous and compassionate to someone right in the midst of life’s difficulties might commend Jesus to them, but what? Only if they’ve heard of Jesus!
If they’ve never heard of the glorious God that you serve,
If they don’t understand that by putting others’ needs before your own that you’re seeking to life a cross-shaped life,
Then they’re not going to know this gospel, that Paul says changes lives so much.
Gospel ministry seeks to introduce people to Jesus, and to see his glory,
To come to know God, though Jesus.
What’s the pattern for evangelism? (v 1 – 2)
And so Paul says, to that end, we preach.
He uses that word in the middle of verse 5.
But when we look at Paul’s gospel ministry in the New Testament, he speaks to crowds,
He explains the gospel to kings and governors,
He teaches in churches,
He points people to Jesus, one to one.
He meets with families, and tells them to put their faith in Jesus.
So preach for Paul is very broad!
But he uses this language because he wants to highlight speech.
This gospel message is one that comes by speaking. Paul goes on to say more about that later in the chapter.
I defined the word “gospel” before, “good news.”
Well the word “evangelism” is simply the verb of that noun.
These days the language people talk about verbing. The process of taking a noun, and turning it into a verb or a participle. “verbing” itself being a prime example.
So you’ve heard of security, now we have securitizing.
Dialogue has become dialoguing.
We speak of athletes medaling, not interfering, but winning a medal!
And of course, even Google, a proper noun, is now a verb, synonymous with searching online.
But it’s not only a recent phenomena. “Verbify” appeared in the Oxford English Dictionary in 1878, but in the Greek language that Paul wrote in, verbing was just what you did.
There’s a noun, the gospel,
And a verb, to gospel, or gospelling. Gospelling was what you did when you told someone the gospel.
In English we have a separate word, “evangelism”, but for Paul it was just gospel, verbified.
Don’t worry too much about the grammar, let’s just remember that evangelism literally means to tell the gospel.
So come back up to the top of the chapter with me, and we’ll spend some time looking at Paul’s picture of his evangelistic ministry, and then thinking about how that might shape ours.
Paul’s been speaking in the previous chapter about the transformation that takes place through hearing the gospel, so he says, verse 1,
Therefore, since through God’s mercy we have this ministry, we do not lose heart. 2 Rather, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God. 3
Now, of course, Paul had been commissioned by the resurrected Jesus, to be his witness to the nations of the world who weren’t Jewish.
But there’s nothing about what Paul says here that is exclusively about the evangelistic ministry of an apostle is there?
This is about sharing the gospel no matter who you are!
And so we get both a positive and negative analysis of gospel ministry;, How not to do eve, and then how we ought to do.
How not to do evangelism: distortion and deception
Verse 2, we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God
Like some of you, I’m sure, we have some of the Berenstain Bears books for our kids, about a family of bears who live in a house in a tree. And one of the books is called “The Bicycle Lesson”, and in it the dad bear teaches one of the kids to ride a bike. And there’s a whole series of lessons, and in each case, instead of showing how to ride the bike safely, the dad demonstrates exactly what not to do, causing disaster and crashing into everything that moves.
Well, here’s our what not to do, when it comes to sharing the gospel;,
No distortion, and no deception.
And we might at first think, “well, of course!”
Where would the temptation to distort the gospel come from? If we’re a Christian, we’re already convinced that it’s good news, why would we distort the message we bring?
But we don’t have to talk to too many people about our faith in Jesus before we come up against the kind of response Paul talks about there in verses 3 and 4;,
People who reject the light of the gospel,
People who take offence at the message of Jesus as Lord.
And so there can be a temptation, to, slightly change, update, the message of the gospel, in order to try and get a more positive response from people.
If people object to the message of Jesus as Lord, then we can be tempted to try and minimise that bit.
Paint the picture of Jesus as glorious, sure,
But more or less skip over the bit about him being Lord of all, and claiming authority over every part of someone’s life.
Or if someone objects to the cross of Christ as the ultimate display of God’s glory, his character, his goodness, his nature, the temptation is to make little of the cross, tell people to fill out their picture of God from other sources.
See, even if we’re convinced about the gospel being good news, we can still be tempted to distort it. Actually it’s because of the fact that we’re convinced it’s good that this is a temptation.
We want people to believe it, don’t we?
The word for distort is how the ancient Greeks referred to watering down the wine!
If you’ve got 4 bottles of Grange, you mix it 50:50 with grape juice from Foodland, now you’ve got 8 bottles of Grange you can sell to the unsuspecting public!
Well, you don’t do you, you’ve got 8 bottles of nothing!
What you’ve got is worth less than what you started with.
So this distorting can also mean including some other message. It’s not just about leaving bits out, but inserting other bits into the gospel message that don’t belong.
“Come to Jesus and you’ll never have any worry about how your children will turn out.
Give your money to the church and your financial problems will be gone.”
Added to the gospel, and actually made it worthless.
Distortion, and deception.
But notice how Paul begins in verse 2, we have renounced secret and shameful ways. Here he’s ruling out something that’s not a content issue, but a motivation issue.
Paul and the other geneuine Christian witnesses don’t have to cover up their true motivations,
They tell people about Jesus, and their reasons for doing so are plain and out in the open!
But it seems there were some people in Corinth, and in other places too, who taught an accurate gospel message;,
“Jesus is Lord,
Know the glory of God in Jesus.”
Their message was right, but they covered up their motivation. They wanted to preach, probably for financial gain,
Probably to gain control and influence over people.
That kind of deception is entirely out, Paul says.
It’s right for us to examine ourselves, and see if this motivation ever makes it in to our evangelistic conversations, or if our message ever becomes like the watered-down Grange.
That is not the work of the gospel that God has called us to.
An example for evangelism: speaking the truth plainly
So, how do we do evangelism?
Well, there is no trick to it, at all.
On the contrary, that is, in contrast to deception and distortion, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God
setting forth the truth plainly
You want a definition for evangelism?
For gospelling people?
How’s this, setting forth the truth plainly,
Of course this isn’t everything the Bible says about evangelism, not by a long shot!
But certainly this section of the Bible is one that cuts across many of our pre-conceived ideas, and habits and patterns.
And so it’s a good way for us to sharpen our thinking.
setting forth the truth plainly, contrasts with both a distorted message, and hidden, secret motives.
When we share the gospel of Jesus with someone, what we have to offer them is the truth, not some watered-down sub-standard, politically correct, alternative message intended to make Jesus more appealing to people, or more tolerable in a pluralistic society.
And it’s set forth plainly;, there’s no question about our motives, no reason for the friends or family of the person we’re speaking with to worry about our intentions.
We don’t try and exert influence,
We don’t even try to change behaviour,
We just speak plainly.
And when Paul speaks of the truth, he doesn’t just mean true things. “You’ve got a funny-shaped head” or something, it might be true! He means the gospel message that we’ve already talked about, that he explains in verses 4 to 6, Jesus as Lord, Jesus as God’s glory displayed.
But perhaps most importantly, I think setting forth the truth plainly means there’s no particular formula, no exact pattern of words that must be used if we’re to speak the gospel truthfully.
It’s plain. We can speak without embellishment, without formula.
There are some religions which teach that you’ve got to get all the words right,
All the names for God memorised, if you’re to have any hope of relating to God.
Christian evangelism, is just talking normally!
setting forth the truth plainly
Certainly there are outlines you can learn to help you remember what you want to say! 2 Ways to Live is a helpful one.
And if something like that helps you remember the message of Jesus as Lord, then please make use of it! Learn it!
But it doesn’t make your words evangelistic in a way that an ordinary conversation about Jesus isn’t.
I want us to feel freed and encouraged by this; setting forth the truth plainly.
See, if you can speak,
And if you’re a Christian,
You possess both the qualifications for being able to do evangelism!
If you’re a Christian you’ve understood the truth,
You’ve understood that Jesus is Lord,
You’re in relationship with God through Jesus,
You know that Jesus died, showing God’s glory, bringing you to God.
All you need to do is speak of that to someone else and you’re doing evangelism!
Evangelism is something that can happen in any regular conversation,
In any discussion over coffee, around a table, standing around a barbeque.
setting forth the truth plainly.
Evangelism is a spiritual battle (v 3 – 4)
And so let me finish with one more encouragement. When we do evangelism, when we speak of the good news of Jesus, we’re engaged in a spiritual battle.
See what Paul says in verse 3 And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. 4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel
It is not up to you to convince someone of the gospel.
In fact, you can’t convince someone of the gospel.
And neither can I.
Certainly, if we follow Paul’s example, we’ll bring every part of our being, and our knowledge, and our wisdom, and experience into the way we set forth the truth plainly.
Plainly doesn’t mean without thought,
Or without preparation,
Or without considering what particular approach might be most helpful for the person I want to speak with.
Paul even quoted poetry that he’d memorised, when he was trying to share the good news with the people of Athens.
No, we do everything we can to share the good news, but people reject Jesus, and reject the gospel, because of their spiritual state, not because you didn’t try hard enough.
There’s no stage fright in evangelism, because it’s not about your performance.
There’s no measure of “success” in the ordinary way of measuring things.
If someone is to respond to the message that we bring, it will be because God opens their eyes,
Frees them from the power of Satan,
And changes them, by the work of his Word and his Spirit.
See, we get nervous about evangelism, but actually, you can’t really fail! That’s my kind of enterprise! Something I can be involved, but actually the real work is done by somebody else!
Yes, we can be discouraged,
Yes, we long for people we care about to respond to the good news, but that part is not up to us.
If we think it is, we’ll tie ourselves up in knots, working harder and harder to try and convince people, when God wants us to set forth the truth plainly,
Jesus as Lord,
the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ
And that knowledge, comes from the work of God in someone’s life, So instead of thinking we need to convince people of it, let’s pray and ask God to take the message that we share, and make it alive for people, so they receive God in the gospel.
Which also means, if you’ve been sitting here thinking “I’m not a Christian”, none of this obviously applies to me,
Well, this bit does.
If you want the relationship with God that the good news of Jesus holds out,
If you want to see the glory of God, to know God as he really is.
If you want to live with Jesus Lord, rather than yourself as Lord,
You just need to ask him.
If you want to do that, then speak with the person you came with today, or tick the box on that Communication Card that says “I’d like to find out more about Christianity”, drop it in the bags when we sing in a moment, and someone will get in touch with you in the next day or so, to answer your questions, and to help you pray that prayer.
Why don’t I pray now?