“Evangelism” can be a dirty word.
Consider this critique of Mother Teresa, “It’s good to work for a cause with selfless intentions. But Mother Teresa’s work had ulterior motive, which was to convert the person who was being served to Christianity.” Yes, you read that correctly. The idea that a Christian might want to share their faith with others can completely undermine a lifetime devoted to improving the lot of some of the world’s most desperate people.
Despite critics who view evangelism, or proselytizing, as they call it, as a negative behaviour, it remains core to following Jesus. Whether we consider the imperative of the Great Commission, or the Lost Parables of Luke 15, we see God’s desire that people who don’t know Him come to know Him. He desires the lost to be saved. He longs for the sinner to be cleansed. He hopes for the distant to draw near to Him. And he uses Christians to accomplish His purposes.
When many people think of evangelism, we think of Mormon missionaries, or Jehovah’s Witnesses, constantly doorknocking neighborhoods and trying to have life changing conversations with us at the most inconvenient moments. Many Christians grew up in churches that regularly doorknocked and many still do.
But not all evangelism requires cold-calling on people and hoping we catch them at a time when we’re not a nuisance and they’re wanting to talk with someone.
If we’re not careful, sharing our faith can seem a lot like a sales job. It’s as though I need to convince you that out of all the life insurance products available on the market, my life insurance is the best one for you… and your family… and your friends. If I do it right, my sales will grow. The company will grow. My commissions will grow. And it really doesn’t matter whether or not I’m telling you the truth, as long as I can get you to believe my life insurance product is the best.
In contrast to this skepticism, Christians share our faith with others because we believe that the message of Jesus is one of life-changing goodness. Having experience God’s goodness, we want others to experience it also. Having seen light in a sea of darkness, we want to point others to that light also. We do this, not to increase our own equity, or to kingdom build, or spiritually colonise other cultures, but because we love others. Because we love other people we want them to experience the best life possible: to experience Jesus.
This week’s sermon looked briefly at two different approaches to making a God difference in people’s lives.
The Apostle Peter
Based on Acts 9:32 it seems that Peter had taken on the task of visiting groups of believers, churches, scattered around Judea and possibly Samaria. No doubt his goal was to encourage these charter members of the Jesus community. In this way Peter contributed to the growth of the church. He participated in implementing Jesus design from Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
Peter had moved from Step 1: Jerusalem, and was now implementing Step 2: Judea and Samaria. In our text Peter finds himself on the coastal plain, and area not given a lot of attention throughout the Gospels. In Acts 10 Peter initiates the final step in Jesus outline: the ends of the earth, as he breaks through the Jew-Gentile barrier by baptizing a Roman.
Peter fits the mold of a typical evangelist. He’s a traveling preacher and as an apostle is able to perform healing miracles that attract a crowd. When he visits a town he preaches about Jesus and we’re told in Acts 9:35 “All those who lived [there] saw [the lame man walking] and turned to the Lord.”
As a preacher who can’t perform healing miracles, I believe there’s still a role for Peters in the work of the church. There’s a need for people to travel to unfamiliar places and tell others about the Good News of Jesus. These may be international missionaries, or domestic church planters, but they’re needed. The lost need to be saved, and the saved need to be taught and encouraged. Peters can do this.
The text next introduces us to Tabitha. She is apparently a woman of means who uses her wealth to “do good and help the poor“, particularly widows. Tabitha didn’t travel. She wasn’t prominent on the speaker circuit. Tabitha achieved influence in her community through her compassion and generosity.
Tabitha was loved so much that when she died, the church sent for the apostle Peter in the hope that he could restore her to life, which he did. After she sat up, “Peter called for the believers, especially the widows…” It’s impossible to know for certain, but I like to think that Tabitha was indiscriminate in selecting the widows and other poor citizens whom she cared for. Then, as she loved her neighbours, the neighbours saw Jesus, came to love him, and became disciples of Jesus. These women may have started out as widows, but because of Tabitha’s generosity they became believers.
Sometimes people dismiss the idea of entering full-time ministry by saying “that’s not for everyone”. And they’re right. But it is for some people. The church still needs Peters. And the 12 year old Peters sitting in churches around the world need others to encourage them. They need spiritual mentors to recognise their faith and gifts and inspire them to use those gifts in God’s service, full-time.
Sometimes when people dismiss the idea of full-time ministry, they say “everyone’s a minister”. And they’re right. The church needs more Tabithas. Sadly, many of those who say this, do very little. Perhaps its because while they recognise that we’re all called to serve we don’t always have clear models of what ministry from the pew looks like. The preachers have taken too much of the limelight. Tabitha provides a model we can all follow. Do good and help the poor. Who knows, you may even bring them to Jesus.
When we talk about faith we often used language like, “We need to place our faith in Jesus”. But what does that mean? As a starting point, it means that we accept that Jesus is who he says he is. As the apostle Peter declared in 16:16, we have to accept that he is the Messiah, the Son of the living God. But this phrase can be misleading at times, because it sounds like a one-time event, while in actuality God seeks persistent faith.
When Jesus encountered the Canaanite woman with the demon-possessed child (15:21-28) he really tested her faith. Three times Jesus ignored her cries, but four times she kept asking him for rescue. She had faith the first time she asked, but after four pleas Jesus was able to say, “Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted.” Sometimes we get to thinking that because we have faith in Jesus that he’ll solve our problems quickly. But do we still have faith if his response isn’t instant?
We see this same message in the example of Peter walking on the water (14:25-33). Peter had tremendous faith to jump out of the boat in the middle of a storm expecting to walk on the water… but his problem was he didn’t have persistent faith. It’s the absence of that consistency Jesus criticizes when he says to Peter, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Let me suggest that we often get our priorities confused. God’s not just looking for us to step out in faith and do GREAT things for him. He’s looking for us to do MANY faithful things for him over a long period of time. Although Peter got off to a great start, he took his eyes of Christ, the solution and started focusing on the waves, the problems. If we’re honest, we’ll admit that our faith often has an “use by date” also. We often arrive at a point where we say, “God, if you’re not going to act on this request, I guess I’ll just have to do it myself.” It’s hard to be patient and persistent.
Romans 5 describes suffering and perseverance as elements in Christian maturity. But persistent faith doesn’t come from our own inner strength and resilience. Perseverance results from us tapping into the hope Christ gave us in the presence of the Holy Spirit.
Romans 5:3-5 … but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
The Canaanite woman knew she was in the presence of the Messiah and so persisted with her request. Peter forgot that God was with him, and started to sink. Remembering that we are always in the presence of God adds to our faith, perseverance.
- Do you think Christians make a “profession of faith” too big of a deal?
- Have you found persistent faith to come naturally, or do we have to work at it?
- Considering the text above from Romans 5, have you experienced suffering that produced hope?
- Read Mark 8:27-30 here.
- If you missed Sunday’s sermon (27 June), you can listen to it here.
- Follow the rest of this discussion here.
This week’s thesis is, The Church of Christ should understand the word “Christ”.
As I preach through this series, I’m surprised how little I’ve considered some of these topics before. The church may as well have the name “Rochester Gathering” for all the identity we seem to draw from our name. Yes, there are always the old school preachers who insist we’re the Biblical church because we have a Biblical name. That’s not what I’m talking about, and I’m not starting that conversation.
Our particular brotherhood bears the name “Church of Christ” because the Apostle Paul used that description in Romans 16:16. In that instance I suspect he’s using the word Christ simply as a name for Jesus, without giving it a lot theological baggage. But is there any special significance to us using the name “Christ” rather than “Jesus” or “Son of God” etc.? I certainly don’t recall ever hearing a sermon on the topic.
For those who are unaware, the word Christ is a transliteration of the Greek word Christos, which is the equivalent of the Hebrew word Masiah, which means Anointed One. If Bible translators had really done their job, they would have translated the Greek word Christos as “Messiah” or “Annointed One”. But that wouldn’t have been appropriate on every occasion as in some cases the title Christ is actually used as part of Jesus’ name. George Ladd provides a good summary of my (rambling) thoughts to this point,
The title and concept of Messiah… is the most important of all the christological concepts historically if not theologically, because it became the central way of designating the Christian understanding of Jesus. This is proven by the fact that Christos, which is properly a title designating “the anointed one,” early became a proper name. Jesus became known not only as Jesus the Christ or Messiah (Acts 3:20), but as Jesus Christ or Christ Jesus. Only occasionally does Paul speak of Jesus; he almost always uses the compound name; and he more often speaks of “Christ” than he does of “Jesus.” Although we cannot be sure, it seems that Christos became a proper name when the gospel of Jesus as the Messiah first moved into the Gentile world that did not understand the Jewish background of anointing and for whom therefore “the anointed one” was a meaningless term.
A Theology of the New Testament rev. ed. 1993, p133
If Messiah is the most important of all the titles and descriptions given to Jesus, then perhaps we should set aside some time to consider it. This is particularly poignant since it’s in the name of our church.
When I suggested that “The Church of Christ should eagerly seek the return of Christ”, I mentioned that I’ve found churches usually explain how biblical texts DO NOT teach premillenialism, rather than explaining how the passages ARE relevant to the church today. The same problem applies to Messiah. We spend a lot of time describing how the Jews of Jesus’ day sought an earthly Messiah who would overthrow the Romans and establish a Godly kingdom of peace and prosperity. We then assert that God never had this in mind and was always planning to establish a spiritual kingdom. But we seldom take the next step to discuss how the “Spiritual Messiah” relates to our faith.
I willing acknowledge that I don’t have a lot of application ideas for this concept. Here are the two I shared in my sermon.
- We must avoid succumbing to the same distraction as the Jews Jesus dealt with. They sought God to provide military and political answers to their predicament. They were fiercely nationalistic. It’s easy for Christians in the 21st century to also seek social change through the political process rather than through spiritual revival. It’s also difficult for us accept that the Kingdom of God supplants nationalism within the church.
- Jesus is our Messiah. He is victorious and he provides peace. That’s a pretty attractive message for the church to preach! Of course, we need to moderate that statement by saying that the ultimate victory and peace will only be realised in eternity, but it begins now. That’s a much more significant message than debates over whether the Lord’s Supper should have one big cup shared by everyone, or lots of little cups!!
A third implication that I didn’t explore is that “The Church of Christ should emphasise the Kingdom of God”. If Jesus is our Messiah, then he’s also our King. He did establish a kingdom. We’re in it. We should understand it. That’s a big topic, but definitely something to explore at a later date.
Throughout this sermon series I’ve made the point a couple of times that The Church of Christ should emphasise, or understand….” By saying this I mean that it should become part of our DNA. Most long term CoC members could explain the essentiality of baptism, the reason we have the Lord’s Supper weekly and why we sing a cappella. They’re DNA issues. We need to teach and repeat topics like the importance of having a Messiah, and the significance of Jesus crucifixion so that they also become deeply ingrained in our theology.
- Can you come up with some additional implications of thinking of Jesus as Messiah?
- Would it seem strange to you if our church name was “Church of Messiah”? Would it make you think about church or your relationship with Jesus differently?
- Do you agree with the statement, “The Kingdom of God replaces nationalism for Christians”?
- Read John 21 here.
- If you missed Sunday’s sermon from John 21 (19 April), you can listen to it here.
- I blogged on John 21:18-22 here.
I’ve heard quite a few sermons on Jesus’ conversation with Peter that focus on the Greek words for “love” that are used in this passage: agape and phileo. The common teaching runs like this:
The first two times Jesus questions Peter he asks, “Do you Agape me?” and Peter replies, “You know that I Phileo you.” The third time Jesus asks, “Do you Phileo me?” and Peter responds with the affirmative. Thus, Agape has been interpreted to mean a “special sacrificial love almost unique to Christians” while Phileo has been understood to refer to a “platonic brotherly love”. In this context Peter is unwilling to answer that he has a scraficial love toward Jesus. Although Jesus goes on in v18-19 to predict that Peter will in fact die for his faith. (The NIV in this passage translates agape as “truly love” and phileo as “love”.)
The problem is that the distinction between these two words has been greatly exaggerated. Agape does NOT always refer to a special kind of Christian/Godly sacrificial love. Let me give some examples that are inconsistent with these definitions:
- “For the Father phileo (loves) the Son…” (John 5:20) Does the Father really just have a brotherly love toward the Son?
- “The Father himself phileo (loves) you because you have phileo (loved) me…” (John 16:27) This seems a strange statement if phileo love is a lesser degree of love.
- “but people agape (loved) darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.“ (John 3:19) Certainly a uniquely Godly/Christian love could not be applied to loving evil.
- In describing Christians who have lost their faith Paul writes that “Demas… agape (loved) this world.” (2 Tim 4:10) So this is clearly not a special Christian love referred to here.
This post is a bit more academic than usual, but I think this is an important point. Through his death Jesus demonstrates what sacrificial, Christian love looks like. He sets an example for us to follow, even toward our enemies. There are a lot of verses that teach this principle. But we’re on shaky ground if we want to give this meaning every time we see the word Agape.
As always, context provides a valuable insight. Jesus wasn’t asking which kind of love Peter had toward him. Rather, he was asking the disciple who had earlier denied him whether he loved him at all. This story contains an example of God’s grace and forgiveness: the reality of the cross. We shouldn’t lose this message in a Greek word study!
Can you think of other verses that describe Christian love but don’t depend on understanding Greek? Please leave a comment.