The passion of evangelism
If you’ve been reading along with our series on evangelism, we have already covered the first two principles of evangelism The Privilege of Evangelism and The Priority of Evangelism: Part 1 and Part 2 deal with our motivation and heart in evangelism.
All who are engaged in the process of evangelism want to see results of their efforts—to be effective in our evangelism and to profess Christ as Lord and Savior to many. That is why Paul’s words to the Thessalonian church should grab our attention (specifically 1 Thessalonians 1-2:13). Paul’s description of his ministry is a powerful example of both word and deed, of gospel proclamation and love. If we are going to be effective in reaching those around us, we must become passionate about giving our lives away to others—specifically non-Christians. This is our third principle of evangelism.
We all know if non-Christians are going to be converted, we must proclaim the Gospel to them. Paul makes two statements in this portion of scripture that describe how the Gospel came to the Thessalonians. Let’s start with the second statement first.
Paul reminds them, “you accepted it not as the word of men, but for what it really is, the word of God (1 Thess. 2:13).” This is the desire of all evangelists, that the recipients would receive the Gospel as the word of God, not another “perspective,” one of many worldviews. The natural question then is why did they receive it as the word of God.
Here is Paul’s explanation in 1 Thessalonians 1:5,
“for our Gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction; just as you know what kind of men we proved to be among you for your sake.”
This is an amazing statement because Paul is connecting the impact of the gospel in the Thessalonians with the way in which Paul’s band of men lived among them. This is more than a meticulous method for reaching a new target. Paul deeply cares for the Thessalonians.
Paul summarizes his heart in 1 Thessalonians 2:8,
“Having so fond an affection for you, we were well-pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us.”
The power of Paul’s ministry is clearly stated. He was not only delighted to share the Gospel with them, but also to share his life with them as well. In order for people to become Christians, the Gospel must be preached, but we must also offer our lives on others’ behalf.
Why is this so important? Because the call of the gospel is for our lives to be “worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:12)” and “worthy of the gospel of Christ (Philippians 1:27).” When we relate to non-Christians with a heart-felt love and a passion to give them our lives, they gain a clearer picture of God’s heart and a greater understanding of the essence of the Gospel message.
The impact of our evangelism is greatest when we impart our lives to others. The Gospel is magnified when displayed in the life of someone who puts others interest before their own.
So, how can we impart our lives to those we are evangelizing? Paul demonstrates several ways we can do that in verses 1-12.
- Take risks, not advantage (Vs. 1-2) – Paul, after having suffered in Philippi, should have been afraid to share the Gospel to the Thessalonians. Why would a non-Christian on your campus risk his identity, friendships, reputation, and a familiar way of life by submitting to the Gospel if we are not willing to risk rejection and opposition in order to share the Gospel? We always disadvantage ourselves for others sake.
- Be honest, not misleading (Vs. 3) – Here it appears that Paul’s motives were challenged or that he was accused of misleading the people. The Gospel is the Gospel of truth. Therefore, it should not be distorted or handled with any form of dishonesty. Healthy evangelism involves relationships and trust. When we are honest in our relationships and evangelism, people trust us, are drawn to our authenticity, and reflect that back on the trustworthiness of the gospel. When we mislead someone, we lose credibility and trust from that them, and the gospel truth is distorted.
- Seek approval from God, not men (Vs. 4-6) – Paul knew that God is the judge of all things and that he would one day have to give an account to God for the way in which he had stewarded his ministry. When we love the approval of those we are trying to reach and allow our evangelism to be directed by people-pleasing, we are prone to take life from them instead of give it to them. Our insecurity enslaves us to their acceptance and praise. It tempts us to manipulate and flatter. On the other hand, when we are not attached to others’ approval, we can make our greatest contribution to their well-being. Because our identity is secure in Christ, we are able to give without seeking something in return.
- Offer vulnerable affection, not self-preservation (Vs. 7-8) – Paul uses the image of a mother nursing her young to describe his love for the Thessalonians. He was gentle, caring, nurturing, and affectionate. It was a vulnerable love that emanated from sheer delight, just a mother delights in her own child. For us, this love exposes us to rejection, hides nothing, avoids image management, appeals from frailty not power, evokes deep pain, and overflows with joy during celebration. Is this not the essence of the heart of Christ on the cross?
- Persevere sacrificially, not being a burden (Vs. 9) – Paul worked tirelessly to not be a burden on anyone. Paul’s ambition was to meet needs and to help remove the burdens of others. This requires “labor and hardship” both “night and day.” In the college culture, this means we have to work hard to meet people where they are relationally, spiritually, and emotionally. We allow them to investigate Christ, just as they are, without feeling compelled to impress us or change their behavior. We get on their schedule, instead of asking them to accommodate ours. We go where they are, instead of expecting them to come to us.
- Live above reproach, not with compromise (Vs. 10) – Paul was obviously relevant to his culture, but he did not compromise the convictions he held. He didn’t live a sinless life, but he did live above reproach, which means that he lived among the Thessalonians in a way that his life honored both God and man. This is the way we live should reflect the holy and righteous nature of the One we are proclaiming.
- Exhort as a father, not as taskmaster (Vs. 11-12) – Paul pointed them toward Christ without apology or hesitation. However, he didn’t have a hidden agenda that secretly emanated from his ego and pride. He encouraged and exhorted them just as a loving father who wants what is best for his children. Our children will not hear if we do not have the courage to speak and they will not listen if we do not speak from a selfless heart. So it is with the lost.