The Priority of Evangelism Part 1
Previously, in this series, we discussed the privilege of evangelism and how it is an exercise of abundant joy. This week we will talk about why it should also be a priority.
People prioritize their lives according to what is most important to them. Do we struggle to share our faith because other things are more important to us than the souls surrounding us each day? Your priorities reflect what you care most about. We align our time, resources, activities, and relationships accordingly. That’s a sobering thought when we apply that premise to evangelism.
I could find out the objects and aspects of your life that are most precious to you by following you around for a few days. I could observe how you invest your time, who your friends are, the activities you participate in, how you spend your money, what you talk about, and for what you are willing to make your greatest sacrifices. After about three days, patterns would emerge that would manifest your strongest priorities and deepest affections.
I am sure all of us can think of exceptions. Maybe you are more gifted in another area. Perhaps it was just an untimely week to observe your life, or maybe it is a short season where other things take precedence.
The goal of this line of thinking is not guilt and condemnation but self-examination and honesty about our hearts for those who do not know Christ.
So how did Christ prioritize those who did not know Him?
The evangelistic priority of Jesus
In Matthew 9:35 we observe Jesus spending his time teaching, healing, and proclaiming the gospel throughout the cities and villages. It’s safe to conclude that these are Jesus’s priorities. Matthew reveals more than Jesus’s priorities; he reveals the heart in which those priorities are rooted. In verse 36, we see that Jesus “had compassion” for them. That is to say, Jesus deeply cared about the plight of the people around him and ordered his life around their needs.
We can make multiple observations about the word compassion:
- It’s used twelve times in the gospels.
- It’s only used by Jesus or to describe Jesus. To be compassionate is to be like Jesus.
- Compassion can be described as “caring deeply until it hurts.” The word actually means, “to be moved as to one’s inwards” (Vines Dictionary).
When we have compassion for someone, we carry a gut-wrenching burden for them. It’s hard to imagine the level of burden and pain that Jesus felt for others as he moved in and out of the crowds. He displayed this type of burden at the cross as he was overwhelmed with compassion for those who were torturing him. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). Even in His moment of greatest physical pain, his emotional pain for those crucifying him seemed greater.
Many of us remember the pain we felt as we watched the twin towers collapse on September 11, 2001. I wept as I was gripped with the reality that thousands had just lost their lives and tens of thousands lost their loved ones. The gravity of the brokenness, sadness, and human pain overwhelmed me. I really believe that Jesus carried this kind burden for people with him at all times, and it describes the essence of his ministry with all people. Compassion is more than just mere pity. Pity will stir my emotions, but compassion moves me to action.
What does this mean for our evangelism? When we are moved with compassion, people become our priority. In the same way, when we are not moved with compassion, other things become our priority. Here are some examples.
- When I am not moved with compassion for people, convenience becomes the priority. Evangelism becomes another activity that I have to add to my schedule instead of a way of life ordered around people who do not know Christ.
- When I am not moved with compassion for people, comfort becomes the priority. My need for approval and commitment to protecting my personal insecurities and fears becomes a more powerful force than my concern for others’ needs.
- When I am not moved with compassion for people, circumstances become the priority. Evangelism becomes something I am going to do when I get enough training, when I get organized, or when someone asks me to share Christ with them!
Without compassion, my heart tends to pump out excuses and justifications for avoiding evangelism that are almost unimaginable. If we are going to be effective in evangelism, our hearts must be moved with compassion, and non-Christians must be our priority.
Getting practical: growing in compassion
In part 2 of this article, we will discuss how to develop a heart of compassion. But until then, where do we start?
The best place to start is with an honest self-examination. Here are some questions to help assess yourself. Take a moment and prayerfully think through these questions. Seek the Lord’s discernment, and submit your heart to what he reveals.
- Think about the last month. When you examine your time, money, relationships, activities, conversation, decisions, and sacrifices, what does this reveal about your priorities? Are your priorities aligned with the Lord’s priorities for your life?
- How many close non-Christian friends do you have? Do relationships with non-Christians impact the way in which you order your life?
- What excuses do I make in order to justify my lack of priority for building relationships with non-Christians and sharing the gospel with them?
- On a scale from one to ten, how would you rate your heart toward non-Christians? One (the lowest rating) means your heart is very apathetic toward non-Christians, and ten (the highest rating) means your heart is deeply moved with compassion toward non-Christians.
To continue my series on evangelism, read The Priority of Evangelism Part 2.