This morning we will be taking a slight detour from our regular verse-by-verse study through 1st Corinthians in order to center our attention on a topic that the Pastors feel is worth our focused study. And that is the topic of Evangelism.
Last year when we released our latest vision statement, which is an attempt to forecast where the church will aim particular efforts in the coming years, one of the areas that we wanted to emphasize was personal evangelism, which is, most simply, talking to people about our faith.
Mack Stiles, in his wonderful little book on the subject of evangelism, defines evangelism very succinctly as, “teaching the gospel with the aim to persuade.”
Teaching/heralding/proclaiming the gospel with the aim to persuade. That’s what we’re all called to do, as we will see. We may not all do it from a pulpit, but the New Testament expectation and example is that believers will have Jesus on their lips wherever they go, and will speak warmly of him wherever God’s providence places them. Jesus builds this evangelistic task into the founding DNA of the church when he gives the great commission in Matthew 28, and then we see that evangelistic fervor put into practice throughout the book of Acts.
So, to help us toward that end of encouraging one another in the sharing of our faith, we thought it might be helpful for some regular attention to be paid to the subject of evangelism. Thus, today we are starting what we will call our “Who’s your one?” emphasis. Who’s your one? You probably noticed the signs throughout our building.
This emphasis is not meant to be a burden upon you, nor one more thing to add to what might be an already busy schedule. Rather, the heart behind this campaign, if for each of us to have a regular reminder of what our biblical privilege is in Christ, to join Him in declaring his good news to the world.
So, we hope that you will prayerfully select one person (or more, we’re certainly not limiting you), but select at least one person that you have a relationship with, and then commit to regularly pray for them. Pray that God would work in their heart, pray that God would open their eyes to see the truth, and open your eyes to see the opportunities to love that person well through actions and through sharing the truth of the gospel. You can even take the bookmarks in your bulletin and write down the person’s name and keep it in your bible so that you remember to pray for them often.
That’s the heart behind this emphasis. That we’d all encourage one another on in the area of evangelism, of sharing our faith, for the glory of God and the building up of his church.
Today, I will kick off this theme with a sermon from the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians. This will be the first of a few occasional sermons throughout the rest of the year that will help us keep on our radar this evangelistic focus.
Specifically for this morning, as I was preparing for this sermon, I couldn’t get my mind away from what Paul has been saying in the first three chapters of this letter. Paul’s context is specifically speaking about the nature of church ministry, but the principles he gives have direct application for each of us in our personal efforts of evangelism.
Thus, this morning we will survey the first three chapters of 1 Corinthians and see 4 principles that are drawn from Paul’s arguments, and we’ll see and how they impact our thinking as personal evangelists, and as an evangelistic church. Those four principles may be remembered by these 4 words: Catalyst, Content, Contentment, and Community. Catalyst, Content, Contentment, and Community.
Let me begin with a prayer asking the Lord to bless our time.
Let’s begin by looking with me at 1st Corinthians chapter 1, verse 18, and we will see the great Catalyst for our evangelism. The catalyst for faithful evangelism:
“18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.”
Paul here is laying out a wonderful description of the gospel: the very power of God. He had just finished explaining how man’s words and desire for worldly eloquence can undermine the message. In contrast to that, the whole beginning of this letter proclaims that the gospel, that the message of Christ crucified proclaimed with simplicity and in faith, is indeed the very power of God.
This is the heartbeat of any ministry, and certainly of any evangelistic effort. That’s why I chose the word Catalyst. A catalyst is something used to jumpstart a reaction by lowering the energy needed to start the reaction. But to apply that principle to evangelism, it is the gospel, the message of Christ crucified that is the fuel that drives an evangelist. It is the power that sustains the effort.
Evangelism that is fueled by anything other than the gospel is flawed from the very beginning. Some are driven to evangelize out of guilt, rather than the gospel, and they soon find that they’re will power will run out. Their tank of evangelistic zeal will run dry. Guilt and the law will never sustain faithful evangelism.
But, when I am fueled by the power of God, I will find that my tank will never run dry. I will be sustained in my evangelistic efforts over the long run. Indeed, I can be sustained in my evangelistic zeal even though I may not have seen much fruit. That’s what fueled William Carey, the father of modern missions. He traveled to Burma, and he saw trial after heart-wrenching trial, and labored for over 7 years before he saw his first convert. Duty alone would never sustain a man in that kind of situation; only gospel-catalyzed divine action, only the very power of God unto salvation can sustain faithful evangelism.
And that leads to a second principle we see in Paul, which explains how the gospel catalyzes our action. We’ve seen that the word of the cross is the catalyst of faithful evangelism, but now let’s turn to chapter 2 and see the content of faithful evangelism. The content of faithful evangelism. If the gospel is the powerful message of God, we need to know exactly what that message is.
1 Corinthians 2:1-2:
“And I, when I came to you, brothers, did not come proclaiming to you the testimony of God with lofty speech or wisdom. 2 For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.”
An evangelist is someone who has the role of sharing the evangel, or the good news, the gospel. And if New Covenant believers are called to be evangelistic, called to be proclaimers of the evangel, then we better make sure that we get the message right. We’re to be ambassadors, and an ambassador that gets the king’s message wrong is a lousy ambassador.
Now might be a good time for a little self-reflection. Here is a little quiz for yourself: if I asked you to explain the gospel in 60 seconds or less what would you say? How would go about share the gospel with somebody if you were only with them in the elevator for 60 or less? Could you do it?
I say that not to shame those that might not have the message precisely nailed down, but to encourage us to examine ourselves and to examine scripture to ensure that we KNOW the message that we say we’re called to proclaim.
And what is that message? In short, the word of the cross is none other than the simple proclamation of salvation by Christ’s substitutional death in the place of sinners. Paul summarizes such a message later in this book, in chapter 15 when he says,
“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures.”
Christ died for our sins, was buried and raised from the dead, in accordance with the scriptures.
Or we could look at the message of the cross in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”
The gospel addresses a problem, which is sinful hearts. The cliché is true, that the heart of the problem is the problem of the heart. But the message of the cross not only diagnoses the problem, but provides a treatment: Christ died to address the heart problem.
Christ, the son of God, died as a substitute, he bore our sins, he bore the punishment that we deserved, and he died, and was buried, and raised again on the third day, securing our own life in him, and securing for us new hearts.
You could go to dozens of other texts that explain the gospel succinctly: John 3:16, for example is a famous one. But the point is this, if we’re called to be a people OF the gospel and FOR the gospel, then we better know what the gospel is. We better know the content of the message.
Additionally, a proper understanding of the message, of the evangel, does two things for us. First, it produces Confidence assurance in the message, in spite of the world’s estimation of it. Rightly understanding the gospel produces confident assurance in the message, despite the world’s estimation of it.
The Corinthians were part of the Roman empire at the time, and were under the influence of Roman ideals which prioritized power, glory, honor, and success, much like American society today, which prioritizes power, glory, honor, and success. And today, just like in Roman Corinth, the message of the cross offends these culturally-prized ideals. Our culture prizes beautiful, powerful, successful people. People that overcome and rise to the top. People that impress. People that win friends and influence people.
But the message of the cross, the simple proclamation of the word of Christ’s substitutionary death for sinners doesn’t garner you any of that. In fact, if you faithfully preach the word of the cross, you’ll end up with the opposite of the cultural ideal. You’ll offend. You’ll divide. You’ll separate. You’ll send people away.
But the content of the gospel provides us with confident assurance because we know that we have been given all things in Christ, and we know that if God is for us, who could possibly be against us? I have the smile of God in Christ, who cares is the world frowns upon me. My aim and my goal is to honor God and seek His affirmation, not the affirmation of hell-bound men.
But, only does having a proper understanding of the message produce confidence in it, but it also changes how we think about the message’s delivery. Understanding the gospel changes how we think about its delivery. This has been a major theme for Paul throughout the first three chapters, but I’ll just mention one illustration of this point.
Paul’s use of language to describe the work of proclamation is significant. He says multiple times that his mission was to Preach Christ crucified, not merely to teach Christ crucified. The difference can be subtle, but it is significant. We see something of this difference in Acts 5:42, when Luke records that they were daily going house to house and “did not cease teaching and preaching that the Christ is Jesus.”
Teaching is instruction for the goal of understanding, which is certainly included in any good proclamation of the gospel. But difference is that preaching includes an appeal. An appeal to believe. Teaching aims at the head, but preaching the gospel aims for more than that. It includes an appeal to the whole man: an appeal to the heart, appeal to the affection, appeal to the emotions. Paul even uses that word, appeal in 1:10.
One reminder for us as evangelists, as those who properly understand the evangel, is that this message isn’t merely an intellectual decision. We’re not just trying to win academic battles in apologetics or theological debates. We’re trying to faithfully present the message in its full grandeur, which, when faithfully done, will engage the entire man: his head, his heart, his desires, even his emotions. And that’s important because we don’t speak about Jesus merely to win arguments or produce intellectual agreement in the minds of our listeners; we preach about Jesus to win brothers and sisters for the kingdom, which includes a petition, an appeal for them to believe in this Christ whom we proclaim.
We must know the content of our message, and we should strive to persuade any who would listen to come and be reconciled to God through this powerful message of Christ crucified in our place.
Third, we’ve seen the catalyst and the content of faithful evangelism. But now let’s turn more toward the evangelist, to the person evangelizing, to the one sharing the message of truth. When we do that, we’ll see in our text that humble contentment should mark a faithful evangelist. Humble contentment marks a man or woman seeking to be faithful in evangelism. That was certainly true of Paul, and it likewise should be true of us.
Paul said in 1 Corinthians 3: 6-7, regarding his own view his role: 6 I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. 7 So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.
Paul’s contentment here was two-fold. First, Paul had humble Contentment in the role he played. In the role that he played. He was content to be a co-laborer among others. He knew that today he was a planter, while Apollos was a water-er. Tomorrow, he may be a water-er of seeds that another man had planted. We’re all on the same team, preaching the same savior, pursuing the same spiritual goals.
And perhaps most significant of all, each of us is a mere tool in the hands of the Almighty. He is the only one who has the ability to actually produce evangelistic fruit. That’s what the verse says, “So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” The laborers are nothing compared to the one who actually brings about new birth.
And when we understand that, when we have humble contentment in that role, it should lead us to prayerfulness. Prayerfulness marks an earnest evangelist from God because he knows that apart from any divine action, he evangelist can do nothing. Any evangelistic effort ought to begin well before you open your mouth; it ought to begin on your knees before God, praying for opportunities, praying for the words to say, praying for open ears to hear the truth, and praying for Growth.
As one old hymn writer prayerfully wrote:
“Lord lay some soul upon my heart,
And love that soul through me;
And may I nobly do my part
To win that soul for Thee.”
All we can do is prayerfully scatter seeds and water, God gives the growth.
But humility in an evangelist also leads to contentment with the results. A humble evangelist also is content with the results.
If my success as an evangelist becomes the barometer of my spiritual value, then I will either become prideful because of successes, or I will despair because of the lack of apparent fruit. One or the other is inevitable.
But when I remember my role as a worker, as a planter and a waterer, then I remember that any actual growth is in the hands of a sovereign God. I am called to plant the gospel and to pray. I’m not called to force converts into the kingdom. Yes, I teach and appeal and pray, but I can’t FORCE new birth any more than I can FORCE a seed to sprout into a sapling.
And this understanding, this contentment in the results that God determines to yield, leads to my joyfulness amidst the work. If I labor in evangelism for long periods and don’t see any evident fruit, I can be sustained in my work knowing that God is glorified by my efforts. God sees me trying. And God will reward accordingly. That’s what he says in verse 8:
“and each will receive his wages according to his labor.”
Each will be rewarded, according to his labor, not according to the number of conversions that came, but rewarded according to his labor, according to his faithfulness in executing the responsibilities given to him and within his control, namely, of speaking of Christ to others, and trusting God with the results.
Humble contentment with our role as fellow workers in God’s kingdom helps to keep us in a posture of prayerfulness and joyful contentment with the results over the long term.
Fourth, and finally, we’ve seen the catalyst and content of faithful evangelism, and we’ve seen the contentment of an evangelist. Now let’s look at the final “C”: Community. A faithful evangelist keeps in mind a community of evangelists. Let me explain what I mean by that.
In 1 Corinthians 3:16-17, Paul describes the church using some theologically-significant language, which we discussed last week: “16 Do you not know that you[c] are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? [And then again at the end of verse 17]: God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.”
Paul sees the new covenant church of God as Temple stones. Other New Testament language is used of Living stones, as a new nation of priests serving in this new spiritual temple. This is significant. Priests, by definition, are go-betweens. We are to be mediators. Not in a salvific way, for sure; Christ is the only priest who can save you. But there is a priestly aspect to our evangelism.
As living stones of God’s New Spiritual temple, we are sent out into the world as a nation of priests, sharing our faith and the message of the cross to a lost and dying world. We’re offering a message of hope to those who have been separated from God, and are in need of the mediation, the priestly work of Christ in their place.
And when we come to faith in Jesus, we are baptized into a new role, a new spiritual vocation, where all of life becomes holy service unto God. Everything we do, wherever we are, becomes an opportunity to honor the Lord.
It doesn’t matter if I am a butcher, a baker, or a candlestick maker, God will be glorified in my work if I am faithful to the task, and see that every opportunity around me is to be used for his glory, and one of the primary ways that we glorify God in our lives, is through sharing the truth that we have learned.
When we speak warmly of Christ, we glorify God, and if the Holy Spirit blesses, we are able to see a new living stone added to the temple, added to the community of evangelists. A faithful evangelist keeps his eye on the community. We’re not merely here to produces professions of faith. We want to see disciples made, disciples who become a faithful part of the new temple of God, the church.
We want to see new living stones added, that the temple might be built up, that new stones might be adopted by God, that they may plug into a faithful church where they can be fed, where they can exercise their own spiritual gifts, where they can be vibrant members living for God’s glory, seeking to pursue even more new stones for the temple.
Evangelism is never about mere converts to a tribe. We can be tempted to analyze numbers, and even be tempted to try and manufacture professions. But a faithful evangelist is quick to connect new converts to a faithful community of believers. That’s God’s plan for the church, for converts and for evangelism.
But it doesn’t just stop there. The temple of living stones, which is the new covenant church of God, is to be fertile ground for evangelistic efforts. It is the church that raises up and sends out missionaries. It is the church that is full of mothers and fathers who faithfully share the gospel with their children. It is the church that raises up future pastors and preachers and evangelists.
And it is the church who is full of living stones who stir up one another up to love and good works, one of which is evangelism.
• We stir up one another when we tell our stories of sharing the gospel, and of people responding, and of lives changed.
• We stir up one another when we celebrate God’s faithfulness in answering decades of prayers that have been prayed for another’s salvation.
• We stir up one another when we testify to God providing unexpected opportunities to share our faith in ways that we could never have imagined.
• We stir up one another when we see new converts baptized, just like we saw this morning, because each baptism is a reminder that God is working, that the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, and that God has worked new life through the combined efforts of many seed planters, and many water-ers.
• And we stir up one another when we use the Gospel to encourage a tired evangelist, who is weary of laboring with little fruit. Or when we encourage a fearful evangelist who is afraid of what may happen if he speaks of Christ at work.
The church is the community of God, designed by God, used by God to bring about the salvation of God’s people to the Glory of God.
These are some of the basic principles that I have drawn from Paul in these 3 chapters in order to encourage us this morning. At the outset of our emphasis on evangelism, I hope that you will prayerfully consider who might be that one person at work, or in the neighborhood, or in your family, that you will commit to pray for. That you’ll seek opportunities to speak the gospel to. That you’ll seek to bless with the message that is the very power of God.
And as you do that, I want to close with a very clear encouragement drawn from that powerful message of God.
That message is this: that Christ died for sinners. He died for people like you and me who were afraid to speak the truth, afraid of not being liked, afraid of not being promoted, afraid of not being esteemed in the eyes of the world.
Christ died for every bit of that fear of man. And he willingly died in your place. If you’re trusting in that Christ, you’ve been washed of that blame and fear. You’ve forever forgiven of that guilt, forever cleansed of that timidity, forever adopted into his family, forever given an imperishable heavenly inheritance, and forever gifted the Holy Spirit who guides you and seals you for the day of redemption.
Therefore, if we have been given so great a salvation, if we have been given so great a privilege by so great a message, how could we not also share that message with others? They too are darkened in their understanding and content as enemies of God. But, we have the message of light and truth that can, in the hands of the Holy Spirit, grant new birth and salvation to even the darkest of souls.
No family member is too far gone, no sinner is to wicked, no rebel is irredeemable. No one is out of God’s reach. Let us lean into that hope, into hope in the power of God seen in the redemption of sinners by the death of Christ. And let us, with hearts full of love for Christ, pursue the enemies of Christ, with the aim of winning them to Christ, to the glory of Christ.
And if you are here and all of this is just nonsense to you, or if you’re completely unfamiliar with what I am talking about, or if you have grown up in the church and have heard all this before but you have yet to personally believe, then I urge you on the basis of God’s holy word to hear this call: Christ has come for sinners, and you are a sinner. You have violated God’s law and are only separated from Hell at this very moment by the sovereign good will of God.
The only way for you to be saved from the guilt of your sins is to believe in Christ, turn from your sin and trust in him. He can save you, and he delights to save sinners. Come to him and have your soul washed, your conscience cleansed, your past forgiven, and your future secured. Come and believe, come, taste and see that the Lord is good.