What do you think is more important - to tell people the gospel or live a godly life among them? One Christian had been working at a firm for five years and was now moving on but he'd never mentioned his faith. At his leaving do one of his colleagues stood up and said, "We all agree that you're the most likable person we've ever worked with. You've got such integrity and patience. We were trying to work out what made you so special. We decided you must be a Buddhist." What an opportunity missed. Courage (v6 of 2 Cor. 5) is important.
Another man did tell his colleagues he was a believer and invited them to church. But they all knew that, like everyone else, he cheated on his expenses.
So what's more important to tell people the gospel or live a godly life among them?
Well according to v20 we are Christ's ambassadors and ambassadors are those who are on a special mission from the King, from King Jesus, bringing his message of reconciliation, his Word to this country and further afield - to those we know well and those we don't know well. And as we do so we're to demonstrate the love of Christ that has changed our hearts (v12) and which now controls us or compels us to be on this mission (v14). In Christ we are a new creation - the old has gone - the new has come! Paul says in Philippians 2 that we're to shine like stars in the universe, holding out the word of life. So we're to tell folks the gospel as we stand out from the world around us. Godly living is important in taking the gospel to people but so is speaking as Jesus' witnesses, which is our particular focus this evening. As the Apostle Peter said, Jesus Christ is Lord and you are his ambassador - so you're always to be ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you.
Let me ask you this. Why do you work where you do? Why do you live where you do? God has put you there for a purpose. And that purpose is to be Christ's ambassador to those around you until he calls you elsewhere. You might be the only Christian they know or meet.
What were the first words of Jesus to his disciples (Mt 4:19)?
"Come, follow me and I will make you fishers of men."
Yet many of us just want to be keepers of the aquarium. Often we're fearful of speaking as Jesus' witnesses. We're scared of getting the words wrong or of failure. Well we're not to fear, we're not on our own. Ultimately it's God's work and we have the Holy Spirit who will give us the words to say.
What were the last words of Jesus on earth to his disciples before he ascended into heaven? Acts 1:8:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth."
Well if that isn't enough motivation for mission the Bible gives us 4 further motives for speaking as Jesus' witnesses and also informs us of what we're to speak about and in what way.
First, Jesus says the fields are white for harvest John 4:35
"Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest."
Jesus implies that we often go around looking down and not seeing the opportunities, not seeing with eyes of faith, not seeing the reality as he sees it - that the fields are actually white for harvest. Do you believe Jesus? There are people around us ready to respond to him. Jesus says (Matthew 9 v38):
"The harvest is plentiful but the labourers are few. Therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest."
Are you willing to be the answer to those earnest prayers? To be some of those labourers whether here or at St Joseph's? Where is God calling you? The fields are white for harvest.
Secondly, The fear of the Lord v9-11 of 2 Corinthians 5,
So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him. For we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others.
Paul here makes one thing very clear - that Christians as well as non-Christians
must appear before the judgement seat of Christ. Now that's not meant to cloud our assurance of heaven if we're trusting in Jesus, but it is meant to be a spur to our Christian walk and witness. And that's exactly what it was for Paul. Some at Corinth were objecting to his forthright style and wanted him to go to the school of soft sell but how could he and how can we be anything but wisely bold in evangelism when we know we've to appear before the judgment seat of Christ? Yes, being Christ's ambassadors will sometimes require diplomacy in terms of being wise in how we act towards outsiders, and being aware of people's needs. But we mustn't misrepresent our King and his gospel. How could Paul and how can we face Jesus with a clear conscience if we know we've neglected trying to persuade men by sharing the gospel clearly with people who must one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ themselves?
So can I suggest a practical challenge for all of us - to share Jesus with someone and bring them along to Christianity Explored or read UNCOVER Luke's Gospel with them. If you're too busy then drop something. Graham Daniels told us when there's an opportunity he mentions Jesus in a conversation and then follows up with a question. Mention Jesus - ask a question. Easy to remember. For example, 'Hey I've been reading a great book about Jesus. Have you ever read a book about Jesus?' If there's no response then he leaves it there but there can be and often with people he's not had much contact with. You say well that's OK for him, I'm not a balding ex professional footballer with a lilting Welsh accent! But he won't reach everyone. God wants to use you. So be wisely and lovingly bold, in the power of the Spirit, who will teach you what to say to reach others and who will then themselves reach others.
Consider this if you, under God, could win 1,000 people to Christ every day, how long do you think it would take to evangelize the whole world when the population of the world is over 6 billion? Well it would take you 16,427 years.
However, if you would lead only one person each year to Christ, and then really train them, here's what would happen: At the end of one year there would be two of you to take the "Good News" to others. If each of you would then lead one person to Christ that next year, there would be four of you at the end of the second year to go and tell. At this rate, it would only take 32 years to reach the rest of the world!
So to help you reach one person for Christ this Christmas - perhaps a family member - I have copies of UNCOVER which is Luke's Gospel with internet helps for you to read with them. So please get a copy from me after the service.
Thirdly, The love of Christ v12-17
Paul's next motivation to share the gospel plainly and without any manipulation was the love of Christ. Before Paul's conversion his work of persecuting Christians was motivated by hatred. Now his ministry is motivated by love, by the love of Christ. And Christ's love controls or compels us too. V13
For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you. For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.
Some will think we are out of our mind to be sharing the good news of Jesus Christ boldly today. And we might then be tempted to water it down. But of course then it's no longer the gospel and has no power. Do not be ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God for all who believe, no matter what some people might think. For Christ's love controls us. Paul is no longer concerned about his own reputation. He lives for Christ. Why? Because Christ died for him and was raised. And in Christ he has died to self, and been given a whole new focus for living. 'Therefore all have died' in v14 is stating that the death of Jesus should procure death to self in all who turn to him in repentance and in faith.
So often our fears about evangelism derive from what others might think of us. When Paul was tempted to think like that he turned his mind to the cross. You're not on this planet to live for yourself any longer, he said to himself, Christ has died for you, you were bought at a price, you have no right to live for anyone else but him. Do we think like that? Is Christ's love controlling, shaping or compelling us in this way? The love of Christ for us and for all men controls or compels us to evangelise, wherever he sends us. Christ didn't just die for Paul or for you and me but for all, for the sum total of individuals, like Paul, whom he loved. Now that doesn't mean everyone is automatically forgiven and saved. No! The universal scope of Christ's love and Christ's death does not mean universalism – the automatic salvation of everyone. No there has to be a response. And the Bible clearly indicates not all will believe. But Christ's love, his death on the cross for all compels us to share this news with all.
You see [v16] from now on we regard no one according to the flesh. Even
though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no
longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has
passed away; behold, the new has come.
Does that not motivate us too? Surely the love of Christ should transform the
way we view those around us, as we recognise their need of Christ's love and see what they could become - a new creation - if Christ entered their lives. How do we view those around us? In a worldly way or in a Christ like way? Do they become the focus of our gossip or our prayers?
Fourthly, The commission of the King v18-21
Paul's final motivation was that God had called him to preach the gospel. And although we're not the Apostle Paul the ministry of reconciliation has been given to us too. We are Christ's ambassadors. That's what we learn from v18-21 along with the message we're commissioned to pass on to others.
So what is the gospel message we are still to proclaim today wherever God calls us? Well v18-21 make three things very plain. One, it is a message about a great act of divine initiative. V18: All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; Christianity is not about people finding their way to God but about God sovereignly making a way to himself by a great, even a gigantic act of condescension. Two, the message contains a great act of divine acquittal. V19: that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.
This is the root problem that Christianity addresses: the guilt of the human race. We need to be reconciled to God because our sin has separated us from him. It was that problem that God dealt with in Christ. So three, the message contains a great act of divine substitution. V21:
For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.
Now do you notice the beautiful symmetry of that verse? You see Paul is describing a great exchange: on the one side there is Christ who is sinless, on the other side, there is man who is sinful. As a result of God's gracious intervention, what happens? Christ, fully God and fully man, is made sin, and man becomes righteous in him through faith in him. What other word could describe what Paul is saying here except substitution? It now becomes transparently clear what Paul meant in v15, when he says that Christ died for men and women. Paul doesn't mean that Christ died just to set us all an example of self-sacrificial love. Paul means Jesus died instead of men and women. Jesus took our guilt upon himself and bore the penalty for it. He was
Some people object to this interpretation of the cross of Christ. They say it's morally scandalous to imagine God punishing an innocent third party for other people's sins. But Jesus, though innocent, was not a third party. V19 actually says: 'God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself.' God and Christ are not two parties as far as this exchange is concerned. They're one. God wasn't laying the sins of the world upon somebody else when he placed them on Christ. He was placing the sin of the world on himself. Such is the love of God. And through faith in the death and resurrection of Christ we can be reconciled to God.
People the world over need to hear the message of the cross, the love of God. The Bible tells us that "faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ…...But how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? (Romans 10:17,14-15) And this section of 2 Corinthians 5 stresses this fact three times. V18: 'God gave us the ministry of reconciliation. V19: He committed to us the message of reconciliation.' V20: Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
Now it's the Holy Spirit who brings people to new birth in Christ but God has committed to us the message of reconciliation. Yes as Christ's ambassadors we are to demonstrate the love of Christ. But people need to hear the gospel. We can't get away from that. Yes technology can play an important role both in getting the message out and in training, such as our new website and clayton.tv. But human contact is still important. We are Christ's ambassadors to this dark world. We are representatives of the King of Kings. What a privilege! So go and live up to your calling in the power of the Spirit. Be willing to stand up for Jesus, speaking the truth in love. Last week I was doing a funeral visit and I asked why they'd come to JPC. Do you know what their answer was? Because of David Holloway's witness on the radio speaking up for the Christian faith. It does make an impact. Be prepared to give an answer for the hope that is in you. Lift up your eyes! The fields are white for harvest.