Would you please turn to 1Corinthians 1.18 to 2.5. My title for this evening is "Evangelism", but what does that mean? "Evangel" means "gospel". "Evangelism" means "gospelling". "Gospel" means "good news". And the good news can be summed up in one word: Christ. To evangelise is to tell people the good news about Jesus. Evangelism is on the apostle Paul's agenda here. Look at v17, just before our section: "For Christ did not send me to baptize, but to preach the gospel". Paul's lifework as a Christian was to preach the gospel, or to put it another way, to evangelise. Now it is undoubtedly true that God has delegated the task of evangelism to his people. And not just a few people. Of course, none of us is an apostle. And not all of us, by any means, have been specially gifted as evangelists, though some have been, and you may be! But we all have a part to play, as members of the Body of Christ, in the world wide work of telling others about all that Christ has done. So, for instance, Paul writes to the young church in Thessalonica:
You became imitators of us and of the Lord; in spite of severe suffering, you welcomed the message [that is, the gospel] with the joy given by the Holy Spirit. And so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia. The Lord's message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia - your faith in God has become known everywhere. (1 Thessalonians 1.6-8)
When God has taken hold of our lives and filled us with joy and peace because of the forgiveness and hope that we have found in Christ, we are to be his witnesses. The Gospel message is to ring out from us in our locality and beyond. God has delegated the telling of the Gospel to us. And for most of us, if not every single one of us, that is a daunting prospect. The non-Christian world out there is either openly hostile, or, more likely, couldn't care less. Well, for all of us reluctant evangelists, there is more good news. After all, good delegation is not abdication of responsibility. The one who delegates should keep to himself what only he can do. He should also keep in touch with and support the one to whom the task has been delegated, in whatever way is needed. God is a good delegator. He has not just given us everything to do, told us to get on with it, and then left us to it, with only the promise of a rigorous assessment of our performance at some unspecified date in the future, like the prospect of an Ofsted inspection for a newly qualified teacher. The truth is that God is the evangelist. He has delegated certain aspects of the task to those of us who are disciples of Christ. But most of the work he does himself. And when he asks us to evangelise, he equips us and strengthens us for the task, and never leaves our side. The Holy Spirit is the main contractor, as it were, in this work. We are his sub-contractors. We are commissioned by him, responsible to him, and under his supervision. The work remains his responsibility. We can be confident that he will get it done. So I would like us to note five things about God the Evangelist from these verses before we turn to consider the human evangelist. So my first, heading is THE DIVINE EVANGELIST And then first, there is God's strength. There is noone more powerful than he. In fact, this passage is a power sandwich. It begins and ends with the power of God that he displays through his evangelism. Verses 18 -19:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise; the intelligence of the intelligent I will frustrate."
God's power rescues those who are spiritually dead and brings them back to life. He breathes on a valley full of dry bones and the bones come together and the flesh is restored and the dry bones live. He overrides all the intellectual and pseudo-intellectual barriers that are erected to shut him out of people's lives, as if they were walls of paper. And verses 4 - 5:
My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.
It is nothing less than the very power of God that underlies our faith when we turn to Christ. Without the working of that power we would stay shut up in our ignorance and rebellion and sin. But God sets us free and enables us to trust him. His strength is irresistible. We all like to think at times that we can engage in a spiritual arm-wrestling bout with God. Maybe for a time he allows us to hang on to the pathetic belief that we can compete with him. But when he decides to act, then we simply flop, and the absurd imbalance of forces becomes all too apparent. Who are we to withstand God? In 1994 Dick Lucas, the Rector of St Helen's Bishopsgate, visited Korea. On his return he wrote about the growth of the church there, which is an awesome example of God's power. I quote:
" the story of Christian advance in Korea during the last hundred years is a wonderful encouragement to British Christians labouring in an unresponsive culture. Surrounded by the desiccated church scene in Western Europe it is important to remember that in many far away parts of the world the living church has been growing numerically at a rate as fast, if not faster, than at any time in Christian history...
It only takes a thousand people to press into a London church for flags to be waved and talk of revival to begin. But what if you lived in Seoul? You could do as I did perhaps, and join a congregation of 3,500 on Sunday morning while, in the evening, going to a downtown Methodist church whose church roll numbers 50,000. But this would be only to scratch the surface, for in Seoul 10 of the 20 largest churches in the world are located! in a country where one in a thousand was Christian in 1890, nearly one in four would claim (in South Korea) to be Christian today That is the power of God at work. Second, note the wisdom of the Divine Evangelist. Wisdom, in the context of this passage, should be understood as (to quote Don Carson) "a well articulated world-view that made sense of life and ordered the choices, values, and priorities of those who adopted it." The "wise" claimed to be able to make sense out of life and death and the universe. But there is no better way than the way of Christ, because it is both true and good. Do you see how both the power and the wisdom of God the evangelist are linked and spelled out here? In v24 Christ is described as both "the power of God and the wisdom of God". And Paul goes on (v25):
For the foolishness of God is wiser than man's wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than man's strength.
Third, let there be no mistake about what is the message of the Divine Evangelist. Paul gives here three very brief, short hand, summaries of what the good news is. In v18: it is "the message of the cross". In v23 it is "Christ crucified". In 2.2 it is "Jesus Christ and him crucified". The Gospel, the good news, is not about higher living standards, or education, or how nice it is to come to church, or what decent people we really are. It is about one person, what he did, and what he is doing. It is about Jesus Christ our Saviour, who was executed, taking the punishment that we deserved so that our sin could be forgiven. It is about Jesus Christ our Lord, who was raised from the dead to the throne of God where today he rules behind the scenes, and from where one day he will return to destroy all that opposes him and to live with those who love him for all eternity. It is about his call to each of us to give up our foolish rebellion and come over to his side and be forgiven and be assured of a place in his kingdom. It is about Christ crucified: God's anointed and eternal King, who died to be our Saviour. Fourth, the method of God the evangelist is unmistakeable in these verses. How does he exercise his awesome and unstoppable power? How does he go about saving people? It is through the preaching of the Gospel. In verse 18 it is "the message of the cross" which is the power of God to those who are being saved. The same point is made again in v21: "God was pleased through the foolishness of what was preached to save those who believe." So when Paul says in 2.4-5 that his message and his preaching "were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power" he does not mean that God saved people by bypassing what he was saying and using some alternative spiritual fireworks to attract and convince people. He means that it was the content of what he said, and not the style, which had the power of the Holy Spirit behind it. They believed the message of the cross. Their faith rested on Christ. Not in any way on Paul: not on his skill or his eloquence or his charisma. But on the Gospel. It is the Gospel which is the power tool in the hands of the Holy Spirit which he uses to cut us free from our bondage to sin, death and the devil. God saves through the preaching of the Gospel. That is how he has chosen to rescue people. Fifth, do you see the extent of the grace of the Divine Evangelist? He choses, and he calls, and he saves the lowly, the foolish, and the powerless. God choses. Verses 27-29:
But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things - and the things that are not - to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.
God calls in such a way that people respond. Verses 23 - 24:
but we preach Christ crucified: a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those whom God has called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
And God saves. Verse 18 again:
For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.
The whole process of salvation is entirely God's doing. We do not save ourselves. We contribute nothing to our salvation. It is all of grace, "so that [v29] noone may boast before him." And Paul goes on: "It is because of him [God] that you are in Christ Jesus". It is his doing entirely. "Therefore [v31], 'Let him who boasts boast in the Lord'". What a wonderful picture of God the Evangelist at work! His strength is unconquerable. His wisdom devastates all other world views. His message is Christ the crucified Lord and Saviour. His method is the proclamation of the cross. And his grace is utterly astonishing. But where does that leave the human evangelist? What is there left for us to do? Well, plenty. Because, as I said before, God delegates. And what has he delegated to his disciples? Nothing less than the preaching of the powerful message of Christ crucified. Of course, preaching in this context does not only mean standing in a pulpit. It is telling people the good news, whether at a bus stop or over a cup of coffee or round the dinner table. The chosing, the calling, the saving - we can do none of that. Only God can do that, and he has not delegated it. As far as the hard parts go, all that we can do is pray, and ask God to do his stuff. We just have to be faithful in telling people. And the problem that arises here is that we do not feel up to doing even that restricted task. But again there is good news for the reluctant evangelists among us, which I guess is all of us. We do not need to feel up it. We just have to get on with it, together. Look at the picture of the human evangelist that emerges from these verses. This is my second, and last heading, THE HUMAN EVANGELIST The human evangelist is first of all a believer, saved by the grace of God. We cannot communicate what we do not know, not least because we will not want to. If you have no desire to tell others about Christ, then the question has to be asked: Do you know him? Verse 26: "Brothers, think of what you were when you were called" They have been on the receiving end of the gospel. They know the joy and peace of forgiveness and friendship with God through Christ. All our evangelism has to start there. As it did with Paul. He describes himself right at the start of this letter in this way: "Paul, called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God" Christians are simply once-starving beggars who have found an inexhaustible supply of food, telling others where to find it. Before we can tell others who to go to be saved, we have to have been to Him ourselves first. The human evangelist is first of all a believer. But that is about it as far as qualifications need to go. The human evangelist has no need of impressive credentials. Nor does he or she need great intellectual power or verbal skill. Verse 26: "Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth." Look around you. You can see what he means! It may be that you are regarded as wise by the world. Maybe you are powerful. Maybe you do even have a great aunt once removed who married a Duke. That's OK. You don't need to feel bad about it. The Countess of Huntingdon was a great church-planting ally of George Whitefield during the Evangelical Revival of the Eighteenth Century. She used to say that she had been "saved by an m". In other words, Paul does not say that not any were noble. Just not many. The bulk of those God choses and calls and saves are very ordinary people: those who the high and mighty of the world regard in their heart of hearts as foolish and weak and despicable. But the high and mighty have missed the point and are in danger of missing the boat. God has gone after the lowly and unqualified. If, when you contemplate the task that God has given you, you feel inadequate, unworthy, unintelligent, and powerless, then you've probably got it about right. But you are the kind of person that God wants. After all, he chose you. The effective evangelist needs no impressive credentials or qualifications, no great intellectual power, no dazzling verbal skill. In fact, we can go further: the human evangelist is often weak and fearful. Take Billy Graham as an example. He is the evangelist who has preached the Gospel to more people than any other in history. If anyone could be confident as he faced the task, surely Billy could be. But listen to what he says about his feelings as he prepared for his great Crusade in Harringay in 1954. He says:
"I would pray and pray, believing deep in my soul that God would bless and honour His Word if I preached it faithfully. And yet I was also filled with fear. In my entire life, I had never approached anything with such a feeling of inadequacy as I did London. If God did not do it, it could not be done In my flesh, I too often dwelled on the question, Who do you think you are? Yet all the while, God kept reminding me to dwell on Whom I knew Him to be: the Almighty God."
I have personal cause to be grateful to God for what He did through that extraordinary mission. My own father, in his mid-twenties, became a Christian listening to Billy Graham in Harringay Stadium. What was true of Billy Graham was no less true of the great apostle Paul. He had had a personal encounter with the risen Jesus on the road to Damascus, and had a personal one-off commission direct from him. He worked miracles. He raised the dead. He preached before Governors and Kings. He wrote a substantial chunk of the New Testament. And how did he feel when he engaged in evangelism? Verse 3: "I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling." We are hardly going to be exempt from the same feelings. But the thing about Paul was this: he didn't let it stop him. That is the one thing needed. To be effective evangelists, we just need to stick at it. The pressure will be on us to do one of two things: either to shut up all together; or to change the message so that we are no longer talking about Christ and him crucified. Giving in to the pressure either way is just as effective as far as the powers of evil are concerned. Satan does not mind what we say, as long we keep off the subject of Christ crucified. But that was the one thing that the apostle Paul would not do. Verse 2: "I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified." The devil hates that. And Paul was on the end of Satan's lashings, both metaphorical and actual. He had a hard time of it. But he would not stop. There was a price to be paid in Korea as well. Dick Lucas in his account of the church growth there also says this:
"The long Japanese occupation meant martyrdom, or death in prison, for many Korean Christians who refused to compromise with Shinto shrine worship. The terrible Korean war produced many Christian martyrs. Hundreds of pastors and evangelists were killed or kidnapped"
So what is the result when human evangelists are faithful and stick to the task? They are used by God. He demonstrates his saving power. He does it in his own time, not ours. But in his time, those God chooses, those God calls through the preaching of the Gospel will be saved. There cannot be any greater privilege than to be a link in the chain that pulls someone to Christ. There is no deeper satisfaction than to join in the rejoicing of the angels when sinners come to their senses and return home to their Father. The other day I received by email the following account from Jock Hughes. He is a Bible translator among the Dobel people in Indonesia, and as a church we help to support him and his family. He writes:
"The young Dobel man, Abua, who has been living with us in our house in Dobo for the last year, today asked Jesus to come into him and for the Holy Spirit to control him! Over the last year we have had many opportunities to talk about Jesus with him, and a few days ago when we came to Ambon, he came with us, to help us in a consultant check of the Joseph story [which is a section of the Bible that Jock has been translating]. Yesterday, he and I went to the church we attend here and he was very challenged by the long sermon about the return of the Lord, and is the house we have built going to withstand the flood - is it built on the rock of Jesus or on the sand of our own good works, or religious beliefs. At the end the pastor gave an opportunity for people to go forward, but no-one did, so he didn't keep pushing it. Well today at lunch time I was sitting with him and another Dobel man, and Abua told me that he had wanted to go forward, because he felt he really needed to ask Jesus to take control of his life! We talked on and I said that he did'nt have to wait till another time, he could give his life to Jesus any time he wanted Then our consultant, Marge Crofts came along, and we all sat down to begin our consultant check. Marge said, in English, would one of us pray? I said in Dobel we were going to start with prayer, then Abua said, "If we are going to pray, I would like to ask Jesus into my life right now!" I translated this and she said "Go ahead - don't worry about the consultant check, take as long as you want! I said to Abua to go ahead and pray as he wanted. He prayed and told the Lord he had been thinking about it for a long time and he wanted him to be in his life, so would he come in and cause his Holy Spirit to control him. I then prayed for him, and we went on with the consultant check! The check went very well! Afterwards, Abua was full of it - he told me he wanted to pray in front of other people, so that they were witnesses as to what he had done. Since then he has been telling all sorts of people what he has done pray for the Holy Spirit to be guiding, and for Abua to grow deep roots in Jesus. I am sure he will come under attack, so please pray for the Lord's protection and strengthening for him. Afterwards I prayed with him for the Holy Spirit to fill him and direct him and that God will use him greatly to serve his own people."
God the evangelist does all of it. What happens in Indonesia happens here too, again and again. For one part of the process he uses us. We just have to stick faithfully to the task of telling people about Jesus. We may do it in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. That's OK. But we mustn't stop singing. And we must mustn't change the subject of the song.