Publication: Pastoral Letter, October 2000
Dear Friend in Christ:
I have been led to focus on personal evangelism for the past several years. I am deeply concerned about the number of Christians who have never lead anyone to Christ. In the past few years, my primary emphasis has been upon building personal relationships with non-Christians, which eventually cause the non-Christian to accept Christ. What I want to discuss here is the motive and method of that relationship: what it is not, and what we want it to be.
Jesus was full of goodness and mercy (see John 1:14, 16). He was forgiving toward tax collectors and sinners of all kinds. His most harsh words, however, were reserved for the Pharisees. And those words were often very harsh. He held them up as examples of what “not to be.” Ironically, they were very religious and gave serious attention to every detail of the Law.
Matthew 23 is the prime example of Jesus’ denouncement of the Pharisees. Here are some of Jesus’ criticisms:
They claim to be Moses’ successors_however, they don’t practice what they preach.
They add burdens to people’s lives, but offer no help.
They are concerned with their image.
They love honor.
They love titles.
They exalt themselves.
They oppose those who are seeking the Kingdom.
They go to great lengths to make a proselyte, or convert_but when they get through with their converts, these converts are like sons of hell.
The Pharisees were not on a Moses-like journey helping others into the Land of Promise. They were “status seekers” concerned only with themselves.
This is tough talk from Jesus; indeed it was accurate, as history proves.
I was struck by their motive for “evangelism.” They felt superior and wanted others to be like them. Jesus used the word “proselyte” to describe their converts. The root of the Greek New Testament word means to “come near” or “give assent to.” Proselyte means one who has arrived from a foreign region. In other words, a proselyte is one who has come to us.
Close examination of this chapter reveals a group of religious people who worked very hard at being right, but had no compassion. Jesus likened them to those of past generations, who had murdered the prophets (see Matthew 23:31-36). Not only were they malicious, but their idea of evangelism was malignant. These people seemed to win the day at the Crucifixion, just as Jesus prophesied. But also just as Jesus prophesied, all that they stood for was soon destroyed (see Matthew 24:2).
The Pharisees’ notion of “evangelism” was “Come to us and be like us!” They made proselytes. The proselyte’s journey was toward title, image, correctness, self-exaltation, and contention. The Pharisees drew people who wanted that.
My purpose here is not to suggest that most Christians want that, but to remind us of what Jesus said about their approach and to re-examine His own approach.
Genesis chapter one and John chapter one have several things in common. One thing is they begin with light. Light and life are inseparable agents of creation. Life and light both speak of energy. The Bible is the story of the travel of life and light through history. Life and light are always outward bound.
The New Testament word for light means to shine, radiate, or manifest. Noah Webster defines light as “bright and clear, breaking out, to throw, dart, shoot, or break forth.” He says, “it is the agent that makes objects perceptible as in the rays that come from the sun.”
It would be too much to attempt a biblical study of light. But let me list some of the biblical references to light:
God created light and said it was good (see Genesis 1, 3, 4). Light is the substance of the day, and the absence of it causes night. (Note that darkness is not a substance_it is the absence of it.)
God led Israel out of Egypt with a pillar of fire that gave them light and warmth at night (see Exodus 13:21-22.) They camped around the light.
God gave Moses the pattern for the tabernacle and included a continually burning light in the Holy Place (see Exodus 35:14; Leviticus 24:1-4).
David declared, “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear?” (Psalm 27:1).
David declared “Thy word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (Psalm 119:105).
Solomon stated that the path of the righteous is like the bright light of the sun that shines brighter and brighter until the full day. But, he also noted that the way of the wicked is like darkness; they do not know what makes them stumble (see Proverbs 4:18-19).
Isaiah warned, “Woe to them who exchange light for darkness” (Isaiah 5:20).
Isaiah promised that generous people would become known and their light would break forth (see Isaiah 58:6-12).
Isaiah further prophesies that a time will come when the light of God will be upon His people, while darkness is upon the earth, and that nations would come to His people for light (see Isaiah 60:1-22). The following chapter, Isaiah 61, is a great chapter on real and radiant evangelism.
Jesus is declared “The Light of Mankind” (see John 1:4,9), and “The Revelation of the Father” (see John 1:18).
Wherever Jesus went, people saw a “great light” (see Matthew 4:14-16).
Jesus said that His disciples would be the light of the world (see Matthew 5:14-16).
Paul was overcome by a light brighter than the noonday sun (see Acts 9:3; Acts 26:12-13).
John says that heaven will need no light, because the glory of the radiance of God will illuminate it (see Revelation 21:22-23; Revelation 22:5).
LIGHT OR PROSELYTE
I believe that we need to review the Scriptures continually, and study in the presence of the Holy Spirit, in order to allow Him to reveal God’s ways to us more clearly. God wants to use us for His purpose. But often it is the previous mindset that hinders the new understanding. This is certainly true in the area of evangelism. I have tried many ways with some success_but I have never been personally satisfied in this area. I applaud every effort by anyone that exalts Christ.
Some things are clear, however. Evangelism should not be viewed as unnatural. It is not a heavy burden or an artificial concern. It is certainly not a matter of exalting ourselves and enforcing our thoughts upon someone else. It is not getting people to join us or manipulating them in some way. That is “Proselyte Evangelism,” rather than evangelism by light.
The biblical metaphor for God’s people is light. It starts with life, energy, fire, and warmth that reaches out naturally. We call that love. Love is not an effort, though it may cause us great effort. Life, light, and love shine outward. They illuminate and cause things to become clear.
Biblical evangelism begins with being. We cannot generate what we have not received from God. When we receive life and light, we have it to give. It is what we are that gives credibility to what we say.
Out of what we are comes what we do. As Jesus said, men will see our good works and glorify God (see Matthew 5:16). So, being causes doing. Being and doing give us a platform for speaking when the occasion arises. But to speak without the credibility of being and doing will not accomplish the desired end.
There are times when you can speak to someone who doesn’t know you, and do so with God’s blessing. We should be alert to those moments. Such times will come if we walk in humility and sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. But we must not negate our success with strangers by our failure with friends who really know us.
Light is powerful. A very small candle can be seen far away on a dark night. As spiritual darkness covers much of Western society, the opportunity for light becomes even greater. Don’t put the light of Christ’s life under a lid of timidity, fear, or some other hindrance…let it shine! Let it take you outward to someone who is in darkness, who has lost his or her way.
Don’t wait for the world to come to you; bring Christ’s light and love where it has not been seen…let it shine!
P.S. As we come into this time of year, our ministry is especially active in outreach. We have new publishing opportunities, and we are planning some new additions to our website (www.csmpublishing.org) soon. Please remember us in your prayers and in your budget this month, and throughout the remainder of the year.
Scripture reference: Isaiah 58:5-12; Isaiah 5:20; Psalm 27:1; Psalm 119:105; Proverbs 4:18-19; Matthew 23:31-36; Matthew 24:2; Genesis 1, 3, 4; Exodus 13:21-22; Isaiah 60:1-22; John 1:4, 9; John 1:18; Matthew 4:14-16; Matthew 5:14-16; Acts 9:3, 26:12-13; Revelation 21:22-23, 22:5; Matthew 5:6