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What Makes an Evangelist? October 23, 2011

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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1 Thessalonians 2:1-13

 Proper 25

October 22-23, 2011

Focus: God loved us and set the stage for us to love others.

Function: That the hearers more willingly share God’s love with others.

Structure: This is the promise of the gospel, here is how we may live out that promise.

 

What Makes an Evangelist?

            What does it take to be one of the great evangelists of our day?  It’s really easy to answer by pointing to the men and women we see evangelizing on television.  They’re all very charismatic, full of energy and have faces made for TV.  They all seem to share these qualities.  And when we see that, it can discourage us and make us think that we aren’t capable of evangelizing.  Thankfully, those aren’t the qualities that make for a good evangelist.

If you remember back to last week’s sermon, I came on pretty strong.  I really wanted to hammer home the idea that Yahweh alone is our God.  Not only that, but also that He is always faithful to the covenant that He made with Abraham.  He is our God and we are His people.  And ultimately, God showed His faithfulness to the covenant when He provided us with His Son.

In Jesus Christ, we have everything God can give us.  Jesus came into the world, lived and walked among God’s people, preaching, teaching, healing, and just talking.  And Jesus knew how His life was going to end.  He knew about the cross hanging in His future.  And yet He continued onward and faced it like only God could do.

Jesus bled and died on that cross as the sacrifice for our sins.  Because of Christ, we are forgiven.  We are God’s children.  But Jesus didn’t stop with forgiveness, with mercy.  He continued on and in rising from the dead gave us a gift to look forward to.  We have the promise of everlasting life with our God and His Son Jesus Christ.  We will live in a paradise with all our brothers and sisters forever.

We know the gospel.  We believe in Christ and His forgiveness and love.  But what do we do in the meantime?  It’s the age-old philosophical question: why are we here?  Or at least, why are we still here?  Have you ever stopped to think about it?  If we have faith and believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, why are we still living the temporary life in the broken world?  Why don’t we just fast forward to the everlasting paradise?

Well, God may have plenty of reasons that we aren’t aware of, but He does communicate one to us directly.  His kingdom isn’t done growing yet.  Before Christ left to return to Heaven to the right hand of the Father, He gave His disciples the very familiar command of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:19-20.  “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.”

It’s the idea of evangelism.  But in order to truly answer the question of what makes a successful evangelist, we first need to realize what evangelism is.  The word is transliterated, translated, straight from the Greek word euaggelizomai, which means to preach the gospel or to share the good news.  So by definition, an evangelist is simply someone who shares God’s love, the gospel, with someone else.

This is what Paul is talking about in his letter to the church in Thessalonica.  It’s a rehashing of his ministry among them.  He gives thanks for the brothers and sisters in that church and rejoices in their faith.  His ministry is an excellent example of the qualities of an evangelist.  The qualities that first come to our minds today have nothing to do with what Paul and his coworkers did in the early church.

First, Paul says they spoke the Word no matter what.  It didn’t matter if they were being opposed or even persecuted, they spoke God’s Word to others.  Of all the qualities we’re going to talk about, this one may just be the hardest for us.  All but one of the disciples was killed for their faith.  And yet, all too often, we’re afraid to share the gospel with others because they might make fun of us, or even worse, argue with us.  We don’t like to be rejected.

Paul next makes the important point of where the Word comes from.  The source of the gospel isn’t men.  This isn’t our message for others that we’ve come up with.  It’s God.  This is God’s Word of salvation for all men to hear.  It’s not about what we’ve done, but what God has done for all of us.

Another quality is that the evangelist isn’t self-seeking.  When you’re sharing the gospel, why would do it selfishly?  The gospel is shared for the sake of the person who hears it.  And we’re not trying to make ourselves look good either.  Pastor and I don’t preach to you to just to make you happy, instead, we preach what you need to hear.  If you ever suspect us of falling into the temptation of doing what we do solely for our own benefit, slap some sense into us.  In our American culture, you and I aren’t getting anywhere for ourselves by talking about Jesus.  Christianity is no longer the majority.  It won’t make you popular.

Next, Paul compares what he was doing to the love that a mother has for her child.  That certainly speaks more about being selfless.  A mother would do anything for her child.  She loves the little one and does whatever possible to feed, clothe, comfort, shelter, protect and help them.

The point to take here is just putting the other person’s needs before our own.  Helping people is a simple way to show that we care about them.  Jesus sets up this example when He said “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.”  Whatever we do for others, we do for Christ.  A few weeks ago, this church sent volunteers to Feed My Starving Children.  They packed enough food to feed 47 kids for a year.  Those children will want to know who fed them.

And that fits well with the next point also, that they were “blameless and pure.”  The point here isn’t to argue about whether or not Paul and his companions ever sin.  The point here is to live your faith.  Do you remember the song, “They Will Know We are Christians By Our Love?”  Loving and helping other people when we don’t have to in our world forces them to wonder why.  And if Christians were all to do this, non-Christians would want to know what sets us apart.  It opens the door to talk about God and what He has done for us in His Son.

Our behavior fits into this too, which is where Paul went with the text.  If we act out our faith, they will see that, and it opens doors.  But if we go about committing sins and acting no different than the rest of the world, what reason do they have to find out more about God?

Paul uses the image of a father’s encouraging, comforting and urging of a child to live a life worthy of God.  Paul is urging the people to live out their faith as a witness to others.  And when he says a life worthy of God, he qualifies that by saying that God is the One who first calls us into His kingdom.  We can only live as Christians because God first called us to be Christians.  We can only love others because God first loved us.

There is one last element that Paul focused on in his letter to the church.  We don’t see explicitly in our pericope, this one small snippet of the letter, but it’s everywhere.  At least once per chapter of this letter, Paul makes reference to the return of Christ, to His second coming.  The Thessalonians understood this point too well.  They knew Jesus was coming back to judge.  They knew the last day was coming.  But, when they heard soon, some of them thought immediately.  A big problem for their church was that some didn’t feel like they needed to work anymore.  Christ is coming soon.  Why do I need to worry about the harvest a few months from now if Christ is coming back tomorrow or next week?

It’s obvious to us that they were wrong with that thought.  Two thousand years have gone by since then.  But haven’t we gone the opposite way?  Do we really stop to think about what it means that Christ is coming back?  Do we still live our lives as though He will be coming soon?

The holidays are coming soon.  They will be here.  If you aren’t prepared, there’ll be some arguments, fights, and disappointment.  You might get embarrassed that you weren’t ready for the in-laws on Thanksgiving.  Children will likely get upset that there aren’t any presents under a tree; in fact, there’s not even a tree this year.  If tax return day is coming soon, do you want to wait until May to deal with the IRS, or do you get prepared, and get your taxes turned in?

None of these examples quite do the trick, but I’m hoping you get the point.  Christ is coming.  He could return before I finish this sermon; He could return tomorrow.  Sure, there’s a possibility that soon may mean another two thousand years.  But can we afford to take that chance?  He is coming like a thief in the night.  For our own sake, can we go unprepared?  We can’t afford to.  When you sin, there is an urgent need to confess, to repent, to receive forgiveness.  And in Christ we have that forgiveness.  When a Christian commits a sin, they can rest assured that they are forgiven when they’ve confessed it.

But what about everyone else?  If Christ comes back before dinner tonight, what happens to all of them?  We have that answer, and it’s not pretty.  Christ’s call to make disciples of all nations is urgent.  We don’t know when He’ll be back.  Would you risk your child’s life on a wager?  How about a family member or friend?  The neighbor across the street?  They can’t afford to wait.

Evangelizing simply means to share the good news.  Who of us here doesn’t like to share our joys, accomplishments, or good news?  Was it difficult for Pastor last week to rejoice in his new grandson?  How many of us when we get married or have kids have a tough time spreading the word?  When it’s your birthday or someone has given you a great new toy, don’t we celebrate?  Don’t we share?  The gospel of Christ trumps all of these things.  He is the good news.

All of the qualities of an evangelist can be seen in Christ.  Jesus spoke the Word of God no matter what.  He wasn’t afraid to suffer and die for the gospel.  He did what He did for us.  There was no selfish reason for Christ to die.  He gave up His life to save us because of His love for us.  Jesus loves us more than we can even imagine and takes care of our needs.  And He led by example.

One reason that life doesn’t just end when we believe is that we live in a community.  God created us to be relational, not independent.  If all the Christians were suddenly gone, how would God’s Word be shared?  Life goes on so that we may share it in our lives and vocations.  As parents, we raise our children in the church.  As friends, we share God’s love with others.  As co-workers, we live a life that stands out, and opens a door for someone to ask why we’re different.  We help those who are in need of earthly things so that we can then share with them the message of everlasting life.  We are God’s children, loved and saved by Him, and as His children, we share that love and the gift of salvation with others.

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