Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Work of the Evangelist [Preacher]

But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.--2 Timothy 4:5


In this passage, it is important to note that Timothy is called to do the work of an evangelist, though he has not been given the title. Every person should take this commission seriously, realizing that always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence is a commission given to all of us, not a particular office (1 Peter 3:15). As I have heard Voddie Baucham say, "If you want the "lo, I am with you always" you better accept that the "make disciples of all nations" applies to you as well (Matthew 28:19-20)!

So first off, let's get that obvious application out of the way...we cannot excuse the mandate to evangelize to a person or title or giftedness. God has called all of us share the gospel. This is a non-negotiable.

However, it should also be noted that these imperatives should not be divorced from the call of preaching. These flow from the stern charge (a post of its own in the future) to preach the Word. He addresses that this message will not always be received well, and then calls Timothy to be sober, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist and fulfill his ministry. This is not an isolated set of imperatives wedged into a discussion, nor is Paul changing subjects abruptly, for he follows these imperatives with his own testimony. Paul is not calling Timothy to do something he himself has not obeyed. Paul is calling Timothy to continue on in the ministry Paul established.

Being a preacher is a unique privilege. When much of his time is spent in study of the Word and interaction with the Body to apply the Word, he can sometimes feel like he has neglected the work of evangelism. In recent years, all kinds of solutions have been proposed. Pastors are encouraged to do their study in coffee shops, malls or public venues (which may work for some, but could be entirely too distracting for others). Often they are encouraged to join civic organizations or volunteer with local community groups. An already stretched schedule is taxed to the limit. And if study time must be cut short, it must be cut short, for this allows the pastor to continue to do the work of the evangelist.

Certainly, there is nothing wrong with volunteering or civic participation, but if these things distract a pastor from his Scriptural calling, then he must reevaluate. While we should seek every opportunity for evangelism, we must not seek new opportunities at the neglect of our original calling. Paul says some powerful things here in this verse:

Be Sober in all things...
When many consider preaching and evangelism, sobriety is not a word that would come to mind. Exciting, energetic, lively, fun...these are the words we think are necessary in light of evangelism. Life is hard, depressing and difficult. Shouldn't church be designed in a way that escapes all of these things and allows people to take a break from the difficult things in life?

But sobriety is not usually encouraged in the church. To compete with the variety show culture of today, the pastor is encouraged to have a humorous monologue, lots of visual aides and a catchy hook or two. Music should be "kickin" and the overall atmosphere should be full of energy and light. A person can easily stay home and watch TV, so the pastor should seek to make the service as entertaining and pleasurable as possible, after all, it should be worth the drive. This is especially true when the pastor considers evangelism in the service. Often, to get the unbeliever there--and to keep him attentive--the church should be willing to entertain and dazzle the nonbeliever.

But this was not the calling to the church in Corinth. What would be more energetic, exciting and help people escape the pressures of the present than an all out display of the sign gifts? Some may consider it foolish and others may get confused, yet it would at least draw a crowd, wouldn't it? Yet, Paul encourages that the presence of nonbelievers only further strengthens the call to do all things with order and care (see: 1 Corinthians 14).

Our present realities should provide a unique sobriety to our preaching. The pain experienced in life today should remind us of the pain our Savior endured on our behalf. It should remind us of the present reality that such trials will be used to help conform us to His image. Even the encouragement of the last days, knowing God will ultimately deliver us from all this pain should come with sobriety, knowing that such a day will mark of the judgement of those who are lost. In fact, each time soberness is mentioned in the New Testament it is closely acquainted to the end times. (Perhaps drawing an equally interesting trend that many who hold to a slap-stick style of corporate worship/preaching also diminish the doctrines of eschatology...another post to come.)

Evangelism in preaching does not need to avoid sobriety, but rather, it must embrace it.

Endure hardship...
No one should get into the pulpit for popularity's sake. If I desire to be liked by men, I should not strive to preach the Word of God (Galatians 1:10). Though the church should long to hear the preaching of the Word, it will not always be well received. I have had people approach me before a service, informing me they have an unsaved visitor with them, imploring me to "take it easy" on issues so as to not scare the person away. Other times, I have had people approach me, likewise having brought a guest, but desiring that I "really bring the fire" this week. Now, what is a pastor to do if both these people bring a visitor on the same week?

Quite frankly, he preaches the Word and takes whatever lumps come with it. And sadly, some will not like that. When a preacher seeks to do the work of an evangelist, there will be resistance. Some will consider him too aggressive, scaring people away with the confrontation of the gospel. Others will consider him having strayed from the text, for if they cannot find the centrality of the gospel in the text, then certainly it must not be there. People will complain, special meetings may be called, other elders may question it, but the preacher must endure.

For it is not only a privilege to participate in the ministry, but a double privilege to share in the sufferings for doing so.

Do the work of an evangelist...
It's interesting to note that Paul does not say, "evangelize!" or "Do the work of evangelism." The emphasis is not on the purpose or the position, but rather, the duty. The work of an evangelist is quite simply to declare the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ. If the emphasis is simply "evangelism" one could be swayed by the audience (for how does one evangelize a fellow believer), but if the emphasis is on "the work of evangelism" then the audience does not matter (for you can proclaim the gospel regardless of audience). In fact, the preacher should do the work of evangelism for the sake of:
    1. The preacher. Lest we forget, the Word should be speaking first and foremost to the preacher. No preacher should stand before a congregation and share the Word of God when he has allowed his own heart to be immune to the message. Therefore, any message the preacher preaches should rest heavily in his own heart. The preacher needs to daily remind himself of the beauty and the glory of the gospel message if he desires to see sanctification in his own life.
    2. The faithful believer. It is not healthy to move "beyond the gospel" message. A believer is not called to move on, but deeper into it. Paul's letter to the Romans is a perfect model for this. Once he has carefully laid out the gospel message, Paul reminds us that any application comes "in view of God's mercy." If the health of our congregation is dependent upon remaining at the foot of the cross, it is necessary for the preacher to continually lead his congregation there.
    3. The chaff. If the pastor tries to tear up the chaff, he could risk tearing out wheat as well. However, the Word is also clear that anytime you gather a group of people together, it is quite likely that false converts are there. They may be involved in ministries and activities that appear righteous, however, if they are not trusting Christ alone for their righteousness, then the works are not seen as pleasing to God. We may not be able to spot who these people are (although sometimes it becomes clear), but we know the cure. They need to hear and receive the gospel message of Jesus Christ. Therefore, even if a preacher believes he knows each person in the congregation, he should still do the work of an evangelist, acknowledging that he can't see every heart.
    4. Present nonbeliever. Certainly, there will often be nonbelievers present. How tragic if they come to an assembly of saints looking into the Word of God and Jesus Christ is not revealed in their midst! Paul reminds us:
    How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher? How will they preach unless they are sent? Just as it is written, "HOW BEAUTIFUL ARE THE FEET OF THOSE WHO BRING GOOD NEWS OF GOOD THINGS!"--Romans 10:14-15
    The preacher should not be tempted to please the nonbeliever with a practical message that he can quickly apply to his life at no cost. He should not seek to spend his message establishing the common ground he has with the visitor who walked in the door. He should not spend his time appealing to the nonbeliever that if they keep coming back regularly they will find the church beneficial. No, the preacher should exalt Christ. How does he know if he know if the nonbeliever will live to see the end of the day? He has him there, and he should take advantage of the opportunity to speak of Christ.
    5. Absent nonbeliever Perhaps point four feels like a moot point, for there seem to be no nonbelievers in the service. The preacher may be tempted to say, "I would preach the gospel clearly if I had a nonbeliever in our midst. I'd jump all over that. We simply never have nonbelievers." I would suggest that it may be because the preacher does not faithfully preach the gospel that nonbelievers are not attending. Ask yourself this question: If my congregation has no confidence that they will hear the gospel this week, will they be motivated to invite their neighbor? Even more pressing: If God is sovereignly calling one of His elect, why would He place him in my church if he will not hear the gospel there? No, the preacher should not just preach to those who are in the room, but to those who should be in the room.
When we understand our call is to the work of the evangelist we understand it is irrespective of audience. We also understand that this commissions the preacher to proclaim the gospel, but to leave the results up to Christ. He is not called to manipulate a person into a decision, or conform his message to what is deemed popular. He is called to declare the message of the gospel.

Fulfill your ministry.
Paul has not called Timothy to an elusive paradox. These tasks are not mutually exclusive. Timothy is to preach the Word. He is to be sober. He is to endure hardship. And he is to do the work of an evangelist. These are not hats he wears seasonally, but tasks he fulfills at once. This is the mark of his ministry.

Certainly, a pastor should seek personal relationships that allow him the opportunity to present the gospel. If he loves the Lord, he will have a compassion for the lost and will seek to reach them in every environment. However, the pursuit of these personal interactions should not exact a cost upon his original calling...to preach the Word. If the pastor struggles to see how the wickedness of Gibeah, David's division of musicians, or the Red Horse of Revelation relate to the gospel, his answer is not to put his Bible down and go mingle with people at the YMCA. He first must study and work over the text to make sure he does not neglect the gospel in the midst of his exegesis, but sees how Christ is beautifully and faithfully proclaimed in the text.

Again, (I find it regrettable that I must offer this retraction so often, but know some will wrongly accuse me of saying such) I am not advocating that the preacher avoid interaction with the lost, and also encourage him to strategically seek opportunities to interact with the lost and share the gospel.

Yet, the preacher is given one tremendous privileged opportunity to do the work of an evangelist. This opportunity comes when he opens the text and preaches the Word. If we miss our opportunity to labor as an evangelist at this moment, we have failed to fulfill our ministry.

4 comments:

Keith said...

Good job !! It is pathetic that evangelism has been turned into a frivolous, trifling sideshow. Can we be lighthearted and lacking in tears when the eternal destiny of people is at stake? Many current "evangelistic" approaches are like trying to douse the fires of Hell with a squirt gun. Every time we preach it is an eternal life or death spiritual battle for souls. There is a place for humor on the battlefield, but it is not to be in the place of using our God given weapon - the Sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. Oh for a new generation of Bible dependent, brokenhearted, prayed-up, tearful, pleading evangelistic preachers who will wrestle for the souls of people - who will spend a lifetime to tenderly but powerfully woo people to Jesus.

Brad said...

Hey Danny,

When you use "preacher" are you using it as a synonym for "pastor-teacher" or for "evangelist?" Or do you make such a distinction?

danny2 said...

i guess i always assumed preacher meant "one who preaches."

an evangelist is not the same thing as a pastor, but a pastor (like timothy) was commissioned to preach and that preaching involved doing the work of an evangelist.

Zach Doppelt said...

Danny,

I appreciate your words. Preaching indeed can be an unpopular thing, and we must accept that. A majority of believers (and non-believers) want mostly practical man-centered preaching right now. Application must be there, but so must proclamation of God's truth.

Tough times... good thing we have the Spirit of God!