Jesus gave His disciples a very special charge in Matthew 28:18-20, saying, “Go therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit; teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the age.” His command is to bring the message of salvation to all people and to bring to the world a greater understanding of righteousness. But how we go about fulfilling this commission is a mystery to many Christians today. Sadly, the church is not growing as fast as it once did. Only a few generations ago, the church of Christ was one of the fasting growing churches in the country, with baptisms on a regular basis and sound teaching being done throughout the world. But now, we have receded into the religious background in many ways. We see our young people leave for “greener pastures” and our older members lament because of the dwindling number of members at faithful churches. The answer to this problem is found in the scriptures, for it is in the Bible that we find the most appropriate model for church growth: personal evangelism.
· These days, most people are not converted by Sunday morning sermons, or even Gospel meetings. Just bringing somebody to church is not enough to convict a person.
· “Living the Gospel” and trying to convert people by your example is also usually not effective. We need to be careful when we dismiss actual Bible teaching because we live clean, moral lives. While morality is commendable, people are not necessarily converted by your refusal to swear, drink, etc. Clean living and good Bible teaching must be complimentary.
· Even when we do manage to set up a Bible study with individuals, we need to be careful to avoid verbal pugilism. Many of our studies simply become arguments over topics hardly related to salvation.
· The real key to good personal evangelism is the home Bible study. This cannot be emphasized enough, friends, and this will be addressed in other lessons in this series.
What I would like to do is begin a series of lessons on effective personal evangelism. We will approach practical applications in depth later on, but for this particular study, let us focus on a dynamic sections of scripture that touches on some evangelistic tools. Turn to Acts 20:18-21:
“And when they were come to him, he said unto them, ‘You yourselves know, from the first day that I set foot in Asia, after what manner I was with you all the time, serving the Lord with all lowliness of mind, and with tears, and with trials which befell me by the plots of the Jews; how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus.’”
Being An Example
From the text, it is clear that Paul wanted to live by example in order to make his preaching and teaching more effective. “After what manner I was with you all the time” literally means that he wanted the Ephesians to recall what kind of person he was while in their midst. “Let no man despise your youthfulness, but be an example unto them that believe, in word, in manner of life, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). The righteous man’s life serves as an example of the doctrine that he preaches, and shows unbelievers that the godly path is one that is desirable.
· In the same way, our happy marriages can show unbelievers that Christianity makes relationships stronger and more lasting;
· Our well-behaved children can go a long way toward showing the benefits of discipline and an upbringing in the presence of God;
· We need to show people that we are happy and have fun, even though we reject the sinful habits and activities that the world defines as “fun”;
· The example of Paul in Acts 20:18 was daily, which means that we should not suppose one good deed or one day of righteousness will be enough to convict others. We must live consistently, always. Otherwise, unbelievers will see your one day of sin and suppose you to be a hypocrite.
· Does your example lead others to Christ, or not? We should be wary of depending on our examples alone to teach the Gospel. One might say, “Well, I let my actions preach the Word for me,” but there are members of every denomination who are just as moral, well-mannered, and socially adjusted as any one of us. You might be pure morally, but that is not enough to separate you from the denominational world.
Paul continues in the text, “Serving the Lord with all humility”. Pride is not our friend when it comes to evangelizing the lost or exhorting wayward Christians. “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6). It is a destructive factor that can very quickly turn off a potential Bible student. While we must approach any evangelistic opportunity with confidence, we need to make sure that confidence is properly placed. Are we proud of ourselves for previous conversions? Are we proud because we know the scriptures better than a denominational opponent in a debate? Are we proud because we are going to heaven and others are not? “If any man boasts, let him boast in the Lord” (2 Corinthians 10:17). What is so interesting is that if any person had a right to boast, it would have been Paul (Philippians 3:4-6) – yet he considered all of his earthly accomplishments as rubbish compared to the work and wonder of God!
On a practical basis, our humility can be displayed in personal evangelism by how we talk and act around potential converts. Using language that puts us on the same level as others is important. Say things like:
· “I am a sinner just like you, but with the grace of God”;
· “I am certainly not perfect, but I try to be”;
· “We are all Bible students, trying to figure this out together.”
· Paul does this very beautifully in 1 Timothy 1:15-16. “It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost. And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life.”
· “If Jesus saved me before I was a Christian, He can save anybody.”
Do you actually care about sinners?
One of the biggest problems that we face in personal evangelism is our lack of care and concern about the lost world. If we really believed what we say all the time about loving sinners, then why do so few of us invite our neighbors, coworkers, friends, and family to attend a Bible study? This is not meant to criticize anybody in particular, or call into question those who do try their best – all I want is to see us love still more (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12). Paul states in Acts 20 that he labored in Ephesus with “all tears” – certainly a deep love and devotion to people he would never see again. “He realized that one soul was worth more than the Roman Empire, yea, the whole world! The loss of one soul would bring tears to his eyes. Because Paul understood the preciousness of souls, he considered the work of evangelism not as a mere duty to be discharged but also as a personal participation in the lives of others (1 Thessalonians 2:7-8)” (“The Challenge Of Personal Evangelism”, Grimes, The Church – Challenged By Current Issues, ed. Jackson, p. 273).
Evangelism When It Is Rough
Paul kept right on preaching the Gospel in Ephesus, in spite of the fact that trials befell him at the hands of the Jews (Acts 20:19). This means we need to be willing to say what is necessary, even at great personal cost. How much did Paul suffer for the cause of Christ? Just recall what he writes in 2 Corinthians 11:23-28. Compared to such an example, how can any of us complain when our stand for truth results in:
· Losing friends;
· Getting made fun of;
· Having a door slammed shut in our faces;
· Hurt feet after a couple of hours going door-to-door;
· Losing a job because of something spoken on a moral matter.
· Even the thought of being alienated from family members cannot compare to being beaten, stoned, shipwrecked, and sawed in half (Hebrews 11:37)!
· Will you complain much more from now on?
House To House
We should take Paul’s teaching tactics to heart. He not only preached the Word publicly, but also from house to house. The disciples also did the same thing, as commanded by Jesus in Luke 10:2-16. This means there is a need and a pattern for regular, concerted evangelistic efforts in the community. Teaching the Gospel door to door is not a choice, friends, it is a command by example. We have an obligation to go out into our town and bring the Gospels to others. How can we expect the church to grow if we remain in a hole and never leave our protective shelter with the precious Word of God?
The Whole Counsel Of God
Finally, there is a great need in our personal evangelism to cover the entire counsel of God, or the manifold wisdom of the revealed Word. Is there any part of the Bible that we are ashamed of? Is there any subject that is so taboo that we can neglect it? Is there any part of righteousness and morality that need not be followed? “…How I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you publicly and from house to house, testifying both to Jews and to Greeks repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:20-21). In the same way, Paul states later on, “I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole purpose of God” or “entire counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). “As a minister of Christ Paul told the people what they needed to hear not what they wanted to hear. He charged Timothy to do likewise (2 Timothy 4:1-5). Paul took no pleasure in reproving and rebuking people but he did correct them in a spirit of love when the need arose” (Grimes, p. 273).
One of the greatest threats to personal evangelism today is that many of the Lord’s servants will not declare what is needed in the world concerning “repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” We often ignore certain parts of the Gospel so that we can make others feel good (if only in a superficial way). But what actually feels better, teaching the lost the truth and leading their souls to salvation, or neglecting the truth and letting them go to Hell for the sake of temporary happiness?