Biblical Foundations 31: Elevating Others 6
This is our 6th post digging in the Bible about elevating others—serving non-Christians—and the last five posts we have focused on the importance of telling them about the Lord Jesus with our words, that while we are definitely supposed to meet the earthly needs of non-Christians, we are primarily meant to tell them about Jesus with our words, the One Who can meet their eternal needs of forgiveness, adoption, new life, etc…
Next post we will begin focusing on earthly needs and earthly oppression as we dig into Isaiah 58—a powerful Biblical passage, a high-calling of the LORD on our lives to address the practical and earthly suffering of non-Christians.
But now we will continue looking at Scripture to see more of what the Bible says about this our primary mission and purpose toward non-Christians—telling them about the Lord Jesus with our words.
Loved ones, I am not trying to “beat a dead horse” here by teaching on this topic for a 5th straight week…I am trying to show us, from the Bible, the horse we are to ride on throughout each day of our earthly lives—our true purpose/mission!…Scripture gives so much teaching on this because of its importance for all of us—not just pastors or overseas missionaries.
- My friends, telling others about the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our words is not a nice goal to have, like racing in a triathlon, a nice goal but one that most people never even try…telling others about Christ with our words is a major part of the race that Jesus has marked out for all of us (Hebrews 12)…it is the race that He has made us to run—“blessed are the FEET that bring good news”! (Romans 10)
Yet for many local churches in the U.S. in the last 40+ years, our feet don’t bring the Good News OUT to non-Christians—we have been so focused on trying to use our strategies and tactics to bring non-Christians IN to to the local church building to hear the Good News…
This is a HUGE issue that we need to discuss; we don’t even realize how far astray we have gone from the Biblical pattern, from Christ’s commands in Matthew 28 and Acts 1…the very foundation/main goal of so many local churches in the U.S. is to get non-Christians in the door…and this focus can sometimes come at the expense of going through
- the slow but important process,
- the difficult and often painful but eternally rewarding process,
- the process that doesn’t usually cause a local church to grow in number but that almost always causes them to grow in character and holiness,
- the process of discipling and growing Christians through deep Bible reading, extended prayer, worshipping the LORD in Spirit and In Truth, and humbling ourselves through regular confession of our sin to God
so that Christians are equipped to go out and tell others about Jesus with their words, so that they are equipped to be the Church outside of these four walls, not just meeting earthly needs but verbally introducing people to the One Who can meet their eternal needs as well…
My friends, Scripture is brutally clear that we—ALL Christians—are to be telling people about Jesus with our words.
But that is scary, difficult, risky, etc…it means we have to know our Bibles! It means we have to be growing ourselves! It means we won’t have time to do all the other fun things others get to do, that we won’t have as much time for hobbies, Netflix, religiously following sports, etc.!
And so I think, perhaps without realizing it, probably with the best of intentions, in the mid-to-late 20th century there was a sense of, “Well, most church-attenders are not ready or willing to have that kind of intense dedication, so let’s just try to get the non-Christians to come here, to attend the local church service, and we can give them the Good News that way. We’ll redesign the worship service and the local church to focus on non-Christians, ad we won’t have to worry as much about equipping Christians to go out and tell others about Christ.”
And so many have been taught that the highest spiritual act of service you can do towards a non-Christian is simply to invite them to church— focus on meeting some their earthly needs and then invite them to church and let the pastors do the rest.
Oh loved ones, you cannot read the book of Acts—the Biblical portrait of the life of the early Church—and find that formula anywhere there. It simply doesn’t exist…
In fact, in the interactions between Christians and non-Christians in the New Testament, I can only find one–ONE!–that occurs during a local church’s worship services or inside a house church—just one in the entire NT! All the other interactions between Christians and non-Christians occur outside of the local church assembly, where the Christians are (in the pattern of Jesus) going out to bring the Gospel to the non-Christians instead of focusing on bringing them in to the physical church building (or house church as they often were then).
1 Corinthians 14:16-25 talks about the need for order in a local church worship service, as well as the difference between tongues and prophecy. But notice verses 23-25:
23 So if the whole church comes together and everyone speaks in tongues, and inquirers or unbelievers come in, will they not say that you are out of your mind?
24 But if an unbeliever or an inquirer comes in while everyone is prophesying, they are convicted of sin and are brought under judgment by all, 25 as the secrets of their hearts are laid bare. So they will fall down and worship God, exclaiming, “God is really among you!”
This passage talks about non-believers being present in a Christian worship service; the goal, however, is for believers to prophesy (speak Truth from God through the Bible and the Holy Spirit) in the hope that the non-believers will be convicted of their sin (judged by God!) and thus to fall down on their knees and worship the LORD!
See how different that is from the “experience” many local churches want non-Christians to have? We want them to feel as cozy and comfortable as possible, but God says to pray that His Word will be taught so powerfully that the Holy Spirit will make them uncomfortable, will show them how sinful they are.
Other than that passage, the entire New Testament assumes, teaches, and models for us a distinct going out to tell non-Christians about the Lord Jesus (and of the importance of growing/maturing in Christ–sanctification!–so that all of us, not just pastors, are equipped to bring the Good News to the ends of the earth…
The local church is not a cruise ship trying to have as many amenitites as possible and designing the worship service to be as entertaining as possible to attract as many people as possible to meet their felt-needs;
the local church is an aircraft carrier where we worship the LORD and dig into His Word so we are filled up on Sunday mornings to go out and be launched to fulfill our mission: to make disciples of Jesus the rest of the week! Even more than that, the local church worship service is not primarily about us getting what we want/need, but about the LORD getting what He alone deserves—worship in Spirit and in Truth.
- Am I saying you shouldn’t invite non-Christians to church? No! You should invite them to church! Just don’t let that be the main or only way that you tell them about Jesus!
The Lord Jesus went out to minister to people, and He sent His earliest disciples to do the same. That is, He didn’t view the Temple or the local synagogues as the primary places to evangelize, witness to, teach, disciple, and/or share the Good News with outcasts. Jesus didn’t plant Himself physically in one part of Jerusalem and then attract everyone in Judea, Samaria and Galilee to come to Him–He went to them! I’m not saying we shouldn’t invite people to church! We should! But just know that Jesus’ model was different; He mainly went out to the people and taught them God’s Word where they were at.
Acts 5:17-21: The early Christians were told to go out to the place where people hung out (the Temple courts) in order to tell them about the new life Jesus offers them.
17 Then the high priest and all his associates, who were members of the party of the Sadducees, were filled with jealousy. 18 They arrested the apostles and put them in the public jail. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the doors of the jail and brought them out. 20 “Go, stand in the temple courts,” he said, “and tell the people all about this new life.”
21 At daybreak they entered the temple courts, as they had been told, and began to teach the people.
And that is another important distinction: when Jesus loved the outcasts and sinners, He was constantly teaching them, preaching to them, sharing God’s Word with them. Many Christians today view loving non-Christians as just hanging out with them—and that is often all we do. We often do not consistently engage in deep study of the Bible with them (or even try to, or even ask them if they are willing to!).
But Jesus didn’t just hang out and chill with people—He proclaimed God’s Word to them, He told them to sin no more—remember from John 6, this is one of the reasons that so many people eventually got angry with Jesus and walked away from Him; they loved His miracles and free meals, but they deeply resented His telling them that they were far from God and needing to be saved from sin…
27 The apostles were brought in and made to appear before the Sanhedrin to be questioned by the high priest. 28 “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name,” he said. “Yet you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are determined to make us guilty of this man’s blood.”
Oh what a humbling verse for me–literally brings me to my knees. Does anyone honestly think that Christians have filled Mankato with the teaching of the Bible? With the dozens of local churches in this city, do we really believe that most people understand what the cross is, the empty tomb is, why Jesus died, why people must repent of their sins and receive Him as Savior for the forgiveness of their sins?
29 Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!
Please notice how Peter gives a bold and Truthful mini sermon below–He is witnessing about Jesus to the people telling him not to witness about Jesus! Peter’s words are not intended to make the High Priest comfortable but to point him to Christ and to the Truth so that the Holy Spirit can convict him of his sin and bring him to repentance and faith in Christ!]
30 The God of our ancestors raised Jesus from the dead—whom you killed by hanging him on a cross. 31 God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Savior that he might bring Israel to repentance and forgive their sins. 32 We are witnesses of these things, and so is the Holy Spirit, whom God has given to those who obey him.”
33 When they heard this, they were furious and wanted to put them to death.
His speech persuaded them. They called the apostles in and had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
Loved ones, please notice what they didn’t say—they didn’t tell the disciples to stop doing good deeds of love…the religious officials weren’t worried about that, they weren’t angered or threatened by that, those good deeds of love addressing earthy needs didn’t threaten their authority. They told them to stop teaching about Jesus with their words—that is what was undermining their control of the people, that is what was setting people free from sin–the Truth!–that is what the spiritual forces of evil are worried about, that is where they feel most attacked, that is where salvation happens! Teaching about Christ and the Gospel with our words!
41 The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name. 42 Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.
Please look with me at Acts 8—early church persecution: they were abused, threatened, killed, and scattered and as they went they spread the Gospel verbally, with their words! They didn’t use their difficult situation as an excuse to not witness about Christ, to not carry out His mission for them!
Acts 8:1-4 NIV:
And Saul approved of their killing him.
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
[Wow! What boldness, what faithfulness, what dedication to the mission, and all because of the grace of the Lord Jesus to sustain them and carry them in the midst of their difficulty and suffering! This same Jesus is our Lord as well, is our King as well, carries and sustains us as well!]
Here is another powerful passage on witnessing:
26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” 27 So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of the Kandake (which means “queen of the Ethiopians”). This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, 28 and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet.
29 The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”
[Oh Holy Spirit help us to listen to You as You direct us each day, help us to hear what You are saying to us (but help us to test our feelings and intuitions through Your Word so that we aren’t led astray by every inner impulse/idea that we have)].
30 Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet.
“Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked.
31 “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?”
So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.
32 This is the passage of Scripture the eunuch was reading:
“He was led like a sheep to the slaughter,
and as a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he did not open his mouth.
33 In his humiliation he was deprived of justice.
Who can speak of his descendants?
For his life was taken from the earth.”
34 The eunuch asked Philip, “Tell me, please, who is the prophet talking about, himself or someone else?”
35 Then Philip began with that very passage of Scripture and told him the good news about Jesus.
Oh loved ones we must know the Bible so that we can explain it to others! Are we ready to explain the Good News to people, the Good News that set us free? Can we explain, from the Bible, the meaning and purpose of Christmas, Good Friday, and Easter? Do we understand what the Bible teaches about sin, our utter need for a Savior, salvation by grace alone through faith alone through Christ Jesus alone (not by works)? Do we understand how the entire Old Testament (and New Testament!) points to Jesus, the Messiah? As the Ethiopian said, how can he understand this great Truth unless someone explains it to him!?
1 Peter 3:15:
15 But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…
Oh my friends we must be ready! And the only way to get ready is to go through the humbling and slow process of discipleship–there are no shortcuts: deep and daily Bible reading, prayer, worship, confession of sin to God, etc.
But you might say: “God doesn’t give me these opportunities to share my faith.”
- I saw some interesting info recently on a documentary: it is believed that one of the reasons so many people on motorcycles are hit by cars is that many car-drivers are not expecting to see motorcycles—they are only watching out for other cars—and so even when they look right at a motorcycle, oftentimes for a split-second the car drivers literally do not see what is physically right in front of them. Sometimes for a short period of time our brains will not see what they aren’t actively looking for. Wow!
- My friends, if we don’t believe telling others about Jesus is one of our primary reasons for being alive on earth today, if we don’t know how to explain the Gospel to people, if we aren’t growing/maturing as Christians, if we don’t look for the opportunities the Holy Spirit gives us to speak the Gospel with words in others’ lives, it will seem as if we never get those opportunities…but they are there, just like the motorcycles! In order to always be prepared, we must ask for and expect God to give us those opportunities, as scary as they may be…
Let’s look at Paul for a moment:
“They [the Apostles] agreed that we should go to the Gentiles, and they to the circumcised. 10 All they asked was that we should continue to remember the poor, the very thing I had been eager to do all along.”
Paul was EAGER to meet the earthly needs of the poor! Oh are you EAGER to do this, loved ones? More on this next Sunday in Isaiah 58…
But that same Paul also said this in Acts 20:23-24:
23 I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. 24 However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me—the task of testifying [WORDS!] to the good news of God’s grace [SPIRITUAL NEEDS!].
That is our mission, loved ones, both sides of the same coin, that and nothing less is our goal/purpose toward non-Christians…earthly and eternal needs, using actions and words to introduce them to the Lord Jesus Christ, His Truth, His Gospel, His cross and empty tomb…
Please don’t get me wrong: It is very important to serve non-Christians with actions of love that address earthly needs/situations…but what is our motive/goal behind these actions of love? Always with the ultimate goal/hope of them surrendering to Jesus as their Savior & King! Not good deeds for the sake of good deeds, but yes always with an ulterior motive—fulfilling our unique mission: introducing them to Jesus and their need to receive Him as Savior & follow Him as King.
- Non-Christians can serve people in an earthly sense; but what is the one thing that only Christians can do, what is the ultimate act of love that only Christians can do? Point people to Jesus through God’s Word—they need Him to save them (because of their sinfulness), they need to receive Jesus as the only One to save them (this is ultimately offensive to many people).
Pray for God to give you the right priorities in your willingness—not good deeds for the sake of good deeds, not good deeds because that is the trendy thing to do nowadays (serve the poor around the world), but good deeds that are combined with proclaiming the Good News of Jesus through our words. Actions and words must be combined for us to truly honor God and truly serve people/elevate others—Jesus did this (healed the sick and proclaimed the Kingdom of God). We are too content with just doing actions today. But non-Christians can meet people’s earthly needs temporarily; we are called to introduce people to the Lord Jesus Christ Who alone can also meet their eternal needs. We must give them what only we can—the Gospel!—in order to truly be willing and love as Jesus loves.
I wonder if too many Christians have unwittingly made a cornerstone of their life out of a quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the Gospel always. Use words when necessary.” That is, “I’ll do some good deeds for earthly needs and leave the verbal proclaiming of the Gospel to others.” Loved ones, this is simply not Biblical. Jesus and the early Christians always used words, always used actions, but primarily used words!
May God help us not to be like Jonah, who at first didn’t take the LORD’s message to the people of Ninevah;
But even when Jonah did take God’s message of Truth to Ninevah, Jonah didn’t love the people there, he didn’t want them to repent to God & be forgiven. So may the LORD help us not be like that.
But may the Holy Spirit also help us to not be like so many church-attenders today: we say we love non-Christians, and we go to them to hang out, but we never actually give them God’s message, we never use our words to proclaim the grace & Truth of Jesus. We only high-five them and tell them how amazing they are, not how amazing Jesus is & the amazing death He died on the cross for our amazingly awful sins.
May He give us strength—and make us WILLING!—to both go to Ninevah and to love the people so much that we use our words to humbly but boldly declare Jesus’ message that they might repent, receive Christ as Savior, and live…