You can listen to the audio lesson here.
You can also find the “Working Definition of Evangelism” here.
PART I – THE GREAT COMMISSION
Lesson One: Going in Christ’s Authority
“18And Jesus came up and spoke to them, saying, ‘All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. 19Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations,’” (Matthew 28:18-19a; NASB).
All authority. It is essential on the outset that Christians, with the task of evangelism set before them, recognize that it is a task that must be done in boldness. It must be done in boldness, because it is a task that has behind it all of the authority of heaven and earth. It has divine authority. The task of evangelism is a task that has been demanded of us by divine authority, and its message bears the divine seal.
As we are going weekly into our contexts—our homes, our workplaces, the marketplace, and our neighborhoods—we are carrying with us the King’s message. When a mother instructs her children, she must recall with great urgency the divine message she has been given to imprint on those young hearts. As we take a smoke break or a coffee break at work, we must remember that Christ’s authority is over the whole earth, even our workplace. Our coworkers sorely need to be compelled by His gospel to submit to His rightful authority. . . in this life! Our neighbors both in the marketplace and on our block should readily see the gospel of Jesus Christ adorned by our character, our actions, and certainly our conversation. After all, this gospel is not our message. It is the King’s message, and we are His ambassadors as we sojourn in this world today.
How is it that the early church was taught to adorn the gospel of Christ and the doctrine of the apostles? They were called to have Christian character. Slaves were encouraged to have a strong, Christian work ethic, so that their character would support the Great Commission in the workplace and not detract from it.
“9Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well-pleasing, not argumentative, 10not pilfering, but showing all good faith so that they will adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect,” (Titus 2:9-10; NASB).
We who work for others ought to regularly consider what our work ethic conveys to those with whom and for whom we work about what we truly believe. If we claim to be Christians, we must live, work, rest, and play in such a way as to adorn His and His apostles’ teachings. If we claim the name of the King, and we bear the message of the King, we must adorn His name with such virtues as integrity, loyalty, equity, and efficiency.
Sadly, I’ve spoken with some Christian business owners who have lamented to me the fact that they have hired a great many Christians who do not adorn the name of Christ. Christians can be known for shoddy work, for talking on the clock, and for laziness. What we should be known for is an above-standard work ethic that raises all our peers to the next level. As we show all good faith in our work, we will truly adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect. Wives, likewise, were encouraged to adorn themselves with godly character:
“3Your adornment must not be merely external—braiding the hair, and wearing gold jewelry, or putting on dresses; 4but let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is precious in the sight of God. 5For in this way in former times the holy women also, who hoped in God, used to adorn themselves, being submissive to their own husbands,” (1 Peter 3:3-5; NASB).
Rather than seeking to win their unbelieving husbands with the latest fashions and jewelry, they were to let the hidden person of their heart be exposed, but with the imperishable quality of a gentle and quiet spirit. Peter, in essence, wants women to understand that men are not won by their wives’ external beauty. Ungodly husbands are won to Christ by the adorning of godly character in support of the gospel that has been preached. Peter conveys as much in the preceding two verses.
“1In the same way, you wives, be submissive to your own husbands so that even if any of them are disobedient to the word, they may be won without a word by the behavior of their wives, 2as they observe your chaste and respectful behavior,” (1 Peter 3:1-2; NASB).
Everything the Christian does either supports or detracts from the Great Commission. Do we love our co-workers as we have been called to love all men? Do we hope to see them saved? We must adorn the doctrine of God our Savior then through a godly work ethic. Do we love our unbelieving family members? Do we hope to see them saved? Then we must adorn the gospel of Christ in our love and respect for them in all of our conversations.
We must adorn the gospel of Jesus Christ for their sake, but also out a sense of its authority. Again, this gospel we have been given is the very message of the King. It comes with His authority upon the hearts of the hearers, but it should also fall with His authority upon our hearts. If it bears no authority upon the church, how will they ever hear? We can wish all day long that they would just happen to the pew by the sheer will of God, but we know that is not at all how God accomplishes His will.
The gospel is God’s power unto salvation (Romans 1:16). They must be compelled to submit to godly discipleship by its power, or we should expect that they will never have the slightest desire of discipleship. The lost must see their great need of Christ and of His church if they are to be brought into the church and taught to observe all that Christ commanded. That is one of the goals of preaching the word: to help regular church members be so immersed in the word that we can all explain, bare minimum, a person’s need for discipleship in Christ. If the average church member can’t explain that, then the local church has failed him.
Going, therefore. This great authority having been given to Christ, the church is now commissioned. We are commissioned to make disciples of all nations. In the Matthew 28 account of the Great Commission, there are several participles providing subpoints to this main point. The main verb is to make disciples. The participles are ‘going,’ ‘baptizing,’ and ‘teaching.’ Each of these participles is given in support of the main verb, so it could be said—and has been said—that the main verb gives us the objective, and the participles give us the plan of attack.
Christ, in His incarnation, accomplished several pivotal goals in the church. One of the great feats He accomplished was to mobilize the church. The assembly, before Christ’s incarnation, had been bound up within one single ethnicity: the Israelites. The worship of God’s congregation was to occur according to a strictly regulated ceremonial law code in which four festivals were to be observed on Mount Zion a year. The covenant community of God was shored up within a very neatly defined set of geographical boarders.
When Christ came to this world and took on human flesh, He removed the enmity that existed between circumcised believers and their Gentile counterparts:
“14For He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, 15by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace, 16and might reconcile them both in one body to God through the cross, by it having put to death the enmity,” (Ephesians 2:14-16; NASB).
Now, the assembly includes all ethnicities from which any have bowed the knee to Christ. In His incarnation, He also removed the sense of geographical, earthly worship and declared that we who worship Him must worship Him instead in spirit and in truth.
“21Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. 22You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. 24God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth,’” (John 4:21-24; NASB).
Jesus’ congregation then gathers not on Mount Zion to observe a regular church calendar of feast days, new moons, and sabbaths. Rather, we gather together wherever we can with a true, local body of believers to worship Him in spirit and in truth. Not only Has God expanded His assembly to include all ethnicities and abolished the requirement for the congregation to gather on Mount Zion, teaching them instead to worship in spirit and truth. Christ also broke apart the geographical boundaries of the kingdom of God, mobilizing the church to go forth into all nations. However, He did so through interesting means.
In Acts 7, we read of the stoning of Stephen, the deacon, at the hands of the Jews in Jerusalem. Up until this time, the church of Christ had met locally in one single location in Jerusalem. It was by all accounts an obscure, insignificant, geographically challenged church, though their numbers had grown quite large in a short amount of time. God used the murder of Stephen, though, as an occasion to mobilize the church and to move them out into all the known world.
“Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles,” (Acts 8:1; NASB).
Our God has a knack for taking the things that men mean for evil and using them for good. He did so in the life of Joseph. He did so in the death of Christ. Here, we see that He even did so in the stoning of Stephen. After the stoning of Stephen, a great persecution broke out in the church, and the saints were scattered.
On the day of Pentecost, we’re told that many Jewish men from all over the Roman empire had made their way to Jerusalem for the festival. Many of them repented of their sins as a result of God’s sovereign work on their hearts through Peter’s preaching. However, rather than going back home and making disciples, they remained in Jerusalem. We read in Acts 2 that this was a sweet time of fellowship, self-sacrifice, and learning at the feet of the apostles.
This time of growth in the faith would be needful in the days ahead. By Acts 7, the religious leaders in Jerusalem had reached a boiling point in their disdain for the Way. Many had been pierced to the core by Peter’s public preaching. Those who remained hardened were only growing in their animosity toward the church. When Stephen stood and boldly accounted to them the chronic unfaithfulness of Israel and their murder of the Messiah, it was more that they were willing to stand, so they stoned him. At this, a great persecution broke out, and the church was scattered. The church was scattered such that, by the time that Paul wrote to Colossae from prison, he declared that the gospel had already gone out to all the known world.
“5because of the hope laid up for you in heaven, of which you previously heard in the word of truth, the gospel 6which has come to you, just as in all the world also it is constantly bearing fruit and increasing, even as it has been doing in you also since the day you heard of it and understood the grace of God in truth,” (Colossians 1:5-6; NASB).
Of course, as the gospel went out, support was soon needed. As people were brought into the church, fulfilling the gospel on a micro level, finances were needed for the sending of missionaries and the support of struggling churches. In First Corinthians, Paul writes of one such need:
“1Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I have given orders to the churches of Galatia, so you must do also: 2On the first day of the week let each one of you lay something aside, storing up as he may prosper, that there be no collections when I come. 3And when I come, whomever you approve by your letters I will send to bear your gift to Jerusalem. 4But if it is fitting that I go also, they will go with me,” (1 Corinthians 16:1-4; NASB).
Most commentators are in agreement that a collection was needful because of a local famine that was affecting the saints in Jerusalem. In the ancient church it was understood that, when one local church was in pain, the entire church experienced the same pain. This famine in Jerusalem was no different.
Support was not only required for established churches, though. Missionaries like Paul, Barnabas, John Mark, Titus, and Timothy needed to be supported as they took the gospel to the ends of the known world. In another prison letter, Paul commends the church at Philippi for their financial support of him.
“15Now you Philippians know also that in the beginning of the gospel, when I departed from Macedonia, no church shared with me concerning giving and receiving but you only. 16For even in Thessalonica you sent aid once and again for my necessities. 17Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the fruit that abounds to your account,” (Philippians 4:15-17; NKJV).
Though Paul was a self-sufficient tradesman and had time to apply his trade as well as preach the gospel—having no wife or family for which to provide—he still required financial support, especially while in prison. This is a privilege for local churches. Local churches who have the ability to support missions should count it all joy to do so. It should not be seen as having been done so for the sake of the gift given to the missionary himself, but as fruit that abounds to the account of the giving church!
This blessing, however, should not be seen as something that can be bought. We do not earn the favor or the blessing of God through unwise stewardship. There were times in the lives of local churches in which they were unable to provide financial support for missions. Not only is it okay to go through seasons in which we are unable to give. It is biblical. Even the church at Philippi, who Paul is praising for their generosity in this text, went through a season in which they were unable to meet his need.
“But I rejoiced in the Lord greatly, that now at last you have revived your concern for me; indeed, you were concerned before, but you lacked opportunity,” (Philippians 4:10; NASB).
A natural outworking, then, of fulfilling the Great Commission in the immediate context of the local church is the increase of opportunity to support the fulfilling of the Great Commission in greater contexts. As the Lord gives ability through the increase of a local church, the local church is to be increasingly focused on the work of the universal church. As we focus on the spread of the kingdom abroad, we will then be encouraged to take part in the spread the kingdom in our contexts.