Evangelism as an Overflow of Worship
Why do we share the gospel? Because we’re told to? Guilted into it? Or do we share the gospel? Many of us don’t. However, what could motivate us to share the gospel? Guilt? I don’t think that’s the most helpful or biblical motivation.
We share the gospel or should share it because it is the gospel; it is good news! When we have good news will share it. If we like a certain football team, soccer team, or bad mitten team we will be excited if they win and likely even call friends that like the opposing team to brag. If we go to the store and see a certain purse or pair of pants on sale and we buy them we will be excited and even tell someone how much we paid for them. If we go to a new movie or see a show we like we will not hesitate to tell someone about it and that they “have to see it.” We do these things because we’re excited about the “good news.”
I could command you to tell the good news. I could write out the Great Commission right here and just say, “Do it.” But I think if I did that, I would be pulling that text out of context. Notice, before Jesus said His words in Matthew 28:16-20, He first did and said many other things. We find the Great Commission positioned at the end of Matthew. In fact, if my math is correct, there are one thousand and sixty-six verses before it. I believe we must first hear the rest of the book for Jesus’ last charge to be in context; not least of which is Jesus’ death and resurrection. I believe the followers of Christ who were there to hear Jesus’ charge were worshipers (cf. Matt. 28:1; 9: “Mary Magdalene and the other Mary… took hold of his feet and worshiped Him.”). They had not only heard the gospel but had seen it with their own eyes (1 John 1:1-2). They were not given some bland command in the Great Commission but rather it was to them an outlet so that they did not burst.
The singer must sing a song or go mad and the Christian must tell of Christ. Elihu describes well the feelings of compulsion we should have. “The spirit within me constrains me. Behold, my belly is like wine that has no vent; like new wineskins ready to burst. I must speak, that I may find relief” (Job 32:18b-20a).[i] Or Jeremiah says it this way, “If I say, ‘I will not mention him, or speak anymore in his name,’ there is in my heart as it were a burning fire shut up in my bones, and I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot” (20:9).[ii]
The Great Commission came after Christ had explained the scriptures to the disciples and taught them all the things concerning Himself (Luke 24:27). The disciples understood that Jesus is Christ the long awaited Messiah. They saw that Jesus is Immanuel which means God with us (Matt. 1:23). They understood the gospel thus they wept and rejoiced. If we are going to rightly carry out the Great Commission we must first understand the gospel. I do not mean understand as intellectual consent but rather we must taste the truth of the gospel. Edwards has said,
“There is a difference between having an opinion that God is holy and gracious, and having a sense of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. There is a difference between having a rational judgment that honey is sweet, and having a sense of its sweetness.”[iii]
We must taste the sweetness in order to worship and evangelize rightly. We must possess something if we are to give it away.
The movie Saving Private Ryan makes me wonder if we truly understand the gospel and taste its sweetness. The movie is essentially about saving the son (Ryan) of a woman that had lost all of her other sons in the war already. The president ordered a team of soldiers to go find him and bring him home. Many of the men on the team die in the process of “saving” Private Ryan but because of their heroic efforts Ryan made it safely home to his mother.
At the end of the movie Ryan, now in old man, brought his family to the Arlington Monument honoring those that had lost their lives in World War II. Ryan stood in front of the memorial looking at the names of the fallen soldiers that had died saving him. He cried as he looked at the memorial of the men that died in his place. He cried because he understood the men’s sacrifice. He knew that if it was not for their deaths he would not know life and could never have had his family. Ryan’s perspective on life was surely changed because of the men’s sacrifice. He wanted to live in a manner that would honor their deaths because he did not want the lives that were lost to save his to be spent in vain.
Ryan cried. We should weep. The soldiers that died in Ryan’s place though heroic and honorable were mere sinful men that were commanded to carry out their mission.
Jesus freely left heaven to carry out His mission of rescuing us. Jesus was not sinful and yet He died for our sin. It is right for Ryan to cry, rejoice, and thank these men for his “salvation.” How much more should we cry, rejoice, and thank God the Son for our true eternal salvation! If we grasp what Christ has done for us in the cross we will be changed and we will bring people to the cross, Christ’s monument, to honor what He has done for us. We will tell of how He died to save us and how He rose so He could raise us!
This truth is so important because as John Piper has said in his book Let the Nations be Glad,
“No one will be able to rise to the magnificence of the missionary cause who does not feel the magnificence of Christ. There will be no big world vision without a big God. There will be no passion to draw others into our worship where there is no passion for worship.”[iv]
The best training for evangelism (good-news-ing) is worship. The best way to be able to tell the good news is to be enraptured by the good news so that it pours out of everything we do and say. C. H. Mackintosh said, “The man who will present Christ to others must be occupied with Christ for himself.”[v]
In Acts chapter 4 we see this very thing in practice. Peter and John were told not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus (v. 18) but they could not contain themselves. They said, “We cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard” (v. 20). This is what we need. We need worship, we need to not be able to shut up because of the gospel. However, I fear this is not where most of us are. John Stott has rightly said,
“We do not speak for Christ because we do not so love His name that we cannot bear to see Him unacknowledged and unadorned. If only our eyes were opened to see His glory, and if only we felt wounded by the shame of His public humiliation among men, we should not be able to remain silent.”[vi]
Alvin Reid has similarly said in his Introduction to Evangelism
“The reason many believers today do not attempt to share their faith is because they have gotten over their salvation! The early believers did not—indeed they could not—get past the radical transformation they experienced through the gospel.”[vii]
For us to faithfully share the good news we must be filled up to the brim with it so it easily spills out of us. We must be filled to the extent that we do not even need to be bumped for it to come out because it is constantly overflowing everywhere. For us to overflow with the good news of Christ we first must know, love, and fill ourselves with it and often times this may mean work. We may need to keep filling, and filling, and filling ourselves but this is how we are going to be truly effective in sharing the gospel.
How do we fill ourselves? Ultimately, we must ask God to fill us. We must pray as Paul prayed and ask that God would give us a spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of Him, having the eyes of our hearts enlightened, that we may know what is the hope to which He has called us, what are the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of His power towards those who believe (Eph. 1:15-19). If we grow each day in our understanding of God and of the gospel and worship God because of the gospel, we will be better equipped each day to overflow with the gospel.
If we worship God we will tell others about what He has done. See for example Isaiah 12:1-5:
“I will give thanks to You, O LORD, for though You were angry with me, Your anger turned away, that You might comfort me. Behold, God is my salvation… Give thanks to the LORD, call upon His name, make known His deeds among the peoples, proclaim that His name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD, for He has done gloriously; let this be made known in all the earth.”
Psalm 96:2b-3 tells us to “tell of [God’s] salvation from day to day. Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous works among all the peoples!” Why? “For [because] great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens” (v. 4-5). We are to “make known his deeds among the nations” and “tell of his wondrous works” (Ps. 105:1; 2)!
The Great Commission is not just a command it is an act of worship. Remember worship is showing worth but it is also telling of somethings worth. If I say I love my wife but I fail to tell her and even others how great she is I am not showing that she is worth much to me. Stott has said, “Worship which does not beget mission is hypocrisy. We cannot acclaim the worth of God if we have no desire to proclaim it.”[viii]
The moon reflects the light and glory of the sun. The amount that it reflects is directly proportional to the amount of light or glory that it sees or is beholding. If the moon takes in but a little light it will but reflect a little light. The amount of glory the moon beholds will have a direct correlation to the amount of light it reflects back to the earth.
It is the same with us as Christians. The amount of glory and light we shine is tied directly to what we behold and how much we behold it (Luke 11:33-36). If we behold God’s glorious light we will reflect Him back to this dark world and be lights helping them find Him (2 Cor. 3:18). If we focus not on Him we will reflect nothing, we will be as dark, cold, and as helpless as they.
No beholding glory, no reflecting glory. No vision of God’s brightness, no reflecting back His light. May we see God’s glory and may we be lights in this dark world. “The great sin of the world is not that the human race has failed to work for God so as to increase his glory, but that we have failed to delight in God so as to reflect his glory.”[ix]
Seeing God’s glory comes before the going out of the good news. Notice that in Isaiah 6 it was only after Isaiah saw God’s glory that he said, “here am I, send me.” Isaiah saw that the LORD God is holy, holy, holy and he saw his helpless state before Him. He said, “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts” (v. 5) yet God took his guilt away and atoned his sin (v. 7).
Surely it was Isaiah’s vision and worship of God that carried him through the difficulties and it is the same for us. If we are to be faithful in being sent we must have a vision of our all-faithful Father. We must see God and worship Him because it is only in worship that we will be propelled to tell His message even when those we tell it to do not understand or perceive, and when their hearts have grown dull (v. 9-10).
We are very blessed in the modern church with all sorts of tools to share the gospel with (that we will be held accountable for). However, Hudson Taylor asked an insightful question years’ ago that is even more fitting for us today. He said,
“we may have more wealth in these days, better education, greater comfort in traveling and in our surroundings even as missionaries, but have we the spirit of urgency, the deep, inward convictions that moved those that went before us; have we the same passion of love, personal love for the Lord Christ? If these are lacking, it is a loss for which nothing can compensate.”[x]
All of our wealth and resources will never make up for our lack of love and worship of the Lord Jesus Christ. The believers we witness in the book of Acts lacked almost everything that we so readily have at our disposal and yet the church flourished. It flourished because they could not help but speak of what they had seen and heard (Acts 4:20).
May the LORD give us an all-consuming passion for His glorious gospel and may we overflow in worshipful verbal and practical proclamation of that gospel.
[i] Alihu says this in reference to rebuking Job but it does justice to what I believe we should feel when it comes to sharing the gospel.
[ii] Jeremiah, indeed, could not be silent even though time and time again he was persecuted for not keeping silent (cf. Jer. 20 and 26).
[iii] John Piper, God is the Gospel, 64.
[iv] John Piper, Let the Nations be Glad (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1993), 40.
[v] Alexander Strauch, Leading with Love (Littleton, CO: Lewis and Roth Publishers, 2006), 24.
[vi] John R. W. Stott, Our Guilty Silence (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1974), 22.
[vii] Alvin Reid, Introduction to Evangelism, 11.
[viii] Stott, Our Guilty Silence, 24.
[ix] Piper, Let the Nations be Glad, 33.
[x] Hudson Taylor’s Spiritual Secret, 127 (Italics mine).
About Paul O'BrienI am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 9 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)
I am a lot of things; saint and sinner. I struggle and I strive. I am a husband and father of three. I have been in pastoral ministry for 9 years. I went to school at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary but most of my schooling has been at the School of Hard Knocks. I have worked various jobs, including pheasant farmer, toilet maker, construction worker, and I served in the military. My wife and I enjoy reading at coffee shops, taking walks, hanging out with friends and family, and watching our three kid's antics. :)