C. T. Studd, the famous 19th century cricketer and missionary, had a great ambition for the church when he wrote, “Some wish to live within the sound of Church or Chapel bell. I want to run a Rescue Shop within a yard of hell.”
Spurgeon likened the church to a barracks. A place where the army of God is trained and encouraged to go out and fight for the Master, rescuing men and women from the enemy.
In other words, Studd and Spurgeon are calling for the church to leave its comfort zone and to be heroes. Christians are called by God to be heroic - to give their lives for a lost world.
Here’s a hero test: What would you do in the following situations?
- You see a child slip into the sea and you know that there is a life ring 50 metres away
- You see someone in pain on the floor holding their chest and you have a mobile phone in your pocket
- There is a fire in a house; you have called the fire brigade but people are fast asleep in the house as if all is well
A hero is someone who rescues and saves someone. Or at least, is the person who enables the rescue to take place.
Evangelism is about rescuing people from a far more deadly reality than death - and therefore calls for heroes; people who will put themselves out for others. It’s a risky business being a hero.
Many people don’t want to be rescued. But that is our job whether people like it or not.
Can we say this rescuing business is a job for the whole church? Are all Christians called to be heroes? Can we say that every local church should be a rescue shop? Isn’t it only a chosen few who are called for such a task - the professionals? If there is a fire we call the professionals. We call the fire brigade. Doesn’t the same apply for evangelism?
I love the thoughts of William Booth, the founder of the Salvation Army, on this:
“‘Not called!' did you say? ‘Not heard the call’ I think you should say. Put your ear down to the Bible, and hear Him bid you go and pull sinners out of the fire of sin. Put your ear down to the burdened, agonised heart of humanity, and listen to its pitiful wail for help. Go stand by the gates of hell, and hear the damned entreat you to go to their Father's house and bid their brothers and sisters and servants and masters not to come there. Then look Christ in the face - whose mercy you have professed to obey - and tell Him whether you will join heart and soul and body and circumstances in the march to publish His mercy to the world.”
Here are six calls to you from scripture to be a hero, and to your church to be a rescue shop.
Call Number One: The love of God
Evangelism follows from the nature of the God we worship. God didn’t keep Himself in icy isolation from the problems of people. God didn’t coolly look down at a world who rebelled against Him on a reckless journey to destruction, and then turn a blind eye.
Think about one of the most famous sentences in the whole world. A sentence so great, and perhaps so familiar, that we can miss its astounding challenge to us as followers of God.
"For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
The God we worship is the supreme lover. He loves the world. He may not find the world lovely. It certainly doesn’t please him. Rather, it angers Him. He must bring all people of the world to judgment. But He does love the world. There is no contradiction in that, because love is not some feeling, or simply an attraction. In the context of this fallen world, love is a sacrifice for those who are not lovely.
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5 v 6-8)
It is godly to love the world. So a church that loves God loves the world. Sometimes the way Christians speak seems to indicate that, in fact, we hate the world. But it is not just our speech that reveals hatred of what God loves; our actions or lack of actions can be the equivalent of hate.
We can hate people by ignoring them and their situation. “It’s not my fault she fell into the sea. The signs say ‘DANGER’. She ignored the sign. It’s her fault.” “Someone else is bound to have called the fire brigade? I don’t want to embarrass myself by being too sensational about things or too nosey. I might offend someone.”
God’s love was demonstrated for all to see when He gave His one and only Son, the apple of His eye, His darling Son, and His greatest delight. God’s love was a costly action, a plan, a rescue of love for those who ignore and hate Him. “This is love: not that we loved God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 John 4 v 10)
So let’s ask ourselves the question: Is our church godlike? Am I godlike? If so, we will LOVE the world. That is what our God is like - a lover. To be His children is to reflect His character and attitudes. How sacrificial and heroic are we with money, time, energy, reputation? What do we give in order to love the world by telling them of the great rescue?
Call number two: The command of Jesus
Jesus, very clearly, told his disciples to “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28 v 19).
That was His last command before He left the earth. Last words are very special. We pay a lot of attention to them. If Jesus made evangelism the subject of His last command on earth, then it must be important. If we love Him and seek to obey Him, then we must carry it out.
We are to spread the message of life, not because we find it pleasant or easy, not because we may be successful at it, but simply because Christ has called us, He is our Lord and we have no other choice but to obey Him.
The supreme motive for evangelism is to glorify God by obeying His revealed will. God is glorified by commitment to His Word: Look at John 1 v 4, where Jesus is talking about his own work. “I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do.”
One pastor was asked how many members he had in his church, and then was asked how many missionaries. He replied with exactly the same number. “All of our church members are missionaries.” The evangelistic team consists of the entire body of the church – without exception.
Call number three: The gift of the Spirit
At the start of the New Testament, on the day of Pentecost, we are told that the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples and that “all of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them”
(Acts 2 v 4). These tongues were human languages and we have a list of those languages written down for us in this passage.
Now, this was an amazing, but simple, sign at the beginning of the church. The Holy Spirit, sent by the risen and ascended Lord Jesus, came upon the disciples enabling them to speak in different languages so that people from all over the world could hear the message of Christ, in their own tongue. That would have shown everyone that this “gospel” was not only for the Jewish nation, but also for those of other languages and other lands.
But there is more in this passage and it answers the question: “Who should spread the message to the world?” In Acts 2 v 17-18 we are told, "'In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”
When Peter talks about dreams and visions, he is using words that come from the Old Testament. This is normal Old Testament language for the process of revelation. God revealed Himself to prophets, priests and kings in the Old Testament through dreams and visions and prophecy. But these are not normal methods today – we now have the complete Word of God (see Hebrews 1 v 1-3) Peter is explaining that God has revealed His truth to all. Peter is saying, “Rather than just a few prophets, priests or kings having the truth revealed to them and the responsibility of telling others, the truth of the gospel will be revealed to all the people of God. So it is no longer a few especially gifted people who prophesy, but every believer who can speak out the Word of God.” “Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy” (Acts 2 v 18). The gift is given to all types to go out and witness.
So what’s the answer to the question: “Who is called to do the work of evangelism?” YOU! And the Holy Spirit is given to cause us to be prophets to this lost world.
What about a particular gift of prophecy? Paul, talking about gifts given to the church, says in
Ephesians 4 v 11-12: “It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”
There are especially gifted people in the church, but their job is to “prepare God’s people for works of service.” The heart of all works of service is to build up the church, which must involve evangelism.
We have looked at the first three very powerful reasons why we should bother about evangelism, and they are all rooted in the very nature of God. Father, Son and Holy Spirit are profoundly concerned for and utterly involved in evangelism.
Do we need to repent as a church or as individuals for not being godlike?
Call number four: The climax of history
"But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: with the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells."
(2 Peter 3 v 8-13)
Why hasn’t God returned? Well the answer is – “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish” He is giving the opportunity for repentance. God patiently waits so people will be rescued.
Call number five: The responsibility of the people of God
The only people who can make Christ known are those who already know Him. His chosen method is us.
Listen to Paul explain this in 2 Corinthians 5 v 20-21: “We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.”
It is through his people that God communicates. “For we are God's fellow workers” (1 Corinthians 3 v 9). He doesn’t give this job to his angels but us. It is Christians who are ambassadors. Christians are to be his active body on earth, doing what He, the Head, communicates to us.
Call number SIX: The need of people
The world is divided into the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life.” (1 John 5 v 12)
There is one group described as living and one group as dead. The Bible makes a clear radical distinction between the two.
The Bible is a dividing book and the gospel is a dividing truth and Jesus is a dividing saviour and the day of judgement is a dividing event. We must bring into our thinking and doctrine of evangelism this dividing issue (see Ephesians 2 v 12-22 and look at all the contrasts in that passage).
Do you see people like that? The need of people confronts us. David was able to say, “Rivers of water run down my eyes because they don’t keep my laws” (Psalm 119 v 136).
Hold that in your minds alongside this word from Romans 10 v 14-15, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!" And we could add to Paul’s list, “How can anyone preach to them if you don’t?”
The need of people confronts you.
So back to the drowning man. Whose job? Yours. God’s heart is to rescue. God’s command is to rescue. God equips you to rescue. God is holding off the climax of history to rescue. God has given us responsibility to rescue. God has given us the privilege to rescue. God shows us the need of people to be rescued.
“Some wish to live within the sound of Church or Chapel bell. I want to run a Rescue Shop within a yard of hell.”