Speak the Gospel audio (5MB)
On Tuesday the 11th of June, at 8:50pm, about six hours after Jacob was born, I started sending out text messages to tell people the good news. Of course we’d phoned family and a few close friends before that. Yet somehow, I was already three hours behind Chris, who must’ve sent out an email as soon as he got off the phone! We love sharing good news like this don’t we? Passing it on to others, letting them hear what’s happened. We race to tell people about new babies, new jobs, new homes, share all sorts of good news.
Which is fortunate, because the first line of our mission statement is that we will be a church that ‘Speaks the gospel’. You might know that gospel is the translation of a Greek word, euangelion. Literally it means ‘good news’. So, whenever you read in the New Testament good news, you can substitute gospel. So in the passage we looked at last week, at the beginning of his ministry, Jesus went throughout Israel proclaiming the good news. It’s the same in the passage from Luke today. Jesus was proclaiming the gospel. We know that’s a mission he’s passed onto us. Our mission is to be a church that speaks the gospel, that tells people about the good news. But of course it’s not any old good news, but the good news we’re to proclaim. We’re to speak about the greatest news there is, that God has redeemed us through Jesus. God has rescued us through the cross. God has restored us to new life in his Son.
One of the English Reformers Tyndale, put it well when he translated gospel as, ‘good, merry, glad and joyful tidings that makes a persons heart glad and makes them sing, dance and leap with joy!’ That’s good news isn’t it? It’s good news that makes us overflowing with joy. So it’s strange isn’t it that the idea of speaking the gospel makes many of us tremble in fear!
We can be convinced that the gospel is good news, that our faith is the most important part of our lives, but so unwilling to talk about it with others. We know that as our first reading shows, the only way people can have faith in God is if they hear about him. But we’re happy to think there are other people who are evangelists, that they should be the ones to speak the gospel.
While I was studying science at Melbourne Uni, I was involved in the Christian Union there. Part of what we did was Monday night training, short courses on things like reading the Bible, praying, leading Bible studies. The course I avoided for as long as I could was the one on evangelism. In fact, it wasn’t until the campus director made me do the course with him one-on-one that I capitulated.
The first part of the course I didn’t have a problem with. It was focused on knowing the gospel, about getting the foundation right. The course did this through six cartoons, six bible passages, six short explanations. It was about getting the essence of the gospel right. It was a tool for being able to share the gospel it simply, and clearly with others. I was OK with that. I loved memorising things, getting the pictures and passages lined up right.
What I dreaded was the bit that came next. If the first part of the course was about knowing, the second, and more important part, was about sharing the gospel. You see, having learnt this sequence of pictures and statements, we were expected to go out, to wander around the campus and ask people, ‘Have you got two minutes for me to share about Jesus?’ Nothing terrified me more. My heart would start racing, my palms went sweaty, I’d drag my feet as much as possible. It might be clear by now that I’m not an evangelist! You might be the same. Relieved that in Ephesians, Paul talks about some being evangelists, because that means that we don’t all have to be [Eph. 4:11]. So it’s easy to think that speaking the gospel is someone else’s job. Or that it’s something we do as a church, say by running Alpha.
When it comes to speaking the gospel in our own lives, we shy away. We might think it’s enough to ‘Preach the gospel at all times, use words if necessary.’ At least that’s the misquote I’ve heard most often. It’s a way of saying that the best way we can preach the gospel is by living a godly life. (But of course Francis of Assisi never said this, it’s a great reminder isn’t it?) How we live our lives speaks almost as loudly as what we say. Jesus said we’re to be salt and light in this world, how we live is meant to be attractive. Our whole lives are meant to be promotions for God’s kingdom, for the gospel. In Colossians, Paul says we’re to;
5Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time. 6Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone. Col. 4:5-6
It’s not conduct ourselves wisely for no reason, but to make the most of the opportunities we have. To make our lives promote the gospel.
But unfortunately that’s not enough! For as the reading from Romans asked, ‘How can people believe in one of whom they have never heard?’ Even if we lived the most holy, most exemplary lives, how could people know that it’s because we follow Jesus? How could people know about the one who came and died from them, just by observing how we act and behave? So after they’ve exhorted us to live godly lives, both Peter and Paul say that we should always be ready to give an account for our faith, to explain why we live the way we do. That’s what the second line in that verse from Colossians means. It’s not that our speech should be gracious and kind, but that so we can answer everyone.
Peter says a similar thing when he tells us to be
13Now who will harm you if you are eager to do what is good? 14But even if you do suffer for doing what is right, you are blessed. Do not fear what they fear, and do not be intimidated, 15but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you; 16yet do it with gentleness and reverence. Keep your conscience clear, so that, when you are maligned, those who abuse you for your good conduct in Christ may be put to shame. 1 Peter 3:13-16
We’re to make the most of every opportunity, ensuring our conversations are seasoned with the grace of the gospel.
While we might not all be evangelists, we’re all to promote the gospel with our whole lives. And we’re to be ready to speak about our faith. It’s something we’re all to be ready to do.
So how can we do that? Should we all go home and learn the 2 Ways To live cartoons and passages? Well, that might not be such a bad thing to do! You might never go out and try cold-turkey conversations, might never walk up to a stranger and say, ‘Hey can I take two minutes to share the gospel with you?’ But that doesn’t mean you’ll never use it. It’s good to get the basics of the gospel clear. It’s vital that we have a firm grasp on the foundations of what we believe. How else can we explain to others what the gospel is? More than that, it’s good to think about the kinds of questions we might get asked. To look at the challenges that people throw at us. To think about common objections to Christianity. So that, when someone asks;
•What does it mean to be a Christian?
•What do you believe?
•Isn’t it all just made up?
•Aren’t all religions valid?
We’ve got something of an answer for them. So we’re not stuck stumbling for something to say, looking for an out to the conversation. I’m a sometimes-devoted watcher of Q&A on the ABC. While the panellists on the show don’t know the exact questions they’re asked, you can be sure they’ve prepared for the kinds of questions. Likewise, we’re to be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us, for our faith. We need to think ahead.
Of course you might not just wait for people to ask the questions! Another way we might speak the gospel is by being bold in introducing what Steven Abbot calls ‘God-talk’. Think about the way we speak at church, when we get together on Sundays. We talk openly about prayer, about small groups, about studying or reading the bible. Now think about the conversations you have with people between Sundays? Are you speaking the same language? Or do you switch to another way of talking during the week? What would it be like if when people told you how they were going, you included an ‘I’ll pray for you about that’ in your reply. Or if they asked what you got up to over the weekend if you said that you went to church. Or if you’ve just read something in your bible study that struck you, sharing it with someone the next day. What would it be like if you talked about church the same way we dissect the AFL matches on Monday morning? What would it be like if we gossiped the gospel with other?
It might be doing this would open opportunities to share the gospel with someone. Of course this doesn’t have to mean sitting them down, taking half an hour, a bible and a white board to run them through the whole thing. It could be sharing a ‘gospel-bite’ with them. I’ve recently discovered chicken bites at McDonalds. They’re small tasty portions of chicken that are easy to digest, and easy to share! Sometimes speaking the gospel is like this. It’s not a five-course meal, but a tasty gospel bite!
In his book, Promoting the Gospel, John Dickson gives a number of examples of what this might look like. Here’s one, a possible answer to someone saying, ‘I’m not perfect, but I’m a pretty good person’:
I appreciate what you’re saying, but doesn’t it depend on what definition of ‘good’ you’re using? Jesus was once asked by a religious scholar what was the single most important thing to do in life. He responded by saying there were actually two things – to love your neighbour as yourself and to love God with all of your heart. Being kind and honest with people is only half of it. He insisted we have to love our Creator! Would you say you’re good by Jesus definition?
It’s a great one-minute answer that points back to Jesus. It asks people what they think. It doesn’t force people to respond. Instead it invites a discussion. It doesn’t try to download or dump the whole gospel in one go. It focuses on just one aspect.
This is another great thing to think about. What is the gospel? At it’s heart, the fundamental news is that Jesus died on the cross in our place, so that we might be forgiven. But the gospel is more than just that. The gospel is also the good news of liberty and freedom for the oppressed, it’s the answer to sickness and death, suffering and pain, it’s the answer to loneliness and loss. Look back at our passage from Luke this morning:
18“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives
and recovery of sight to the blind,
to let the oppressed go free,
19to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
The gospel is good news to the poor. It’s about release, recovery, freedom. It’s about experiencing God’s blessings and favour. When Jesus sent his disciples out to proclaim the gospel, they were also to heal the sick, cast out demons, and perform all sorts of miracles. All this was good news! All this is good news! Jesus came to do all these things. Now it’s true that we don’t ultimately experience these things until heaven. But the gospel still provides an answer to all these things. It’s still more than just about sin and forgiveness. Because at it’s heart the gospel is the good news about Jesus. It’s about everything that God has done for us in Christ. So we should get to know the fullness and the richness of the gospel for ourselves. The more we do this, the more we might be able to speak the gospel into other peoples lives. The more opportunities we might see opening up before us to fulfil our mission.
When I was fifteen, my parents separated. It came as quite a shock and wasn’t something I took well. I ended up on a depressive spiral, dwelling in some dark places. One day I reached breaking point. That Saturday afternoon, the only person in the boarding house was a new guy. He was a Christian. I broke down in front of him. I don’t remember everything, or even much of what he said to me. But thankfully he didn’t try to speak to me about my guilt and sin, my need to be forgiven. Instead he told me a simple truth – that God loved me. He asked me a simple question – Did I want to live for God? Did I want to love God? (Can’t remember which). This was good news. For someone who had nothing left to live for, no desire left to live for themselves, who felt they were not loved, this was good news. I simply answered yes. He led me through a simple prayer, asking God into my life, and that was it. That for me, was the first time I’d heard the gospel. That for me was the start of my Christian walk.
This leads to the most important thing we can do to speak the gospel. That’s pray. We should pray for those who have a special gift in evangelism. We should pray for those who’ve given their lives to the task of speaking the gospel. We should pray for labourers for the harvest, that God would raise up more and more people like that. But at the same time we should pray for the people we know, the people that we come into contact with. We should pray for opportunities to share the gospel with them. We should pray, like Paul does, that God would open up doors for us to give an account for the faith that we have. To share with people why we believe. And we should also pray that God would make us bold to make the most of these opportunities. We should pray that God would help us to fulfil our mission to Speak the Gospel. Let’s pray that right now.