Is the call to evangelize the lost something that all Christians are expected to engage in? This is a question that was recently raised to me. I certainly don’t think it will look the same way with each person, but I do believe we are all called to witness for Christ and live evangelistic lives commending the gospel to others in word and deed. As I reflected on this, four verses began to surface in my thinking about how Paul shows the necessity of evangelism:
I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. So I am eager to preach the gospel to you also who are in Rome.
I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.
For if I preach the gospel, that gives me no ground for boasting. For necessity is laid upon me. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!
1 Corinthians 9:16
Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.
2 Corinthians 5:20
Meditating on these verses, I believe, will cause those who think evangelism is optional to consider otherwise. Think with me on these verses just for a minute.
Paul was a man “under obligation.” He was a debtor to the world. This was not a new form of legalism or sense of trying to earn the approval of God or gain a better standing with Him. Rather, it was a deep and profound reality that the gospel produced in his heart as he reflected on how God had rescued him.
Paul was a man with what saints of old called “soul travail.” He wept greatly for the souls of men, especially his own. Who among us can say that we know what “unceasing anguish in my heart” feels like in relation to wanting to reach people for Christ? And yet Paul knew it well. Far from being indifferent regarding the eternal welfare of the lost, far from seeking to make exceptions to the divine mandate of mission, Paul went hard after the lost to the point that his heart was broken, his mind was always conscious, and his life was continually directed to the advance of the gospel and establishing the kingdom of Christ in the hearts of men.
Paul was a man with “necessity laid upon him.” I find this a particularly fascinating way to describe Paul’s understanding of the need to preach the gospel. Paul did everything for the sake of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:23), and any alternative form of living was not optional. While it sadly true that the lack of gospel proclamation in our lives rarely registers a worry, for Paul it was an emphatic “woe is me”! Why? Because it was necessary, not accessory.
Paul was a man who experienced what it meant having our missionary God “making his appeal through us.” He did not mince his words when explaining that his manner and posture as an ambassador is one who persuades and pleads for others to repent and believe in Jesus. Paul’s passion was simply a tributary of the eternal fountain of God’s great love, and that consuming passion is not something that terminates in good intentions or theoretical knowledge of God’s gospel, but witnessing lives being transformed by Jesus.
So what does it look like to find the apostle Paul in an ordinary day as a rather ordinary man? I believe we find a man who is under obligation, feeling soul travail for hell-bound sinners, with great necessity laid upon him, persuading and pleading with sinners to flee the wrath of God by finding refuge in the cross of Christ.
I know it is tempting to extract ourselves from such a manner of life by making hermeneutical caveats, but I find it hard to believe from the life of Jesus, Paul, and the early church that all the exhortations of being a hard-working farmer does not require daily sowing seed, that being a good solider does not require getting into the trenches, that running the race so as to win does not require for you to get off the bleachers.
And yet, I sense that is our default mode. Evangelism isn’t necessary, at least not in the sense that we get out of comforts and routine of be unconscious in our thoughts, unconcerned in our affections, an inward focused in our lives. We need more than ever for the gospel to so work in our hearts and lives that the messages that God sent His Son into our world to save us would shape us into his emissaries for our world today. I want to be that kind of Christian, not because it is radical but because it is normal.