Summary: God entrusts the work of evangelism to ambassadors controlled by love for Jesus.
To teach pastors to dig deeply into the Bible, seminary students take Greek Exegesis, a course connecting study of the Greek language with work in the New Testament. During the semester, we translated and analyzed ten or so passages, each one revealing different methods to get at the meaning of a text. But all of that work was preliminary to the final paper. As we learned a new skill by studying various passages, we applied that knowledge to the text our course was based on. And for us, Dr. Chamblin chose 2Corinthians 5.14-21.
Of course the whole Bible is important – all scripture is breathed out by God and profitable. But when a professor chooses a text for an entire semester of study, he wants one particularly full of theological depth and significant application to the church. To use the language of the boardroom, this passage could be placed on the cover of every Bible as the “executive summary.” I will read our text for us, then we will pray and see what God would show us about himself, and us, and evangelism.
[Read 2Corinthians 5.11-6.13. Pray.]
So, the young boy said, “Daddy, if three frogs are sitting on a limb hanging over the creek, and one frog decides to jump, how many frogs are left on the limb?”
His dad replied, “Two.”
“No,” the son said. “Listen carefully, daddy. There are three frogs and one decides to jump. How many are left?”
Dad says, “Oh, I get it, if one decides to jump, the others would too. So there are none left.”
“No daddy—there are three left on the limb. The first frog only DECIDED to jump.”
I wonder if we frogs have DECIDED to be evangelists but still sit on the limb. When I first spoke with the pulpit committee in July of 2006, they stressed the importance of calling a pastor who would lead the church in evangelism. When Helen and the kids and I visited the congregation later that fall, we heard you say how the pastor should be committed to evangelism. When the session went on a vision and ministry retreat in March of 2007 (three months after I arrived) we agreed that local outreach and evangelism was the area of ministry where we as a church needed most to change, improve, and grow. In January of 2009, when the session met with the Presbytery to strategize about changes were needed to revitalize our church, this decision was reached: “what we are doing is basically pleasing to the Lord, so we need to focus on continuing to do it well, while working hard to improve outreach.” The session decided that I should teach a Sunday school class on evangelism in the fall of 2009, because that was the area of church ministry we most needed to focus on. And a couple of months ago, the elders asked the men of the church to a series of Saturday morning breakfast meetings to discuss ideas for outreach. We have definitely decided to jump, but are we still on the limb?
Paul jumped – in fact, he jumped in with both feet (as the idiom has it). He was known for his evangelistic zeal; he sought to proclaim the gospel to all of creation; and he commanded that his young disciple, Timothy, “endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4.5). When we think about Paul, two things should immediately come to mind: he was the great systematic theologian of the church, and he was passionate about evangelism. We cannot claim reformed theology and evangelistic effectiveness are incompatible.
In 2Corinthians 5, Paul defends and explains his ministry. While doing so, he also describes a job God gives his people: Ambassadors for Christ. We go into the world with the message of the King! Please notice five things about this work.
1. We May Look Foolish as Gospel Ambassadors (2Corinthians 5.11-13)
Notice that verse 11 begins with “therefore,” connecting it to the previous sentence, where God reminds us that all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ, where each will be either rewarded for our faith or punished for our sins. “Therefore,” Paul now says, “because of the future judgment, knowing that the true living God is a holy and consuming fire, fearing the Lord (with good reason lest we be given the treatment we truly deserve), I seek to persuade others to come to faith.” Paul does not play around with the possibility of evangelism, he passionately pursues this work.
And there is the problem. Look at verse 13: “for if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.” Some said, “This guy is a nut, a certifiable fruit-cake.” They felt the Apostle was too fanatical: “We need someone with less fire and more deliberation, less emotional appeals and more logical reserve, less enthusiasm and more decency.” But Paul insists that his craziness is for God’s glory and their good, and do we not all need to be more beside ourselves in that way?