Stoke Evangelistic Passion (2 Corinthians 5:14-6:2)
Big Idea: Stoke evangelistic passion by seeing three things differently: Jesus’ love, others, and your new role.
I once heard a Christian leader say something that didn’t make sense to met at first: Vision leaks. Those two words didn’t make sense to me at first, but when he explained them, they made perfect sense.
Some leaders believe that if they fill people’s vision buckets all the way to the top one time, those buckets will stay full forever. But the truth is, people’s buckets have holes of varying sizes in their bottoms. As a result, vision leaks out. You or I could deliver a mind-blowing, God-honoring, pulse-quickening vision talk on Sunday that leaves everyone revved up to go change the world, but by Tuesday, many people have forgotten they were even in church the previous weekend. (Bill Hybels, Axiom)
It’s not just vision that leaks. Relationships leak. Passion leaks. Focus leaks. Everything worthwhile leaks, which means…evangelism leaks.
Over the past couple of months we’ve been looking at the best news ever, and how we get to share it. Today we’re done. But before we finish, we have to face a truth: it’s easy to drift from evangelism. If you look around, you will find dozens of churches that were once reaching people with the good news of Jesus Christ, that have now turned inward. I don’t say this to condemn, because we face the same challenge they do: evangelism leaks. What are we going to do to make sure that we don’t lose a passion to share the good news of Jesus Christ?
You can see this in the Bible as well. We just read from a letter that Paul wrote to a church in Corinth. In the letter, Paul, who was an incredible evangelist, talks about some of the challenges we face. A couple of times he mentions the danger of losing heart (4:1, 16). He mentions our need for good courage (5:6). It’s easy to lose heart. It’s easy for courage to fail in evangelism, because it’s hard work, and we suffer for it. Growing discouraged and giving up in evangelism is a constant temptation. Evangelism leaks.
So today I want to ask how we can ensure that evangelism remains at the heart of our church. We will lose our passion for evangelism unless we’re intentional. And when we lose our passion for evangelism, we begin to drift from God’s heart for people.
So how do we keep our passion for evangelism? We need to do three things:
Get the motivation right
Here, according to Paul, is something that we need to grasp about God:
For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised. (2 Corinthians 5:14-15)
This is so important that we could spend the rest of today talking about this alone. One of the most important issues we have to tackle is motivation. What will keep us going in sharing the gospel? Guilt? Obligation? Pressure? If we’re motivated by any of these, we will quickly lose our evangelistic passion. I guarantee you that we will not maintain our evangelistic passion for a week, never mind months or years. Guilt and obligation are horrible motivations.
I’m so glad Paul didn’t say, “Guilt controls us,” or “willpower controls us.” If that’s what he said, we’d be doomed. Instead, Paul says, “the love of Christ controls us.” What’s our motivation? Love. I think you’ll agree that this is a much better motivation. It may be the greatest motivation that exists. A guy will move across the world to pursue the girl he loves. A mother will risk her life to protect the child she loves. One person says, “Love is the most powerful motivator in the world. It spurs mortals to greatness. Their noblest and bravest acts are done for love” (Rick Riordan).
I think of my mother. My mother went through a really difficult time in her life. She says that the only thing that got her up in the morning was her kids. In other words, my mother’s motivation was love. It kept her going. Love is the greatest motivator that exists.
Paul tells us that love is the motivation for evangelism. This is good, because it taps into the greatest motivation out there, or in here.
You have to admit, though, that our own love runs out. As much as love is a powerful motivator, the fact is that if evangelism depended on our love for others, we may run short at times. We’re not always loving towards other people.
But Paul doesn’t say that our love is the motivation. He says, “the love of Christ controls us.” Paul isn’t talking about our love for Jesus. He’s talking about Jesus’ love as the bottomless, limitless, infinite, and unending source and motivation for evangelism. It will never run out.
How do we know that Paul is talking about Jesus’ love for us? Because he mentions what Jesus did for us. Paul confesses “that Christ died for all,” and in the next verse, “he died on behalf of all,” and that act of giving himself in death for the benefit of “all.” As Billy Graham put it:
When we preach atonement, it is atonement planned by love, provided by love, given by love, finished by love, necessitated because of love. When we preach the resurrection of Christ, we are preaching the miracle of love. When we preach the return of Christ, we are preaching the fulfillment of love.
The gospel from beginning to end is love.
Years ago, a large group of Vietnam veterans traveled to a parade in Chicago. Part of the commemoration was a mobile version of the Vietnam Wall. Like the original, it bore the names of all the soldiers who had died in Vietnam.
A newscaster asked one veteran why he had come all the way to Chicago to visit this memorial and to participate in the parade. The soldier looked straight into the face of the reporter and with tears flowing down his face said, “Because of this man right here.” As the soldier talked, he was pointing to the name of a friend that was etched in the wall. He traced the letters of his friend’s name in the wall. The soldier continued to answer the reporter by saying, “This man right here gave his life for me. He gave his life for me.” As the news clip ended, the sobbing soldier let the tears flow as he stood there tracing the name of his friend with his finger.
It was hard for that man to get his heart and mind around the sacrifice of his friend, so he kept retracing the story. We have that problem, too. There is, of course, someone who gave his life for me. We don’t want to grow dull to Jesus’ death for me, but we do.
The sacrifice of that friend compelled the veteran. And Paul says the same thing can happen for us. When the love of Christ controls us, Jesus’ love will become the controlling force in our lives. It is what drives us. It motivates us and boxes us in so that we can’t imagine doing anything else. It is the dominant force in our lives.
Paul even describes what happens when we get this in verse 15: “that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.” Paul says that when we understand Christ’s love for us, and for all people, we will stop living for ourselves, which is the natural course of fallen human nature. Instead, we’ll live for Jesus and his agenda in the world.
Do we want to keep our evangelistic passion? It begins with returning over and over again to Jesus’ love. It is the best motivator in the world. Besides that, Jesus’ love is inexhaustible and will never run out. Let’s keep returning to Christ’s love. Let it control us and compel us, and move us from selfish living to living for him and others.
That’s the first thing we need to do to maintain our evangelistic passion: get our motivation right. But Paul says there’s something else we need to do.
See people differently
From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh. Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer. Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (2 Corinthians 5:16-17)
We all do it. We all make judgments about other people all the time. We judge others based on a number of factors:
- appearance — things like attractiveness, age, fashion
- accomplishments — things like career, social standing, and prestige
- character — qualities like warmth and competence
The moment we see someone, our brains begin making judgments: Are they someone to approach or to avoid? Are they friend or foe? Do they have status and authority? Are they trustworthy, competent, likable, confident? And we do all of this in seconds. According to Forbes, we make all of these judgments within seven seconds of meeting someone.
That’s what Paul means when he talks about judging someone according to the flesh. We no longer evaluate people based on things like appearance, accomplishments, and character. We go deeper than that.
Paul says that there was a time that he judged everyone — including Jesus — according to these old standards. But once he met Jesus, things completely changed. Now Paul judges everyone by a new standard: a kingdom of God standard. He judges everyone by the central event of human history: the cross of Jesus Christ. Paul says that when we come to Christ, everything changes. We become new people. Old ways of relating to people have changed. We become new people who see each other in new ways.
There’s real power in living this way. One pastor talks about an insurance salesperson in his congregation who lives this way:
Robert Seelye, the most effective personal evangelist I have ever known, is like this. His great heart sees everyone through the eyes of Christ’s love. All, whether senators or parking attendants, receive the same engagement. And what a varied multitude have come to God through his ministry. Because he regards no one according to the flesh, he sees the least likely of new converts as having immense potential. I can think of no one who has indelibly marked more souls than this man. He keeps in personal correspondence with hundreds around the world who follow Christ because of his ministry. This is even more remarkable because he isn’t a professional evangelist or preacher but an insurance salesman. How Pauline, how Christlike, how Christian, how loving, how liberating, how empowering, how potent it is when “we regard no one according to the flesh.” (Kent Hughes)
I think there’s a progression in this passage. It begins when we experience Jesus’ love. That begins to control and compel us. But then something else happens. Then we begin to see other people differently. We don’t judge people the way we used to. Instead, we see them as spiritual beings. We see them as people who could experience the love and grace of God. We see everyone as sinners in need of a Savior; as rebels who need reconciling to God. We see the immense potential of everyone arounds us.
It reminds me of what C.S. Lewis said:
There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.
Think about this. How are we going to keep our passion for evangelism going? By getting the motivation right. That motivation is Jesus’ love. Also: by seeing people differently. Let’s ask God to help us see people the way the way that he does. Let’s stop judging people the way that we used to, and let’s ask God to see everyone we meet the same way that he sees us.
How do we keep our passion for evangelism? Get the right motivation. See people the way God sees them. And, finally:
Embrace your new role
All of this means that we’ve been given a new assignment. Paul writes:
All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. 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 5:18-20)
According to verse 18, we have a new job: the ministry of reconciliation. Those who have been reconciled to God have been given the ministry of reconciliation. Reconciliation is all about reestablishing an interrupted or broken relationship; it’s about exchanging hostility for a friendly relationship.
In our case, it’s God who has taken the initiative in reconciliation. It was all his idea, and it’s all his work. If you’ve been reconciled to God, then you’ve also been called into his service: to bring that reconciliation to others.
In fact, Paul says in verse 20 that we’re God’s ambassadors. We’re his envoys. An ambassador is a representative who travels and represents an authority in an official capacity. He would not speak or act in his own authority. His message did not originate with himself. In the Greco-Roman world, they had to be treated well. If you treated them poorly, you’d be asking for trouble. If they faced rejection, it wouldn’t be a personal rejection. They would be backed with all the authority of the one who sent them. If they were rejected, it wouldn’t be a rejection of them as individuals. It would be a rejection of the one who sent them.
There’s one important difference in the type of ambassador that Paul talked about, though. In the Greco-Roman world, lesser powers would send ambassadors to greater political powers in order to plead their case. It’s the exact opposite here. “In the gospel we see an amazing reversal. The all-powerful God sends his ambassadors, seeking reconciliation with those whom he has created but who lack a relationship with him” (George Guthrie).
Friends, if you’ve been reconciled to God, this is your new role. God has commissioned you. You have his authority and message as you go out and tell others about Jesus. You get the opportunity to state God’s case, the message of peace: be reconciled to God.
How do we keep a passion for evangelism? Stay motivated by Jesus’ love. See people the way that he sees them. Embrace your new role. Stoke evangelistic passion by seeing three things differently: Jesus’ love, others, and your new role.
As you think about this, what’s the next step for you? What one thing do you want to see God change in your heart so that you keep your evangelistic passion?
- Do you need to see Jesus’ love for you in a new way so that it becomes the controlling force in your life?
- Do you need to see others differently? To judge everyone you meet not by how others see them, but by how God sees them?
- Do you need to embrace your new role? To realize you’ve been commissioned by God with his message and authority?
I’d encourage you to pick one of these, and focus on it in your prayers in the coming week. Write it down, and ask God to grow passion for evangelism as you focus on this truth.