Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Evangelism as a Biblical Command

It has been stated that the New Testament is the Old Testament unfolded.  If this is true then the major tenants found in the Old Testament should be found in the New Testament.  It is the purpose of this paper to explore one such tenant, that is biblical evangelism as revealed in both the Old and the New Testaments, and to defend its command for a believing Church to evangelize the world with the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

First, it is imperative to define what is intended with the usage of the word evangelism.  The word ‘euaggelizo’ literally means “to announce good news”[1] and carries with it the idea of carrying it to some place or person.  Jesus exemplifies this in Luke 4:18 where He testified of God and of Himself that He was anointed to preach the Gospel and that He had been sent to heal the broken hearted.  Further, we certainly are familiar with the command found in Matt 28:19 where the emphasis is on “go… make disciples.”  This word ‘euaggelizo’ is found many places in the New Testament and is always seen in an active sense carrying good news (the Gospel) to someone else.

The most common New Testament translation of ‘euaggelizo’ is preach and is found over 50 times in the New Testament.  It is always in the context of evangelistic preaching.  This is the forth telling of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and is commanded of all believers, not just those whose vocation is the preaching of the Gospel.

Paul in his second letter to Timothy instructs “do the work of an evangelist.”  While the letter is certainly addressed to Timothy, it has broader implications to the believing church as a whole.  John MacArthur states that “the related verb ‘euangelizo’… and the noun ‘euangelion’… are used not only in relation to evangelists but also in relation to the call of every Christian to witness for Christ and to proclaim the Gospel of salvation.”[2]  

The example of evangelism is seen very early in the New Testament chronology.  In Luke 1:19 God sent Gabriel to “bring … glad tidings” to Zacharias.  Again in Luke 2:10 the angel evangelizes the shepherds with the good news of the birth of Christ.  And it seems fitting that the last evangelism will be from an angel of God preaching the “everlasting Gospel” to the world (Rev 14:6).

The Old Testament equivalent of ‘euaggelizo’ is ‘basar’ and means, as one would expect to, “publish, bear (good) tidings, preach, show forth”[3] and is in the “active voice indicating that this is a continual action to bring about a result or fact.”[4]  From the grammar alone we see that the act of evangelism is a continual work, one that we never put to rest.  The life of the believer is one of continual witness that only ends when the Lord brings the believer into eternal rest. 

The Old Testament command to evangelize is a little more difficult to see.  While there are specific instances where God anointed men “to preach good tidings” as in Isa 61:1, ‘basar’ is most often seen in the results from obeying this command.  For example, in Isa 42:6 God speaks to Isaiah “I the LORD have called You in righteousness…, as light to the Gentiles;” this verse has implications prophetically of Christ but immediately for Isaiah and the nation of Israel to be an evangelizing witness to the Gentile world. 

Notice that the result of this evangelism would be that the Gentiles would have light or illumination.  Without evangelism those that would come into the light will remain in darkness.  For just as it pleased God to confound the wise by the foolishness of the Gospel, it is the same “foolish” preaching that brings the lost out of darkness into the light (1 Cor 1:18-25).  

It must be noted though that Israel as a nation was by and large a failure as evangelists for God.  The Bible Encyclopedia states that ”Israel was largely a failure in carrying out her mission, [but] the large number of God-fearers at the beginning of the Christian era show that her magnetic attraction and proselytizing efforts were not entirely unfruitful.”[5]  Mostly the Bible gives specific instances of individual and external witness. 
In Dan 3:16-18 three humble Hebrews witness to a furious king of the power of God with the result being that God was exalted among the people.  Later, in chapter 6, Daniel’s unwavering witness of God produced an opportunity for the king to decree that all men must fear the God of Daniel.  In Jonah 3:1-10 we see the evangelistic witness of the reluctant prophet Jonah.  And the result of that witness was that “the people of Nineveh believed God” and repented of their sin. 

From the beginning it is God setting the example.  He sought out Adam and Eve in the garden showing them the condemnation of their sin.  It is God telling them of the woman’s Seed bruising the head of the serpent.  It is God that provided a Lamb without spot or blemish.  It is the Christ that came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).

Clearly the biblical command and the example provided by God is to evangelize the world.  We must make every effort to teach a disobedient church of God’s instruction.  In “Working for God” the author states “in all our efforts to waken the Church to evangelize the world, our first aim must be to raise the standard of life for the individual believer of the teaching: As truly as a candle only exists with the object of giving light in the darkness, the one object of your existence is to be a light to men.”[6]  We must be reminded that “…he who wins souls is wise” (Prov 11:30b). 

So for the Reformed we must not, indeed we cannot, if we are to be pleasing to God, rest in the fact that the sovereign decrees of a sovereign God come to pass, therefore no effort on our part is needed.  On the contrary, God has chosen redeemed man to carry the good news of salvation to a lost and dying world.

[1]New Exhaustive Strong's Numbers and Concordance, PC Study Bible Formatted Electronic Database. Copyright © 1994, 2003 Biblesoft, Inc. and International Bible Translators, Inc.

[2]John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary of 2 Timothy (Chicago: Moody Press, 1995), 185.

[3]Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament.  Copyright © 1980 by The Moody Bible Institute of Chicago. All rights reserved.  Used by permission.

[4]The Complete Word Study Bible Copyright © 1991, 1994, 2002 AMG International, Inc.

[5]The Encyclopedia of Bible Knowledge, A Life of Christ, © Copyright 2001 by Cornerstone Bible Publishers. 

[6]Working for God, PC Study Bible Formatted Electronic Database Copyright © 2003 Biblesoft, Inc.  All rights reserved.

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