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Relational Evangelism

September 9, 2018 Speaker: Kit Johnson Series: Colossians

Topic: Expository Passage: Colossians 4:5-6

Introduction

I’ve heard it said that one of the things that stands out to other nationalities about Americans is that we like things big. We like big trucks, big skies, big houses, and big steaks. We like big concerts, big sporting events, and big amusement parks. And generally we believe bigger equals success. If you have big things, and you are doing big things, you must be doing something right.

And our love for big has also affected how we think about church. The American church is obsessed with big churches, big conferences, and big events. In particular, the American church has mastered the art of putting the big into evangelism.

In the 1800s through the 1950s, the American church sponsored massive evangelistic services with powerful preachers like D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, and Billy Graham. And when Americans largely lost interest in just listening to a preacher, we turned to other means to attract big crowds. Churches today put on huge carnivals, massive children’s programs, and big concerts in an effort to attract as many unbelievers as possible to hear the gospel.

I want to be clear that we should want to get the gospel to as many people as possible, and there is nothing wrong with creating a welcoming context to share Christ. And I’ve seen God greatly use evangelistic events to communicate the gospel. But in just about every case, the people who stuck, stuck because someone was already witnessing to them and continued to share Christ after the event or because Christians went after them with gospel words and gospel love. It’s Spirit-filled Christians who reach people with the gospel, not cotton candy, bounce houses, or loud music.

Therefore, the church’s most powerful evangelistic resource is not the big events that people produce, but Spirit-filled Christians who live the gospel and speak the gospel in the normal course of life to the people God puts in their lives. We commonly call this relational evangelism. And our text for today provides a clear call for all of us to engage in this kind evangelism (read). I’d like to offer 2 very simple challenges from this text concerning how we do relational evangelism. First, v. 5 commands us to…

 

I.  Live the gospel (v. 5).

We can see this idea in the command in v. 5, “Walk…” Let’s begin with…

The Context of the Command: Paul is concerned here with how Christians “walk” or live among “outsiders” or unbelievers. Therefore, this verse is not about what we do on Sundays or whenever Christians gather together. Rather, Paul’s concern is with how we live out in the world in the normal course of life—when we are at work or with unbelieving family. This is where we do God has called us to do our greatest evangelistic work.

I am reminded here of Jesus’ words in John 17:18, “As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world.” In other words, God hasn’t called us to just cluster together in our “Holy Huddle” or Christian bubble.

No, God demands that we go out. He demands that you work to build relationships with unbelievers for the sake of sharing the gospel. We need this challenge because it’s so easy to shrink into a circle of Christian relationships where we have no evangelistic impact. But Jesus is clear that must be in the world for the sake of the gospel.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we should become like the world. Just before Jesus mentioned that he was sending us out into the world, he noted in v. 16, “They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.” We are different, and in our text, notice that Paul describes unbelievers as “outsiders.” There’s a clear line between those who are in God’s family and those who are not, and neither Jesus nor Paul agree with the modern idea that we must become like the world to reach the world.

But Jesus commands us to go out and be in the world. Therefore, what redemptive relationships are you cultivating? Do you know unbelievers, and are you working intentionally to turn those relationships into gospel opportunities? Find ways to be out in the world, reaching people for the sake of the gospel, because the need around us is so great.

In particular, the term “outsider” is a stark reminder of where the unbeliever stands with God. He is outside God’s family; he is separated from God and his grace and destined for hell. How we need to pray, and how we ought to work to see people come to Christ so that they can move inside the family of God and enjoy the grace and security of being under God’s care.

And if you have not received Christ, we are so glad you are here. We love you, and we want you to feel welcome. But this verse states very clearly that until you receive the gospel, you are outside God’s family. Therefore, don’t be deceived into thinking that coming to church makes you God’s child.

You need to receive Christ to truly become one of us. You can do that today if you will acknowledge that you have sinned against God and deserve his judgment and if you will receive the gift of salvation that Jesus provided in his death and resurrection. If you’ve never done that, please do so today. You can receive Christ right there in your seat. And if you have questions, please ask because nothing is more important than your soul.

In sum, the context of this command is life out in the world. We don’t primarily do evangelism by putting on a show to bring people into the church. No, the primary way we do evangelism is by going out into the world with the message of Christ. You are Life Point’s greatest evangelistic tool. Therefore, let’s be excited to go out into our world and proclaim the wonderful news that Jesus saves! But what do we do when we are out trying to share the gospel. Notice as well…

The Content of the Command: Verse 5 simply says, “Walk in wisdom…” Walking is commonly used in the NT to picture the normal course of life. Here it is talking about every aspect of our conduct when we are with unbelievers—our speech, attitudes, work ethic, and response to others.

And God says that in all of this we must conduct ourselves wisely. Wisdom has been a very significant theme in Colossians, and Paul has consistently used this term, to describe a perspective on all of life that is shaped by my standing in Christ and my eternal hope.

And of course this perspective should have a drastic affect on how I view my relationships with unbelievers. In particular, my hope is in Christ, not in their acceptance or approval. And I understand that more than I need to keep the peace, I need to walk before them in a way that demonstrates a Christ-centered perspective and Christian values, and I need to speak the gospel.

But in v. 5, wisdom also includes practical street smarts. It means that I am careful not to say or do dumb things that will create unnecessary hindrances to the gospel and instead I am careful to shine a positive light on Christ.

This was especially important for the early church, because there were lots of terrible rumors circulating about Christians. And rejecting paganism really did put them outside the culture and turn the culture against them. And Paul is saying don’t make the situation unnecessarily worse by foolish words or ungodly practices. Walk wisely and consistently.

And we really need this challenge as well because our culture is also increasingly hostile toward Christ and to the values of Scripture. And we need to be very careful that our conduct and speech never creates an unnecessary hindrance or distraction from the gospel.

And this gets tricky at times because we can be legitimately passionate about lots of politic issues, social matters, and all sorts of things. But we need to be careful that the gospel always remains our primary concern. And you need to ask yourself before you put anything on social media or before you get into a debate with an unbeliever, “What consequences will this have for my gospel witness. Will this conversation distract and hinder my gospel witness or will it enhance it?”

And if you’re standing for an objective truth of Scripture, then stand on God’s Word, but do so with grace and humility. But the further your stance takes you from the clearly revealed truth of God, the more careful you ought to be, because winning someone to a political position is far less significant than winning them to Christ. So be wise in how you walk among outsiders.

And of course this also requires and really begins with living a life above reproach. Are there any inconsistencies in your life that undercut your credibility as a witness for Christ? Are you faithful to your family? Are you an excellent employee? Are you a good steward of your finances, and do you treat people with the love and grace of Christ? Do you adorn the gospel well? In sum, be wise and discerning. Walk carefully among unbelievers so that your life drives them to the gospel. And notice finally in v. 5…

The Urgency of the Command: Again, v. 5 says that we must walk wisely among unbelievers, and in so doing, “redeem the time.” Paul uses a verb that literally means “to buy out of the market.” The Greek market was called the agora, and Paul is using the verb form of the root, exagoradzo. Paul uses this verb a couple of times in Galatians to describe the redemption Christ purchased through his death on the cross, which is why it is translated as “redeem” in our text.

But obviously, time itself does not need to be redeemed in any sort of salvific sense. Therefore, the idea here is literally “buy up the time,” or to put in more simple terms, “Make the best use of the time” (ESV). Therefore, Paul is saying that we need to buy up as much time as possible for sharing the gospel. We can’t waste the opportunities that God puts in front of us to be witnesses for Christ. We must seize every opportunity.

It seems that Paul is particularly implying that we must do so because time is limited. The NT repeatedly emphasizes that we are living in the last days. Jesus could return at any moment and put into motion the end of the age. As well, James says that life is a vapor. We never know how much time we have or how much time our unbelieving friends and family have. As a result, we must value the time we have and make the most of opportunities.

This is such a needed challenge because Satan doesn’t need to convince us that we don’t need to share the gospel; he only needs to convince us that we can wait for another day. And he does that day after day, and we miss opportunity after opportunity.

We need to recognize that the time is short, and we need to approach evangelism with a sense of urgency. Don’t wait for the perfect opportunity; create the opportunity. Redeem the time each day that the Lord affords you.

And so the challenge of v. 5 is to live the gospel. We must walk wisely at all times intentionally working to shine a light on Christ that drives people to the gospel. But is living the gospel enough to be a good evangelist? Some people like to believe this, but Paul obviously didn’t because he goes on to say that not only must we live the gospel, we must…

II.  Speak the gospel (v. 6).

I’d like to point out 3 characteristics of how we should speak the gospel from this verse. First, our speech must be…

Grace-Centered: There’s actually quite a bit of debate about what kind of grace Paul is describing here. Some believe Paul is saying, “Let your speech always be gracious.” They would understand Paul as challenging us to always be kind and polite in how we share the gospel. And certainly that’s a biblical idea. We shouldn’t be rude, harsh, or demeaning in how we speak.

But in light of the emphasis in context going back to v. 3 on gospel proclamation, I believe the better understanding is that grace refers here to the grace of God as revealed in the gospel. Therefore, Paul is saying that the gospel must always be on our lips as we live and converse with unbelievers out in the world. We must bring the gospel into conversation so that people hear that there is salvation in Christ.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that we need to walk all the way through the Romans Road of salvation every time we talk with an unbeliever, though obviously, you want to get to that point eventually, because for someone to truly be born again, they need to put the whole picture together. And little comments about being a Christian aren’t going to do that.

But you have to start somewhere. Therefore, when you are out visiting with your neighbor, don’t just be happy to talk about the weather or your latest project. You should always be thinking, “How can I steer this conversation toward Christ?” “How can I point him to the certain hope that is available in Christ?”

And if you are thinking this way, there are numerous ramps you can take to the gospel. If you are talking about politics, you can mention how thankful you are that your ultimate hope is in the Lord. If you are talking about your family, you can easily mention how the gospel shapes your family and much you want your children to know the Lord. If you are talking about the weather, you can mention that “The heavens declare the glory of God,” though I suppose that if he’s griping about how hot it is, you don’t want to reply, “Well, hell is hotter.”

But my point is that there are many ways that you can appropriately drive people to the gospel if you are simply looking for the opportunity and praying for a “door for the Word,” as v. 3 says. The key is that we have to be mindful, and we have to believe that the gospel is powerful enough to save anyone and that it is worthy to be declared to all people.

And I realize that we live in a busy culture, so sometimes it’s really hard to get a full conversation in with someone on the spot. That’s where the two evangelistic Bible studies we have in the back can be so helpful. You may really struggle to find the right opportunity to walk through the entire gospel with a friend or neighbor.

But it’s not that difficult to ask someone if they will do a Bible study with you. Then you can set up a time where they are expecting to learn about the central message of Scripture. And these Bible studies are so easy to use. I’d love to show you how you can use either one to walk someone through a clear presentation of the gospel.

But regardless, we need to love the gospel, and we need to feel a sense of urgency to communicate the gospel, and then we need to work to keep the gospel on our mouths in our conversations with unbelievers. We need grace-centered speech. The 2nd characteristic of how we must speak the gospel is that our speech must be…

Winsome/Attractive: Paul adds that our evangelistic speech must be “seasoned with salt.” And again there are diverging opinions about what this phrase means because salt has various uses, and salt is used as an analogy or various ideas. But in Greek culture salt was commonly used as a picture of winsome or attractive speech, and this sense fits very well in a context on evangelism.

Therefore, the idea is that as I speak the gospel, I need to present it attractively or even persuasively while keeping in mind the audience before me. It’s the opposite of the street preacher holding up pictures of people burning in hell while he plays the sounds of people screaming over his speakers.

Now I’m not saying we can’t get rid of hell or the exclusivity of the gospel just because they offend our culture. And we can’t do like Andy Stanley, who said recently that we need to “unhitch” ourselves from the OT because aspects of it are offensive to the modern mind.

No, the gospel is inherently offensive because it tells people that Jesus is the sovereign Lord, that they are sinners who stand under God’s wrath, and that Jesus is the only way of salvation. We have to stand on these truths and articulate these truths, because without them, you no longer have the gospel; you just have a heart-warming story that provides nothing of eternal significance.

And Paul was a glowing example of the kind of bold and courageous stance we must take. But he was also a wonderful example of being winsome and attractive in how he shared the gospel. He was a master at reading his audience and molding his presentation to answer their particular objections and to make it come alive in their setting.

Therefore, God says that we ought to work at presenting the gospel well. We ought to think about how to set it before people in way that is accurate but also compelling. And of course in light of v. 4, we ought to pray that God will help us to do this. And of course, we must trust the Lord to ultimately open blind eyes because the best gospel presentation in the world will never raise a sinner from the dead; only the Holy Spirit can do that. But the Spirit works through us, so work to be winsome. And then a 3rd characteristic of how we must present the gospel is that our speech must be…

Individually Packaged: With this statement, Paul acknowledges that every gospel conversation is going to be different. This is because people have different backgrounds, different beliefs, and different objections. Therefore, we need to be mindful of our audience and learn to adapt to each particular setting.

This is one reason why I’m not a huge fan of canned evangelism presentations, because just about any presentation is molded to a particular type of person. And if you are talking with an atheist and you just charge through with a gospel presentation that was prepared for Catholics or legalistic Protestants, you are going to talk past him.

I believe there is far more value in knowing what truths have to be communicated and then working to understand your audience so that you can mold your presentation to them.

And I understand that this can sound intimidating. You might think, how can I possibly ever be prepared to do that, and you may even decide that I will never be able to share the gospel well, so why even try?

But don’t despair and don’t be intimidated. For one, any gospel presentation is better than no gospel presentation, right? And ultimately, God saves by the Holy Spirit illuminating the Word, so take people to the Word, and trust that God can use even the most broken presentation. But maybe you don’t even know what verses to share. Get a gospel tract from the back and learn a few and then just share what God did in your life and go from there.

Sharing the gospel does not require a college degree, so don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be. Just do it, because the more practice you get, the better you will be. But then work to get better because no Christian should be content if his knowledge of the Bible is so elementary that he can’t effectively use it to talk well about Christ.

Get into the Word and get to know your Bible. And then listen to gospel presentations and read gospel presentations and strive to get better, because we have the greatest treasure man has ever known in the glory of the gospel. It is the greatest story ever told, and it is the difference between wrath and grace, between heaven and hell. And it needs to be told, and it needs to be told to the best of our ability. Speak the gospel, and speak the gospel well.

 

Conclusion

And then make sure that you combine your speaking of the gospel with a life that adorns your presentation with grace and beauty. Live the gospel. But don’t just do these things in a corner. Walk wisely among unbelievers and speak words to them that are full of grace and salvation.

We opened 2018 by looking in John 4 at that the passion of Jesus to see the fields as ready for harvest. There is a great need all around us, and Jesus said the fields are ready. There is a great opportunity. And therefore, we challenged ourselves to reach our world with the gospel. How have you been doing with reaching your world? Don’t let evangelism get crowded out of your life. Make it a priority. Stay busy reaching your world through day by day relational evangelism.

And if there’s anyone among us who has not truly been born again, won’t you come to Christ today. Again, v. 5 is clear that without Christ you are outside God’s grace and outside his family. But Jesus offers the treasure of the gospel to you, and Jesus said that this treasure is worth more than anything else you may possess. Whether you knew it or not, if you came today without Christ, you came poor and condemned, but you can leave an heir of Christ if you will receive him today, so come to Christ and be saved.

More in Colossians

September 23, 2018

Real Fellowship

September 16, 2018

Stories of Faithfulness

September 2, 2018

Devoted to Prayer