I Corinthians 9:22-23
“I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some. And this I do for the Gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you.”
For many years, a debate continued in the evangelical Christian community about which kind of evangelism is the more important, “presence” evangelism or “proclamation” evangelism. The difference is this: those who advocated presence evangelism said that a Christian presence—the physical presence of a missionary, or of some other genuine Christian, or of a visible Christian church—was the necessity for Christian evangelism. This view held that no proclamation of the Gospel was necessary, that witnessing was to be visual instead of verbal. The “proclamation” evangelism opponents held that proclamation was the only necessary thing in witnessing. Short-term mission teams which practice quick-hitting evangelism and quickly return to their homeland or home community practice this kind of evangelism, returning with a statistical report of a certain number of people who “made decisions,” “got saved,” or “prayed to receive Christ.” This view is that proclamation can produce effective evangelism without the continuing presence of a missionary or a church.
The conflict between the two views is a moot argument. It is equivalent to asking which leg of your body is the more important (remember, it is your body; I think you will agree that both legs are crucial). In the evangelism of the book of Acts, there was hard-hitting, quick-triggering evangelism practiced all over the Roman world, but it was never an evangelism that left the converts without a vital means of growth, of fellowship, of developing leadership—in short, the new Christians were left with careful indoctrination on a continuing basis that would hopefully lead to personal spiritual growth and numerical growth for the new fellowship of believers.
Another unnecessary argument developed over which is the more important in the presentation of the Gospel, conviction or compassion. Again, which half of a pair of scissors is the more important? Which wing of an airplane is the more important (especially if you are riding on the plane)? Again, this is a moot argument. The answer should be a “given” to any thoughtful Christian.
More important is the question of the nature of true evangelism, the need for it, and how it is to be practiced. The cosmopolitan passage of Paul in I Corinthians nine addresses these questions fairly and forthrightly. I prefer to label the Christian concept “total evangelism.” Let’s examine just a part of Paul’s discussion of total evangelism.
I. THE MOTIVES FOR TOTAL EVANGELISM
First, we will consider the motives for total evangelism. The question of motive is vital. It is evident today that it is even possible to engage in Christian evangelism from motives that are not Christian. Verse 23 says, “And this (literally, “all things,” and this is the word for “all things in their smallest parts”) I do for the Gospel’s sake, that I might be partakers thereof with you.” This verse suggests three key motives for practicing evangelism.
Motive number one: “For the Gospel’s sake” (you might say that we are to share the Gospel for the Savior’s sake). Because of what the Gospel is, because of the Good News that Jesus is a Savior, Christians have no option but to make it (Him) known. The very nature of the Gospel constitutes the Christian’s missionary charter. What do we know about the Gospel?
First, we know that the Gospel is universal in its scope. It is for all men, without distinction of race, or class, or color, or culture. The word “whosoever” is found 110 times in the New Testament, and it is never used with a restricted meaning. The Gospel is for every human being. “God so loved the world,” says John 3:16. “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not for ours only, but for the sins of the whole world” (I John 2:2). “He died for all” (II Corinthians 5:15). “The Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (II Peter 3:9). “God now commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:31). These familiar verses remind us of how vast and universal is God’s love in Christ. No human being is excluded from the embrace of our Lord’s outstretched arms on the Cross, and no man should be excluded from the witness of the Christian Church.
Then, the Gospel is unique in its salvation. The Gospel tells of the one and only salvation God has prepared for men. There is no other religion of redemption in the world. There are other religions of considerable influence, such as Animism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Taoism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam, but these religions have no word of pardon for sinners, no salvation to offer to guilty souls. English preacher Joseph Parker once said, “Comparative religions there may be, but Christianity is not one of them.” Jesus Himself declared the exclusiveness of Christianity and the Gospel when He said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life; no man comes unto the Father but by Me.” Peter and John repeated the same exclusive, intolerant claim before the Jewish Sanhedrin: “Neither is there salvation is any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Paul is equally insistent in writing to Timothy: “There is one God and one Mediator between God and man, Himself the Man Christ Jesus.” Christ died and rose again for all men, and without Him all men are lost and will perish. Unless men receive the Lord Jesus Christ, they remain eternally lost.
None other Lamb, none other Name,
None other hope in heaven and earth or sea;
None other hiding place from guilt and shame,
None beside Thee.”
Finally, the Gospel is uncompromising in its stewardship. The Bible insists that
every Christian is a trustee of God’s grace. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians, “As we were
allowed by God to be put in trust with the Gospel, even so we speak” (I Corinthians 2:4). The spiritual wealth God has given to us in the Gospel is not our private property, not for our exclusive personal benefit, but a trust lodged with us for the benefit of others. We are “stewards of the mysteries of God,” according to Paul (I Corinthians 4:1), and “it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” The Greek word for “stewardship” means the total management of a household, and describes a position of high trust in an ancient household.
Biblically, Joseph is identified as a steward, a steward in Potiphar’s household, and it was once said of his master Potipher that he “knew not what was in the house.” He had committed the responsibility for managing all of his wealth to Joseph his chief steward. A steward is an administrator of an estate. Joseph was the chief trustee of Potipher’s estate, governing it for his master’s benefit.
The Biblical demand for the stewardship of the Gospel is uncompromising. When a person gains Christ through faith, he is immediately responsible to give Christ to others who are without Him. When he is saved by Christ, he is to share Christ. If he owns Christ as His own Savior, he owes Christ to the whole world. His responsibility is two-fold: he is responsible to Christ and the Gospel, and he is responsible for a famished world. Evangelist D. L. Moody said, “A Christian is a person to whom God has entrusted all men.” Paul stated his stewardship when he wrote, “Necessity is laid upon me; yea, woe is unto me, if I preach not the Gospel.” He regarded himself as one under a solemn obligation. Let me remind you once more of Paul’s words in I Corinthians 4:1, where he spoke of “stewards of the mysteries of God.” Nearly in the same line, he added, “And it is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful.” The owner of an estate did not carefully supervise his steward; it was an office of trust.
In a very strong sense, Jesus Christ has committed to each of His followers the keys of the Kingdom of God. Not to the Pope, or to some specially ordained order of leaders, are the keys committed, but to every believer. He handed you those keys the moment you were saved, and you will either open the door or close it to each person who affords to you an opportunity to share the Gospel. You will either be a bridge to Christ or a barricade from Christ to other people. The New Testament indicates that to be a Christian at all is to be a debtor to all men. Paul confesses this obligation in Romans 1:14-15, where he wrote, “I am debtor both to the Greeks and the Barbarians; both to the wise and to the unwise. So, as much as is in me, I am ready to preach the Gospel….” To paraphrase a humorous bumper sticker, the Christian motto should be, “I owe, I owe, so off to share the Gospel I go.”
Motive number two: For the sake of sinners who need to be saved. And the purpose of total evangelism with regard to sinners is to make saints out of them. “This I do for the Gospel’s sake,” Paul said, and then he added, “that I might be partaker thereof with you.” Paul’s purposes, plans, vision, compassion, evangelism, etc., always centered on whatever “you” he was with at the time. He regarded every personal contact as a part of his stewardship of the Gospel, as a part of his obligation to share Christ. If the individual was lost, Paul regarded himself as Heaven’s Ambassador to present to him the terms of reconciliation with God. If the individual was saved, Paul regarded himself as the disciple-maker who would help the saint come to maturity, thus enabling him to be better equipped to practice total evangelism. Christian, are you taking these words personally? Are you taking them seriously? Do you seek to use every personal contact as a possibility for advancing the cause of Christ?
I was at breakfast recently with a new Christian, a man who was not saved until his late middle-aged years. As we visited, he declared that “though I worked among professing Christians regularly during my years on the job, not once in those thirty years did a single Christian ever approach me about Jesus.” How many unbelievers could give such a testimony?! The Psalmist said, “I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul” (Psalm 142:4). Note the dimensions of his sad lament. Of all the associates in his acquaintance, he was derelict and lonely as far as their attention was concerned. Not one of his associates acknowledged him as a responsible, needy human being with spiritual hunger for God. He could not find solace, consolation or help in any companionship. The reason was that nobody gave any evidence whatsoever of care, concern or compassion for him. Dear Christian, we must not allow such a situation to prevail in the place where we are assigned to care for the souls of men. We must bend our attention and action to total evangelism for the sake of lost men without Christ.
Motive number three: For the sake of self-interest, we must practice total evangelism. Paul said, “And this I do for the Gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker (the word means a ‘co-sharer’) thereof with you.” We must not overlook this. No true human being, a center of self-consciousness made in the image of God, can overlook his own highest welfare. When we admit that we must “love our neighbors as we love ourselves,” we acknowledge that we are to legitimately love ourselves in some true sense. In what sense? Not in a selfish sense, but in a realistic personal sense. Love is the desire for the highest good of its object. A Christian must desire his own highest good or he is not a practicing Christian. He simply cannot validly exist as a true center of self-consciousness if he does not want his own highest good. Earlier, in I Timothy 4:16, Paul wrote to Timothy these words: “Continue in these things; for in doing this you shall both save yourself and them that hear you.”
The Apostle Paul was not ashamed to confess that he gave himself without reserve to the work of winning others to Christ, that he himself might truly and fully partake of the powers of the Kingdom of God. Let this idea reach your heart: you cannot and will not fully “taste the powers of the world to come” in this life if you do not bend your energies to win others to Christ. As one example among many, no Christian can know the fullness of the Holy Spirit if he is merely seeking an experience or seeking emotional excitement or personal gratification. The Holy Spirit is not given to the Christian for the sake of passing emotion. Among other reasons, the Holy Spirit was given for the functional fulfillment of the assignment to bring men to Christ. The individual Christian can only know the Spirit’s Presence in power as he is engaged in Christian service, especially the service of witnessing and winning people to Christ. Paul knew that personal evangelism, total evangelism, is one of the most effective means of spiritual growth and maturity. Evangelism is a means of grace. It will enable any Christian to partake of a fuller, deeper measure of Christ.
The Great Commission clearly states this truth. Shallow Christians often quote the last words of the Commission to assure themselves that Jesus’ Presence will always be with them. “Lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age,” Jesus said, and they happily quote it as a promise of His perpetual Presence. But note that that promise begins with the word “and,” which connects it with the procedure that is outlined just before the promise. The only person who can validly claim the promise is the Christian who is committed to practicing the procedure. The Christian who is winning people to Christ and making disciples has full reason to claim this promise. The Presence of Christ will be powerfully and perennially present with the disciple-making Christian. You see, total evangelism is a means of personal edification, personal blessing and personal grace.
One of the great tragedies in the world is that most believers in Christ act as though evangelism is optional. And the ones who do practice evangelism often practice only a piece-meal and partial evangelism. A Christian should be motivated by the Gospel and its glories (which includes the transcendent greatness of Christ), the lostness of men without Christ, and his own spiritual growth and blessing, to practice total evangelism. These are the motives for total evangelism stated by Paul.
II. THE METHODS OF TOTAL EVANGELISM
In order to keep the matter of total evangelism clearly before us, let me briefly discuss some of the methods of total evangelism. Paul said, “I do all things in their tiniest parts (the Greek word is panta, and this is the exact translation of the word) for the Gospel’s sake, that I might be partaker thereof with you” (verse 23). Paul surely had a clear strategy for impacting the world for Christ. What were the “all things in their particular parts” that he referred to? We probably will not be able to even detect them all, but many are very conspicuous as we read the account of his missionary travels and the personal journals of his letters.
Paul used every available legitimate method at hand to win souls to Christ.
He used preaching. “How shall they hear without a preacher?” That is, without a herald of the Gospel. Paul was a tireless and persistent preacher, and we may be sure by reading his letters that the content of his preaching was always Christ and His salvation. And he always held the same object in mind for his preaching: “that I might win some.” Personally, I want to see a day when an army of laymen can rise, one by one, to any occasion for presenting the Gospel, and make a winning appeal for Christ.
Paul also used prayer as a means to bring people to Christ. Christians who are prayerless leave sinners in their lifeless state.
Then, Paul used personal conversation. Like Jesus, Paul was extremely skilled in personal relationships. He could preach well to a congregation of one. And he used every contact to present Christ as man’s only hope.
Paul also used the pen, or writing, to present Christ and advance His cause. In the masterful theology of the book of Romans, in the powerful dogmatic arguments of the book of Galatians, in the diplomatic and compassionate appeal of the book of Philemon, in the personal letters to Timothy and Titus, in the pastoral letter to the Philippians, Paul presented Christ as the occasion called for. Nearly 2000 years after his death, the letters of Paul continue to mightily move those who will read and study them. What was Paul’s theme? John Brown said, “Paul wrote and taught as if Jesus Christ were right at his elbow.” His purpose was to connect sinners and the Savior of sinners, and he used every method that was valid and would accomplish his purpose.
Paul used candid confession of his own sin and failure to reach people for Christ. Paul wrote, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.” When Paul said things like that, he was not playing politician or being a spiritual gun-notcher or string-puller. He was revealing the sin-sensitive heart of a man who steadily walks close to Christ.
Above all, Paul used practice, or the holy living of Christ and His Gospel, to win others. He was probably not very calculating as he did this, but holy living was his lifestyle even when alone. He maintained love in his heart for men, holiness of life within himself, a burning loyalty to Jesus Christ as his own Savior and Lord, and great self-sacrifice in advancing Christ’s Gospel.
All of these methods, and many more, need to be mastered and used in winning others to Christ.
Let me conclude this study by summarizing the two verses in four statements: (1) To save all men is impossible. Paul realistically admitted, as Jesus did in His parable of the sower, that not all men will be saved. (2) To save some is imperative. Each Christian is to bend his maximum energy and effort toward the goal of “saving some.” (3) To save any is expensive. “At any cost, at any price,” Paul said, indicating the expense of winning some. (4) To save even one is an eternally rewarding achievement.
During the time of the Civil War, a Sunday School teach named Edward Kimball led a seventeen-year-old named Dwight Lyman Moody to Christ. In time, Moody became one of the most effective evangelists in the history of the Christian church. Years later, in a Moody crusade in Worcester, Massachusetts, Moody met a young man named Henry Kimball—the son of Edward Kimball, the man who had earlier led Moody to Christ! Moody pressed the claims of Christ upon the young Kimball. “Henry, are you a Christians?” “No, sir, I am not.” “Would you like to be a Christian?” “Yes, sir, I would.” Moody lovingly explained the way of salvation to the young man, and Henry Kimball was captured for Christ. All motives combined in that act—the advance of Christ’s cause, the glory of Christ, the salvation of sinners, and the spiritual edification of the soul-winner. May we, too, faithfully witness for Christ, and may God give us great fruit for our labors!
If you are today without Christ, may I assume the privilege of telling you how to know Jesus personally. When you trust Christ as your own personal Savior, He instantly and literally enters into your life as an indwelling Friend, He forgives and cleanses you of all sin, and He gives you the gift of eternal life. How do you come to know Him? First, confess yours sins directly to Him. Do not hide anything; He already knows your “X-rated” heart. As you confess your sins, ask Him to help you to repent of (turn from) your sins. Second, be reminded that He loves you personally and unconditionally, and that He died on the Cross for you and your sins. Third, remember that He did not stay dead, but arose from the dead to seal and prove His victory over sin, death and hell. Fourth, He said, in effect, “If you will trust Me without reserve to save you, I will save you in the moment of your trust—and My salvation is eternal.” So now, at this moment, would you repent of your sin and receive Jesus Christ into your heart, trusting Him totally to save you? If you trust Jesus today, utilize the first available opportunity to confess Him before men. Tell a Christian, a pastor, a fellowship of believers, that you have trusted Christ.
May God encourage all of you with His truth, and may we all arise to speak consistently and continually for Christ.