My attention has been drawn in recent weeks by two close friends to a similar argument being made, or at least suggested, within the Christian community. Some folks are beginning to question whether or not Christians are commanded to evangelize, that is, personally share our faith with those around us. The thrust of the argument goes something like this:
1. Jesus’ “Great Commission” is in only 2 of the 4 Gospels and never repeated again by Paul or anyone. The question has been raised, why is it called “great?”
2. Paul never explicitly commands anyone to witness.
3. Christians are fearful and feel “wrong” about cold witnessing because it was never asked of us in the first place.
I will do my best to respond to each of these points.
First, to argue contra Jesus’ Great Commission is already a losing argument. Christians do not have the luxury or the right to weigh the relative truthfulness of biblical teachings by their repetition in Scripture. Had the words of Jesus uttering the Great Commission only been recorded in one Gospel, that would have been enough to cement the command for all Christians for all time. However, the point that the Great Commission is only recorded twice in Scripture is simply erroneous. There is some form of the Great Commission in every Gospel account, and perhaps the most succinct version comes in the book of Acts. There, Jesus once again declares “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth” (Acts 1:8). Christians must be careful never to argue a point from a foundation of repetition. Such a hermeneutic is the starting point of pitting Paul against Jesus, a proposal that must never happen and that ultimately corrupts the sufficiency and authority of all Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16). This same kind of methodology is used for other Christian doctrine, such as the virgin birth of Jesus. Some will question the validity of the virgin birth for 21st century believers because it is only taught in 2 of the 4 Gospels and Paul never mentions it. That argument fails for the same reasons.
Second, it is true that Paul does not explicitly provide for us his own “Great Commission.” No doubt he figured folks would not be questioning the already spoken and ongoing command of Jesus Christ. Could you imagine Paul, who only boasts in the “cross of our Lord Jesus Christ”, imagining a person looking to his words or lack thereof to contradict the words of Christ? Still yet, Paul and the other apostles certainly do speak of the ongoing privilege of evangelism for all Christians by providing helpful words of encouragement. For example, Paul writes in Colossians 4:5-6 that Christians should “be wise toward the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” Paul speaks of the need for wisdom and discernment to make the most of “every opportunity.” He, of course, is speaking of evangelism. Peter, likewise, says in 1 Peter 3:15, “always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you.” And I could go on. All of this is coupled with the apostles living and breathing evangelism every day of their lives and the book of Acts is just one big giant map of the early church doing the work of evangelism.
Third, although it may be a clever way out of fulfilling the responsibility of evangelism by asserting that it was never commanded, the fact of the matter is that Satan loves nothing more than to heighten our fears of speaking for the Lord. Even better if he can get us to defend our position by using Scripture. Of course we are scared. Of course we don’t “like it.” Jesus said we would be scared. He said we would be beaten. Made fun of. Despised. Some would be killed. But the more confidence we have in Christ to sustain us and empower us for evangelism, the more we grow to “like it.”
Finally, Donald Whitney in his book “Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life” says that “evangelism is a natural overflow of the Christian life” (106). Exactly right. Once we have tasted the sweet liberty in Jesus Christ, been freed from the captivity of sin, and saved from an eternity in hell, how could we not long for others to be placed under the same blessing? Evangelism should never be used as a tool to admonish Christians to their “ineffectiveness” or to somehow raise one up as superior to another. All Christians need help and require patience in this area. But for the glory of God, let’s not try to avoid what is a clear biblical mandate from Genesis to Revelation. He is worthy to be shared.