Quick – what’s the #1 task of the Church?
Many Christians and many churches would say, without missing a beat, “Evangelism” or “winning souls.”
Who can argue with that?
I remember my oldest brother having a conversation with a young man about evangelism. This young man argued that evangelism was the most important thing we could do because it was the one thing we could do on earth but not in heaven. My brother thought a moment, turned to the young man, and said, “Since there’s no marriage in heaven . . . and therefore no sex . . . I guess me and my wife better get busy!”
Leave it to me to argue with evangelism. Well, I’m not actually arguing that evangelism isn’t important, but believe it or not, I don’t think it’s the most important thing . . . 3 . . . 2 . . . 1 . . . (waiting for the radioactive fallout) . . . . I believe it’s a necessary part of something larger: discipleship.
We think of St. Paul as being a great evangelist and missionary, and so he was. But when Paul went to a city and preached, what happened after people were evangelized and converted? Sometimes, he continued preaching to those who had not yet become Christians. But he spent much of his time continuing to teach those who already believed. After people had become Christians in Corinth, Paul spent 18 months teaching them the Word of God.
When we come to today’s passage, what do we find Paul doing? He turns to Barnabas and says, “Let us now go back and visit our brethren in every city where we have preached the word of the Lord” (verse 36).
Why didn’t Paul just push on to new areas and go and evangelize like there was no tomorrow? Because evangelism is not an end to itself but is a part of discipleship. At what point can you say someone’s a Christian and is therefore no longer a target of evangelism? More importantly, perhaps, at what point can we begin to think and act as if our ministry to someone ends because they’ve become a Christian?
I think that as Christians we imagine the heavenly ministry to which God has called us to be much more miniscule than it really is. We think, for example, of our conversion as a discrete moment of time, unaware of the work of the Spirit and the Church that began long before we actually became aware of the grace of God in our lives. Or we imagine that our life with Christ somehow goes on autopilot after we’ve become Christians and that if we can just maintain the status quo and tread a little water then we’ve done what we’re supposed to.
We think of our life with Christ as a point, a point in time, or at best a thousand tiny points of light in the black universe of our lives. But our life in Christ is not to be a point but more like a line, or, better yet, most like a plane, or, maybe best of all, a cube. A holy cube like the New Jerusalem in which our entire lives are filled with heavenly activity, right here on earth.
We’ve seen Paul do this before, this going back to the churches to see how they’re doing. In chapter 14, verse 21, we find Paul returning to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of his disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith. It was then that he appointed elders and more firmly and fully established the church.
This, then, is our challenge for today: to continue the apostolic ministry of discipleship and encouragement. If you’re reading this, then you’re probably not a recent convert to Christ. My meditations assume a certain familiarity with Jesus Christ and His Church. But we all need to have our faith constantly re-affirmed and encouraged. We must not let each other drift or atrophy.
The goal of our common ministry isn’t to get just enough of Jesus to make it into heaven (however much that is – I’d hate to be in charge of making that calculation!) Our goal should be to spend as much as our lives as possible in His blessed presence, to have as much of our lives transformed by His life, and to share our lives as fully with those made in His image as possible, through Him.
I’m willing to wager that you or someone you know could do with a little encouragement today. Where will it come from? From Jesus Christ, of course, but how? He’s sent you and me out to be the encouragers who bring the Encourager to others, today. And I’ll bet that some of you or the people you know need a refresher course in knowing Jesus Christ better. Who will do this?
Don’t think that you have to be a missionary in some other continent to be part of the Great Commission. There is a tremendous division of labor in the Body of Christ, and every act you do in His name to build up His Body is something He will bless you for.
Do not grow weary in doing good, because we all need all the love, encouragement, and discipling that we can obtain.
The Great Commission is less like a once-for-all moment in time and much more like eating. We need to eat Jesus Christ every day, several times a day. And guess who has been commissioned to be the waiters and waitresses in His heavenly food court?
Prayer: Almighty Father,give to us your servants grace and power to fulfill our ministry. Make us faithful to serve, ready to teach, constant in advancing your gospel; and grant that, always having full assurance of faith, abounding in hope,
and being rooted and grounded in love, we may continue strong and steadfast
in your Son Jesus Christ our Lord; to whom, with you and your Holy Spirit,
belong glory and honor, worship and praise, now and forever. Amen
Point for Meditation:
1. In what ways do you need or desire spiritual encouragement and nourishment? If someone could say or do that which would most restore your soul, what would it be?
2. What opportunities, no matter how small, do you have to encourage and refresh other Christians? You might send an encouraging note, speak an encouraging word, say “Thank you,” share a Bible verse, share some good food or drink, etc.
Resolution: I resolve to refresh the soul of one saint today in one specific way.
© 2014 Fr. Charles Erlandson