My Story: Cultivating Christians
1/9/2017 1:56:23 PM
“My Story: Cultivating Christians
1 Cor 3:1-9
January 8, 2017
Rev. David Williams
Scripture: Genesis 3:8-24
Listen to this passage from a Canadian author, Sandra Tsing Loh, in her book Depth Takes a Holiday:
We were halfway through a lovely Thai dinner; we had discussed the music of John Coltrane; we had discovered a common love of volleyball. Our faces were flushed. Lanterns swayed hypnotically. Grasping my hand, Jeff impulsively leaned forward. “Sandra?”
“What?” I asked huskily.
“Have you accepted the Lord Jesus as your savior?”
Just like that. No warm-up. No mood music. No idle teasing around the God issue to loosen the soil. Had Jeff grabbed my breast I would not have been more shocked. [cited in John Bowen, Evangelism for Normal People, p. 23]
This is a story quoted by John Bowen in his book Evangelism for Normal People. He is talking about the fact that many non-Christians have had negative experiences with evangelistic approaches, inappropriate conversations about faith that are neither expected nor welcome.
Bowen goes to point out that the author didn’t shut down the potential for a spiritual conversation. It’s not that she wasn’t interested in God. It’s that the topic wasn’t brought up appropriately. In a romantic relationship and a romantic situation, that is not the time to bring up a person’s religious situation. It is sudden, unexpected, in appropriate. There are certainly opportunities to speak about faith with a person, including a romantic interest, but it needs to be done well and in an appropriate context.
What do you think when you hear the word “evangelism”? Do you get excited or nervous? Do you think, “That’s something I want to do!” or do you feel anxious, or perhaps even guilty because it’s something you don’t want to participate in even though you’ve heard it is important for Christians to engage in evangelism?
Have you ever had an experience in which you were approached by someone you didn’t know or barely knew who wanted to talk to you about faith? Was it someone you knew or a stranger? How did it feel?
I remember one time I was talking down the street in Hamilton and a person stopped me. He proceeded to ask me if I wanted to know about Jesus. I told him that I was a seminary student, that I knew Jesus well. He left and went on his way. He didn’t want to know me if I wasn’t a candidate for conversion. It was bizarre. I thought, “I would have had a better conversation with him if I didn’t know Jesus!”
Sadly, I think many of us have had bad experiences around the word “evangelism.” Sometimes it’s because we have wrong assumptions about. Sometimes it’s because we’ve had negative encounters. Sometimes it’s because we have unrealistic expectations, like we need to be the next Billy Graham to be an effective evangelist.
And yet, here at Priory, for the past year, we’ve talked a lot about Reach In, Reach Out and Reach One. Reach one specifically is about equipping everybody at Priory to be prepared to share their story with one person in their circle of relationships. That is, we want everybody to be prepared to participate in evangelism with someone they know.
Now, you may note that so far we have not talked about Reach One in terms of “Evangelism.” But that’s what it is about. The reason we’ve not used that word, though, is that it conjures up such a wide range of images in people’s minds, some good, some bad. Today we are starting a series focused on Reach One, working from the pulpit to help equip each of us to share our stories with one person we know, whether a family member, friend, neighbour, classmate or co-worker.
The first step, though, in this process of equipping, is to allay some fears, calm some concerns and clear up some misconceptions. Then we are going to introduce some concepts that we will explore more deeply in the coming weeks.
Why is it that we are doing this? Because our vision at Priory is to see broken people becoming whole
through the love of Christ. We will work away at this vision in a variety of ways, but a very important part of this work is introducing people to Jesus, giving people a chance to explore faith in Christ and, hopefully, come to a point of turning their lives over to him to find forgiveness of sin and healing from the wounds of sin. In order for people to come to this point in their lives, they need to know Christians who are willing to be open with them about their own spiritual journey, their own spiritual experiences and growth. As Paul puts it in Romans 10:14, how can people believe if they do not hear and how can they hear if nobody will tell them?
So those are the overarching goals of our series. Let’s get down to work then, shall we? The first misconception I want to dispel is that evangelism means bringing a person to make a decision for Jesus. For most people, you see, coming to faith in Christ is a process. It is often a long process. Typically it involves a moment of decision, or even moments (plural) of decision, but that is never where the process starts! The process is much broader in scope than the moment a person commits his or her life to Christ. So our understanding of evangelism must be broad enough to encompass that whole process.
Borrowing again from John Bowen, “Evangelism is cooperating with the Holy Spirit to help people take steps towards faith in Christ.” [John Bowen, Evangelism Workshop, Guelph Association of Baptist Churches Spring meeting, April 18, 2009] We are going to expand and develop our understanding of this definition in the coming weeks, but for now notice who the prime agent of evangelism is- the Holy Spirit! Second, notice our role- cooperating with the Holy Spirit. To cooperate with the Holy Spirit means submitting to and listening to the Holy Spirit, both in terms of taking opportunities given but also not running ahead of the Spirit either. Finally, notice the goal- to help people take steps towards faith in Christ. Even the longest journey begins with but a single step! Evangelism means helping people take those steps, even if it’s the first step.
To help get our heads around this idea of evangelism, let’s turn to our text this morning. We will be reading from 1 Corinthians 3:1-9.
What It Means
There are a number of things I want to point out in this passage that are important for our discussion. First, though, we need to take the passage in its original context. Paul and the Corinthians are at odds with one another. Factions have grown up within the church in Corinth and these factions are fighting with one another. In addition, at least some of those factions are also in conflict with Paul himself! This comes out if you read the whole letter through a couple times. The passage we are dealing with in chapter 3 specifically addresses issues of spiritual maturity among the Corinthian Christians. They think they are “spiritual” or, as we would probably put it, that they are spiritually mature Christians. Yet Paul says otherwise. The very fact that they are squabbling and quarrelling and demonstrating jealousy points to their lack of spiritual maturity. Paul says that he has to give them baby food, milk, instead of solid food, meat, because they are still spiritual babies. This runs exactly counter to their own prideful beliefs that not only are they spiritually mature, but that they are more spiritual than Paul himself!
Paul also addresses the fact that they are dividing along the lines of their leaders. Some are following Paul, some Apollos, and, looking back at 1:12, some are following Cephas (the Apostle Peter), and some are following Christ. Paul says that this is silly. What are Paul and Apollos, after all? They are mere servants. They are not men of significance themselves, but merely servants obeying their master. God gave Paul one task and Apollos another task. These two men both carried out their tasks well and the Christians in Corinth came to Christ. This isn’t something to praise Paul or Apollos for, though, because it was God doing the work through them.
Paul uses a familiar analogy of farming. He planted the seeds. Apollos watered the seed. God made the seed grow! Paul and Apollos were merely doing their jobs. It was God who brought the Corinthians to himself through the Holy Spirit. Paul did the initial work in Corinth but had to leave. Apollos came in after Paul and continued that work. He built upon the foundation Paul laid. He watered the seed Paul planted. They were working together, working in concert, not against one another. Paul and Apollos were unified in their purpose even if they had diverse tasks to accomplish that purpose. Both, however, were being obedient to God and carrying out their God-given roles in the spiritual development of the Corinthian Christians.
Paul’s original point is that the Corinthians’ lack of unity is a sign of their lack of spiritual maturity. They are following different leaders and allowing it to divide them as a community. They are losing sight of the big
picture that even their leaders are just following God. That is the goal! To follow God and be obedient to him. The Corinthian Christians are losing sight of that.
Along the way, we learn a few more things as well. Notice that Paul planted seed and Apollos watered it. These two men were involved in different parts of the journey for the Corinthian Christians. Paul’s part came first, Apollos’ part came later. The whole time, though, God was doing the growing behind the scenes. One can see that Paul and Apollos were cooperating with the Holy Spirit to help the Corinthians take steps towards faith in Christ. We also know that Paul and Apollos were in Corinth for a number of years. The process was not instantaneous. It was a relatively lengthy process of planting seeds and watering them. By the time the harvest came in, by the time the crop was ready to be harvested, Paul had already left! This is probably some of the background as to why some people thought of themselves as followers of Paul and others thought of themselves as followers of Apollos.
So in this text we see that there is a process, or a spiritual journey people must undertake to come to faith in Christ. Different people will be influential at different stages of the journey. It isn’t just the person who is there when a decision for Christ is made. It’s all the people along the way who influenced the believer, who encouraged them, shared with them, loved them and demonstrated to them the love of Christ.
And although all the people Paul was writing to had come to Christ, they were not all spiritually mature yet! There is growth that continues to happen even after becoming a Christian. Paul’s criticism of the Corinthians is that even though they have the Holy Spirit at work in them, bringing them to faith and applying to them the forgiveness for sin found in Christ, they are not living like it. They are still living like ordinary people. They are not spiritual. So we can see that the process is not just a process of becoming a Christian, but a process of becoming a mature Christian. This is called discipleship.
So what does this mean? How does this apply to a discussion on evangelism? What does this have to do with Reach One?
We’ve already talked about evangelism as cooperating with the Holy Spirit to help people take steps towards faith in Christ. I would suggest discipleship is cooperating with the Holy Spirit to help people take steps towards maturity in Christ. This makes our whole walk with Christ one long journey or process. First evangelism brings us to faith in Christ and then discipleship takes us to maturity in Christ. It’s all work done by the Holy Spirit in us to make us like Christ. There may or may not be a dramatic moment of decision in the middle somewhere when we decide to put our faith in Jesus. The whole thing, though, is about our journey to being remade in the image of Christ, being reconciled to God, being cleaned up and made holy in our whole nature.
It may be helpful to see a picture. [Diagram] think of a person’s journey of faith as a line from 1 to 100 with 50 being the point at which they accept Christ. 1 represents the very beginning of the journey. 100 represents full maturity in Christ. 50 represents the point of conversion. The journey from 1 to 50 we would call evangelism. The journey from 50 to 100 we call discipleship. [animation] The whole journey is the work of God in our hearts to bring us back to where we should be- the image of Christ, fully Christ-like and mature spiritually. The first part of the journey is the subject of evangelism, the second part of the journey is discipleship.
Pause for a moment now. Consider where you, yourself, are on this spectrum. I know that not all of us here at Priory have made a commitment to Christ. Some people here on Sunday mornings are still on the journey from 1 to 50. The fact that you’re here means you’re not at 1! But a number of you have been honest with me that you’ve not yet committed your life to Jesus. You have not yet come to the point of becoming a Christian, so you are on the left side of this journey. That’s ok! We’re glad you’re with us and we are glad that you are getting to know us and build community with us so you can figure out your spirituality in a Christian context.
Most of us, however, have committed ourselves to Jesus to some degree. We are mostly to the right of centre on this line. But how mature are you? Are you Christ-like in your dealings with others? How like Jesus are you? Frankly, most of us have a long way to go on the right side of this journey! We may be past 50, but are we that far? Have we made it to 75 yet? 60 even? But if you look back at your spiritual journey, did you get where you are today all in 1 moment? No! Not at all. For all of us it has been a process, a journey. It has taken
time for us to grow to the point where we are today. And if you think about your walk with God, I’m sure there have been a number of influential people in your life who have helped you along your spiritual journey. Maybe some of them helped in the evangelism side. Maybe some have helped in the discipleship side. But always there are people working for God influencing us, investing in us, encouraging, challenging and sharing with us so we can learn more about life in Christ Jesus.
Now, let’s zero in on the evangelism part. Paul in our text talks about he and Apollos having different roles or tasks in this part of the process for the Corinthians. Paul planted seed, Apollos watered it. Let’s zoom in on our diagram, just focussing on the first part, from 1 to 50. [diagram] So we see the line from 1 to 50 and along the line are seed planting and watering. 50 marks the point of harvest, the point at which a person comes to Christ in a saving way. Now, to flesh out this process a little bit, I want to add a third task at far left side of this picture, that of “cleaning rubble.” Before one can plant seeds, the ground has to be ploughed up and softened. In order to plough the ground, you have to remove any rubble, and large stones in the field.
A missionary in Iran, Dr. Robert Bruce in the late 1800’s wrote to his friends at home that he was not reaping a harvest. He could hardly be said to be planting seeds even! He was, however, removing a lot of stones from the field. He was clearing away barriers to belief. He was preparing the ground to be ploughed and planted. His was a pioneering missionary work, the first stage of evangelism. [Bowen, p. 81]
Often we think of evangelism as bringing people to faith. That is, in terms of our diagram, we think of evangelism just as bringing a person from, say, 45 to 50. [arrows] But evangelism is a lot more than that. If evangelism means cooperating with the Holy Spirit to help people take steps towards faith in Christ, then helping a person take the steps from 1 to 5 is equally valid evangelistic work as helping them go from 45-50.
So let’s bring this home to you and me for right now, today and this week. Part of Reach One is being intentional. That is, we want each person at Priory to know who their “one” is. We want each person here to have 1 individual in mind when we speak about Reach One. This can be a family member, a friend, a co-worker or classmate or a neighbour. This must be somebody you already know, that you already have some degree of relationship with. Our goal is for you to be intentional about praying for this person’s journey. We want you to be regularly praying that the Holy Spirit would continue to draw this person to Christ. In addition, we want you to be regularly praying to God that you are willing to cooperate with the Holy Spirit as He sees fit to help your one person take steps towards faith in Christ.
We are not asking you to make a pitch for Jesus to this person. We are not asking you to bring this person to Christ or “share the gospel with them” per se. Rather, we want you to be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit to share your own story of faith with them, to ask them about spiritual things, to make an offer to talk to them about spiritual things if they are ever interested, etc. Perhaps some of us will have the privilege of being there when our one person moves to the 50 mark of the line and gives their life to Christ! That would be exciting! But we don’t get to choose what role we play in another person’s journey of faith. We don’t get to choose to be the harvester. God chooses and assigns our roles to us. Maybe you get to harvest, maybe your job is to water, maybe you’re called to plant seeds, maybe your job is just to clear rubble. Whatever your job is, we want to equip you to do it well.
This week, pray for discernment as to who your “one” should be. Maybe you were around last year when we talked about this before. Maybe you have a “one” picked out already! Great! Maybe this is new to you. Maybe you heard it last year but nobody came to mind. Whatever the situation, your assignment this week is to pray for God to lay a person on your heart to be your “one” that you prepare yourself to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to help take steps towards faith in Christ.
Next week, as part of our series, we are going to write down the name of our “one” on a slip of paper and we are going to put it in a box here in the sanctuary. Over the coming weeks, each time you see the box, it will remind you to pray for that person. It will remind you to submit to the Holy Spirit and be willing to cooperate with the Spirit in order to help that person take steps towards faith in Christ.
So please think about and pray about your one. Pray for them this week and ask God to lay that person on your heart. Then begin looking for opportunities to speak with that one person about spiritual things. Think about your own journey, think about who has been influential in your walk with God. How did they do it? What influence did they have and how? Then think about how you can influence your one in similar ways. Open
yourself up to cooperating with the Spirit, submitting to the Spirit’s leading, welcoming opportunities to influence your one. Are you a harvester? Are you a waterer? A seed planter? A rubble remover?
Whatever task God has given you, pray for strength, wisdom and obedience to complete it. You probably won’t know what role you have to play until after the fact, so be willing to play whatever role God gives you.
In this way, we will all grow in our own walk as we obey God in pursuit of the vision he’s given us as a congregation- to see broken people becoming whole through the love of Christ! Amen.
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