2 Corinthians 4:1-15
Many of you are familiar with Landon Saunders. Landon’s aunt Mildred has a parakeet named Ricky. Ricky is a remarkable birth with a vocabulary of 60 to 70 words. He will greet Mildred in the morning by saying, “want to have some breakfast?” He will introduce himself – “My name is Ricky Saunders and I live at 503 W. 30th St. in Bradenton, Florida. Ricky is very religious and can quote scripture: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want,” “My name is Ricky Saunders, I am a parakeet, praise the Lord!” But for all the religious words that Ricky can speak he can never connect with my life, because there’s nothing behind his words.
One of those goals we all aspire to is to be more evangelistic. We would love to see our friends and co-workers and neighbors all become Christians as a result of something we said or did. But they aren’t, and we’re not sure where to even start in becoming like that.
So we start an evangelism program, bring in an expert to tell us how to do it. We, and countless churches have started programs and brought in speakers and we’re no further along than before. And maybe a little bit worse off, because we’ve become discouraged of the possibility of it ever happening. So, what do we do?
I’m not an expert, and Lord save us from another program with forms in triplicate. But I do know what it’s like to bring someone to Christ. I’ve been a Christian now for 36 years, and I’ve studied with and baptized over 300 people. I was converted when I was 16 off of a bus ministry. I became a Christian in a church that was baptizing 150 people a year. By the time I had been a Christian two years, I’d already led ten people to Christ. I didn’t know any better. I thought everybody did that. I had to move to the Bible belt and go to a Christian university to figure out people just don’t do that.
Let me share with you what I do know about evangelism and sharing your faith. I wish it was as easy as downloading a program off the Internet, or giving you 10 easy steps – but it’s more than a program, and it’s not something you can check off your list of things to do. Evangelism isn’t something that happens when we show up here on Sunday morning, but when we go out there on Monday morning. Evangelism is what happens when the church leaves the building.
Really, it’s becoming the man or woman God can use to tell his good news through – you don’t just tell the good news – you become the good news. It’s becoming less concerned with me, and more concerned with God – and when that happens, we won’t be able to keep it to ourselves.
And though we understand that that gospel is timeless and fresh, we often think of it as an historical event in the past – it is what God did. But the good news is not a past event – God did not act just in the long ago. He is active and alive today. Good news is not in the past tense, it is present tense – it is ongoing, continuous action. We are good news people in whom God demonstrates what good news looks like in real people today – we are living object lessons. Let me lay this out for you in four passages from the Bible:
Matthew 5:14-16 You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.
1 Peter 2:9-12 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.
2 Corinthians 2:15-17 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.
2 Corinthians 3:3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.
Have you ever really thought about being used by God in that way? And it’s not just the things you do and say on purpose. People want to know what you’re like “off the clock.” How does your Sunday morning Christianity translate into Monday morning? Church-going people are a dime a dozen – authentic Christianity is worth its weight in gold. Your life will either authenticate or invalidate what you say about God.
The question we’re really asking is, “Is the good news, good news in you?” When the Gerasene demoniac who was healed by Jesus and told to go and tell what God had done for him, started talking, people knew it was good news. The change in his life backed up the power of his words. When the Samaritan woman at the well went running into town yelling “Come see a man who told me everything I ever did,” there was something so compelling about the change in her demeanor they couldn’t help but come and see.
It is in his second Corinthian letter that Paul talks about what it means to be witnesses of Christ’s power to change lives – and he uses descriptions like comforters and ambassadors and letters and aroma and unveiled faces. I want us to spend a few moments in ch. 4, hearing one of Paul’s most striking descriptions: 2 Corinthians 4:1-15.
Paul gives here the most complete description of how to be a powerful witness for Christ. The description centers around the imagery of a piece of pottery. The pottery is just a common jar made out of clay – it’s not fine china, there’s nothing special about its appearance. What is special about it is its contents – it contains a treasure – I suspect Paul had in mind that jar of very expensive perfume that Mary broke to anoint Jesus – but whatever the treasure is, while the jar remains unbroken, the treasure remains unused.
And so Paul describes us as jars of clay – common in appearance – uncommon in purpose. Hidden inside us is the good news of Jesus Christ – that our power to face life is from God, not ourselves – that when we face trials and difficulties and defeat, God is bringing life out of death. In fact, it is not until we are broken and stripped of our self-dependence that this treasure can be revealed.
And Paul wasn’t just coaching from the sidelines – he had lived it. Everything that the world and Satan could throw at him was powerless in the face of God’s strength and he chronicles in his life how God has used him as a demonstration of his power.
There are five words that describe our witness:
Transparent – (vs 2) There is nothing hidden, we aren’t trying to trick anyone into believing in Jesus. We don’t need a gimmick or a technique. What we say on Sunday is what we live on Monday. There is integrity between our life and our words. As Paul says, we just set forth the truth plainly.
Distinctive – (vs 4) There is a blurring of lines, a fuzziness in this world that makes it hard for people to see the truth. That is why we need to be distinctive in what we say and how we live. If people look at us and think, “what’s the difference?” we won’t get much of a hearing. The light of the gospel is seen through our lives and heard through our words. Let’s make sure they are sharp and focused.
Reflective – (vs 5-6) What needs to be most evident in our words and in our lives is that it’s not about us – it’s all about Christ. We reflect his light, we live as his servants.
Vulnerable – (vss 7-11) Anybody can talk about good news when the sky is bright and life is easy. Show me somebody in the middle of a storm – when their health is failing, when a loved one has died, when a relationship is on the rocks, when their job has been erased – then let them tell me about good news. That’s what people want to see – where is your God when you’re down, how does your faith stand up when you’ve been punched in the gut by Satan. There is the litmus test for faith. People don’t want to see someone who’s perfect, they want to see someone who’s forgiven. They don’t need a tough guy who can handle all his own problems, they want to see where you find your strength, who you lean on. (Isn’t that what Paul was about in 2 Cor. 12:8-10 - Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.)
Sacrificial – (vs 12,15) This is the tough one. If we are to be effective witnesses for Christ, we can’t be in it for ourselves. We must have a sacrificial spirit of giving ourselves for others. That’s what Paul will write a little later in 12:15 – “I will gladly spend and be spent for your sake.” Where is the focus in your life – on yourself or on others? Until you can honestly say that your concern is for the souls of others, your witness will be hollow.
What people hunger for is good news, but we’re all a little leery of the slick spokesman who puts a spin on everything, or the too-good-to-be-true promises we hear from over-eager salesmen. What we want to know is, is it real, does it work? You talk about good news, but is it good news to you? You tell me that Jesus is your lord, but how does that make you different from the rest of us? You claim that God is important, but let me look at your priorities.
If being a Christian is just another meeting to go to, another speech to listen to, another charity to give to, I’m not interested. Why should I want to get up early on a Sunday morning to go to church with you instead of going to the golf course, or the lake, or sitting around drinking coffee and reading the Sunday paper?
If you are a child of God, he is doing great things in your life. In 2 Cor. 5, when Paul says, “We are ambassadors for Christ,” he is telling us our job is to tell others how great the kingdom of God is, how wonderful it is to live under the loving care of our King. We are the front line offense in promoting the benefits of being a part of what God is doing.
Let me tell you, when the good news becomes your good news, then you will have something to share. And it will be inviting and it will be compelling. Dust off the old, old story and make it your story.
· What is the gospel, the old, old story? (Jesus died, buried, raised)
· What is your story – the good news in your life? (Really, I’m asking – some of you don’t have a story)
· I can preach a sermon on evangelism, or better yet, a series and I can check that off my list of important things to preach on – we can tell everybody we’re an evangelistic church because we talk about evangelism.
· But if you and I go away from listening and nothing changes – you don’t say anything more tomorrow than you did yesterday – we’re wasting our time – we’re kidding ourselves. It’s easy to be a believer in Christ – it’s hard to be a follower of Christ.
God is still in the business of forgiving sins and resurrecting lives. He is still a refuge from the storms and a fortress in the battle. What is he doing in your life? Don’t keep it to yourself, don’t let it be your secret. People are hungering for what you have experienced of God’s love and are waiting for an invitation to come meet the one who can change their life.
And in the end, the effect will be what the crowd told that Samaritan woman – “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Savior of the world.” When we tell about what God has done in our lives, we don’t want people going away thinking, “What a great Christian,” but “What a great God!”
In her book, Of Whom the World was not Worthy, Marie Chapian tells the story of two Yugoslavian men named Jakov and Cimmerman. Jakov attempted to share his faith with the skeptical Cimmerman. Cimmerman would remind him that church leaders in his town had plundered, exploited and killed innocent people, including his own nephew.
Jakov responded, “Suppose I were to steal your coat, put it on and break into a bank.” He imagined eluding the police, but the police recognized the coat and went to arrest Cimmerman. Cimmerman would, of course, deny having robbed the bank. The fact that someone else wore his coat would not make him guilty of the crime. As Jakov saw it the wicked church leaders were fraudulently wearing the Christian coat.
The illustration angered Cimmerman and he asked Jakov to leave. Jakov kept visiting, encouraging and sharing the love of Christ daily. One day Cimmerman asked, “How does one become a Christian?” Jakov wanted to know what changed his heart. Cimmerman said, “You wear his coat very well.”
Jakov’s example melted the skeptical heart of Cimmerman. Your example has great power to convince others. How well do you wear his coat?