Challenges to True Evangelists

Written by Prof Johan Malan.

Paul gave certain directives to Timothy on how to remain true to Christ, to the Word, and to his calling as an evangelist. They include a stead­fast commitment to preach the truth, even in the face of severe op­po­sition from false teachers who deviated from the truth. He is reminded of the fact that he is accountable to the Lord Jesus, who will judge him on the way in which he conducted the affairs of his ministry:

“I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the Word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all long-suffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for them­selves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables. But you be watchful in all things, endure afflictions, do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry” (2 Tim. 4:1-5).

The Living Bible translates this section as follows:

“I solemnly urge you before God and before Christ Jesus – who will judge the living and the dead when He appears to set up His kingdom – to preach the Word of God urgently at all times, whenever you get the chance, when it is convenient and when it is not. Correct and rebuke your people when they need it, encourage them to do right, and all the time be feeding them patiently with God’s Word. For there is going to come a time when people won’t listen to the truth, but will go around looking for teachers who will tell them just what they want to hear. They won’t listen to what the Bible says but will blithely follow their own misguided ideas. Stand steady, and don’t be afraid of suffer­ing for the Lord. Bring others to Christ. Leave nothing undone that you ought to do.”

Challenge 1: Remain true to the Lord Jesus

Timothy is first and foremost reminded of the fact that he is accountable to the Lord Jesus for the way in which he conducts the affairs of his ministry. Christ is the Judge of the living and the dead, who said, “Behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his works” (Rev. 22:12). We have a fixed appointment to appear before His judgement seat and should therefore, at all times, remain true to Him.

However, we are living in a time which the Bible describes as the great falling away. A central part of the process of apostatising is the denial of the virgin birth and deity of the Lord Jesus. We are faced with a definite challenge to remain true to the Mighty Saviour who is not only the Son of God but also God Himself. The Triune God of the Bible is revealed to us as God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. 1 John 5:7 says: “There are three who bear witness in heaven: the Father, the Word, and the Holy Spirit; and these three are one.”

The Lord Jesus is the Word that became flesh and dwelt among us and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He exists from all eternity: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God” (John 1:1). So, if we wish to remain true to Him we should not only address Him as Jesus or Christ, but, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28). In Greek it is “My Kurios and my Theos” and in Hebrew: “My Yahweh and my Elohim.”

Paul refers to Him as “the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ” (Tit. 2:13). John says that “Jesus Christ… is the true God, and eternal life” (1 John 5:20), while Peter says that He is “our God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:1). Unbelievers refer to Jesus as a prophet but we should always connect His personal name to His deity (i.e. Lord Jesus), or to His official name (Jesus Christ), or to both names (Lord Jesus Christ). In view of the widespread denial of His virgin birth and His deity we should always worship and proclaim Jesus as Lord and God.

He is one with the Father, and therefore could say: “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). To the Jews of the first century it was very difficult to accept the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was eternal, self-existent and one with Yahweh – the great I AM. Jesus said to them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I AM” (John 8:58; Modern King James Version). Nobody can be saved unless he or she believes in the deity of Christ. He said’ “If you do not believe that I AM, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24; MKJV). The Jews should have known this because the prophet Isaiah said: “Unto us a child is born, unto us a Son is given; and the government will be upon His shoulder. And His name will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God...” (Isa. 9:6).

Do you uphold and preach the wonderful Name of Jesus Christ, our Lord? He said to faithful members of the church of Philadelphia, and will reiterate at His Judgement Seat, “You have kept my Word and have not denied my Name” (Rev. 3:8). Are you among His faithful followers?

We will do well to remember that we were in the first instance commis­sioned to be witnesses of Christ (Acts 1:8). How do you portray Him? How do you proclaim His divine virtues and work of atonement? How sound and thorough is your exposition of the excellence of the knowledge of Christ? Do you audiences realise that all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden in Him? Are they deeply under the impression of the sufficiency of Christ to meet their every need?

Challenge 2: Remain true to the Word

Every child of God, and even more so evangelists and others who pro­claim the gospel, are faced with the challenge to preach the Word straight­forward and without any compromise. God is absolute truth, and it was the high priestly prayer of the Lord Jesus that all His disciples would be estab­lished in this truth: “Sanctify them by Your truth. Your Word is the truth” (John 17:17). The Holy Spirit testifies about these great truths that can lead people to salvation; that is why He is the Spirit of truth who will guide us into all truth (John 16:13). Jesus Christ, His teaching and work atone­ment, is part of this divine truth. He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

The moment a person deviates from these great truths he is in error. God said to Joshua, with regard to His Word: “Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left that you may prosper wherever you go” (Jos. 1:7). However, we are living in times when people easily turn away from the great truths in God’s Word by exposing themselves to extra-biblical reve­la­tions of God’s will through false prophets, dreams, visions, and the distorted messages of deceived preachers. That is why Paul urged Timo­thy to “preach the Word, for the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine.” Believers must be corrected and rebuked when they deviate from the Word.

But most people are naive and would listen to all sorts of wrong inter­pretations of God’s Word in which its great truths are openly twisted. This is amazing, but many believers “heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables.” Fables are nice-sounding but unreal stories, i.e. lies, but because of the low standards of salvation that false teachers offer to people these lies are preferred above the truth of the Bible. Many people seem to have a pro­pensity for lies – and this openness to deception goes back to the early Christian churches.

Paul said to the Corinthians: “I fear, lest somehow, as the serpent deceived Eve by his craftiness, so your minds may be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3). Some of the religious fables and lies sound very pleasing to many people. One example is the doctrine of election. It is often alleged that all Christians have been chosen by God before the foundation of the world, and that infant baptism confirms the presumed fact that they already belong to God. The elect cannot be snatched from the hand of Christ, so they do not really have to be born again. The holiness of Christ is also imputed to them, so they are not obliged to pursue personal holiness. People who hold to this doctrine only have an outward form of godliness. They give mental consent to the Chris­tian doctrine, but their hearts remain cold and unchanged because of the erroneous teachings and commandments of men.

The Lord Jesus described prominent members of the Chosen People, Israel, as hypocrites because they were not born again. He said, “These people draw near to Me with their mouth, and honour Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men” (Matt. 15:8-9). To this He added: “All too well you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition” (Mark 7:9).

Do you preach the theological traditions of men or do you serve the pure milk of the Word? Remain true to the simplicity of the Gospel message which is based upon the atoning death of Jesus Christ, always emphasising the obligation on every sinner to make a choice to accept Christ as his or her Saviour, and to repent from all know sin.

Challenge 3: Be prepared to endure afflictions

One of the challenges which emerge from a fresh commitment to the cause of the gospel is the willingness to suffer persecution. Paul warned Timothy that he would endure afflictions while doing the work of an evan­gelist (2 Tim. 4:5). Earlier in his letter he already prepared him for this experience: “You must endure hardship as a good soldier of Jesus Christ” (2 Tim. 2:3). “All who desire to lead a godly life in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution” (2 Tim. 3:12). The reason for hardships and persecution is that we are contending for the truth against an evil world that lies under the sway of the Wicked One (1 John 5:19).

The Lord Jesus also prepared His disciples on rejection and perse­cution: “If the world hates you, you know that it hated Me before it hated you… A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:18,20). We should really feel honoured because of this negative experience because we are suffering for the sake of Christ and the truth of His Word which we are preaching. Paul said to the Philippians:

“Let your conduct be worthy of the gospel of Christ… stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel, and not in any way terrified by your adversaries… For to you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake, having the same conflict which you saw in me” (Phil. 1:27-30).

Much of the persecution comes from false teachers who deny the deity of Jesus Christ, and also the doctrine of justification which is based upon the shed blood of Christ. Peter says: “There were false prophets among the people, even as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them, and bring on themselves swift destruction. And many will follow their destructive ways, because of whom the way of truth will be blas­phemed” (2 Pet. 2:1-2). They will attack the truth.

These preachers, who deny certain vital attributes of Jesus Christ as well as key elements of the doctrines of salvation and sanctification, often give evangelical preachers a bad name by alleging that they are not seek­er-sensitive when they harshly denounce sinful practices and insist on conformity to high biblical standards for repentance and service to God.

Paul’s counsel is clear: “…endure afflictions, do the work of an evan­gelist, fulfil your ministry.” Don’t run away from your problems but fulfil your ministry in a worthy manner. Although we are contending for the truth we should not be known as quarrelsome people: “The servant of the Lord must not be quarrelsome – fighting and contending. Instead he must be kindly to everyone and mild-tempered… He must be a skilled and suitable teacher, patient and forbearing and willing to suffer wrong. He must correct his opponents with courtesy and gentleness” (2 Tim. 2:24-25; Amplified Bible). We must have the mind of Christ (Phil. 2:5).

Challenge 4: Go out into the highways and country lanes

Paul impressed it on Timothy that he should continue preaching the Word, regardless of whether it is opportune for people to listen. It is in the interest of all people everywhere to hear the true gospel message – not distorted versions of it. God loves all people and wants to save them. The Lord Jesus sends His disciples to the uttermost parts of the earth so all people can hear the message of salvation. Those who are saved are not only cal­led to be disciples of Jesus Christ, but also members of His bridal congre­gation, who will one day share in all His glory.

We should recommit ourselves to the proclaiming of the gospel of Christ to all people. We must preach the Word everywhere and at all times. In a parable in Luke 14, the Lord Jesus likens the preaching of the gospel to invitations which are extended to people to attend a special supper, which prophetically refers to the marriage supper of the Lamb. Jesus said to His disciples:

“A certain man gave a great supper and invited many, and sent his servant at supper time to say to those who were invited, Come, for all things are now ready. But they all with one accord began to make excuses. The first said to him, I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it. I ask you to have me excused. And another said, I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to test them. I ask you to have me excused. Still another said, I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come. So the servant came and reported these things to his master. Then the master of the house, being angry, said to his servant, Go out quickly into the streets and lanes of the city, and bring in here the poor and the maimed and the lame and the blind. And the servant said, Master, it is done as you commanded, and still there is room. Then the master said to the servant, Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:16-23). The word “hedges” is translated “country lanes” in the NIV. The implica­tion is the same. You have to travel on narrow rural roads to get to isolated communities to whom the gospel should be preached. In a South African context this would refer to farms and small villages far away from the highways.

A similar situation prevails today: many people in the cities, who have often been evangelised, refuse the invitation to become members of Jesus Christ’s bridal congregation. In the parable, these people were so pre­occupied with their economic and social interests that there was no time for Christian activities in their lives. Since so many of them turned down the invitation, the disciples of the Lord Jesus are commanded: now go out on the roads and the country lanes to faraway, neglected com­mu­nities in the rural areas of the country, and preach the Good News to them. These people don’t have the opportunities that the people in the cities enjoy, so they will be the last ones to fill the house of the Lord.

Are you also involved with gospel outreaches of this nature?

Challenge 5: Perseverance on the way of the Lord

We need to persevere as witnesses of Christ. Paul says, “Be watchful… do the work of an evangelist, fulfil your ministry.” We should remain focused on the Lord Jesus and, at all times, lead holy lives. Paul says: “Let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith” (Heb. 12:1-2). Some Christians are weighed down by things that are not sins in themselves, but these things are nevertheless stumbling-blocks as they may demand a lot of your time, energy and money that could otherwise have been used prof­ita­bly in the service of the Lord.

To remain focused on Jesus Christ also means that you are looking forward to His second coming and the full revelation of His glorious king­dom. John says that “everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure” (1 John 3:3). This refers to doctrinal and moral purity. We should live holy lives and also proclaim the true doctrine of Christ which is according to godliness (1 Tim. 6:3). Some believers, however, fail to meet these standards and consequently backslide spir­itually. John says that we should earnestly guard against backsliding: “Look to yourselves, that we do not lose things we worked for, but that we may receive a full reward. Whoever transgresses and does not abide in the doctrine of Christ does not have God. He who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son” (2 John 1:8-9).

The apostle speaks about people who transgress, or turn aside, and do not continue in the doctrine of Christ. In their Bible Knowledge Com­mentary (p. 907-908) Profs. Walvoord & Zuck say the following about this scripture: “These words suggest strongly that the apostle was thinking here of defection from the truth by those who had once held to it. The word ‘abide’ is used 23 times in 1 John in reference to the abiding life. A person who does not abide in a thing has evidently once been in it. The New Testament writers were realists about the possibility of true Christians falling prey to heresy and warned against it. John had just cautioned his readers about possible loss of reward. They were thus now cautioned not to overstep the boundaries of sound doctrine, but to remain where they were, to abide or continue in the doctrine of Christ. To deviate from the truth is to leave God behind. God is not with a person who does so. What such a person does, he does without God. In contrast with the defector from the truth, he who abides in the doctrine of Christ has both the Father and the Son... To abide in the truth about Jesus Christ calls for a firm response against those who have become purveyors of false doctrine.”

Jesus Christ also made clear statements on the need for a com­mit­ment to the abiding life: “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me... If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire” (John 15:4-6). John the Baptist also exhorted people to keep on bearing fruit worthy of repentance (Matt. 3:8). That can only be done if we abide in Christ and remain committed to the cause of the gospel.

Unfortunately, not all believers remain true to Christ and their Christian conscience. Paul reminded Timothy of the great value of “faith and a good con­science, which some having rejected, concerning the faith have suf­fer­ed shipwreck” (1 Tim. 1:19). The Living Bible translates this verse as fol­lows: “Cling tightly to your faith in Christ and always keep your conscience clear, doing what you know is right. For some people have disobeyed their consciences and have deliberately done what they knew was wrong. It is not surprising that soon they lost their faith in Christ after defying God like that.” Paul encouraged the Hebrew believers: “If we are faithful to the end, trusting God just as we did when we first became Christians, we will share in all that belongs to Christ” (Heb. 3:14; LB). At the end of his life, shortly before his execution as a believer in Rome, Paul said: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7).

Do you accept the challenge to persevere on the way of holiness and service to the Lord? We should commit ourselves to work hard for the Lord while we still have the opportunity. Jesus said: “I must work the works of Him who sent Me while it is day; the night is coming when no one can work” (John 9:4). Paul said: “I discipline my body and bring it into sub­jection, lest, when I have preach­ed to others, I myself should become dis­qualified” (1 Cor. 9:27). The Living Bible says: “Like an athlete I punish my body, treating it rough­ly, training it to do what it should, and not what it wants to. Other­wise I fear that after enlisting others for the race, I myself might be declared unfit and ordered to stand aside.”

In short: Be watchful in all things, in your personal life and in the doc­trine that you preach, endure opposition and even persecution from those who have defected from the truth, do the work of an evangelist, even though the message might become unpopular to modern audiences, and fulfil the ministry that was entrusted to you by Him who has called you to His service and into His own kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:12).