For the Son of Man has come to seek and save that which was lost.
Of my 23 years attending church almost every week, I would wager a guess that the single topic I've heard preached on the highest number of times is evangelism. And to some degree, this gives the topic its due: Jesus called His disciples "fishers of men," and more than once in the last days of his time on earth, he commanded them to spread the Gospel to all the nations of the earth.
However, it's not that difficult to swing many of the Bible's passages toward evangelism if you really try. And from my seat in the sanctuaries of many a call to evangelize, it sometimes seems we forget that the Bible isn't a handbook on spreading the Gospel - it IS the Gospel. And as such - as the living message of who God is and what He has done - it seems to me that we should be so impacted by it that we don't even need sermons on how or why to evangelize.
To seek and save
Last night I couldn't get in touch with my sister, whom I typically hear from by text or Facebook message multiple times a day. Despite the fact that she lives across the mountains from me, two and a half hours away, I usually have a pretty good handle on her routine and general whereabouts, and I knew that it wasn't normal not to hear from her after an hour . . . or two . . . or three.
Then I called her phone, and it went directly to voicemail.
Then I called my brother who lives near her and had him go check her apartment, and she wasn't there.
Then I let myself panic.
I was hours away, I had no way to contact her and I had no idea where she could possibly be.
It all turned out to be a miscommunication - I called my mom and she knew exactly where Hannah was and why she wasn't answering her phone. The information had just somehow missed Stephen and myself. I've never been so relieved in my life.
And it reminded me of the parables in Luke 15 - the stories of the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the prodigal son.
What man among you, if he has a hundred sheep and has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open pasture and go after the one which is lost until he finds it?
The shepherd values and cares for his sheep as his life's work. The woman knows the worth of her ten silver coins, and would never be so wasteful as to let one go missing without searching it out. The father deeply loves his son, prodigal or not, and yearns to celebrate his return.
And I love my sister - so I would never have been able to rest without first making sure she was safe.
This is the Gospel of the Bible: that humanity, and every individual person therein, is so loved by our awesome God that He would spare no expense to seek and save the ones who are lost.
And having once been there, lost in the pitch-black night without a hope of finding our way, the light that God has flooded into our souls should leave us with no other response but to desperately seek those who are still out there in the dark.
But "shoulds" are a waste of breath. Yes, we should be evangelizing - as has been pounded into me (and probably you) hundreds of times. But if we speak only in shoulds, if we drive people to peddle the Gospel out of a sense of guilt or obligation, we've missed the point entirely.
If you have love
I wasn't inspired by guilt, obligation, or "should" to look for my sister. I love her.
And I can't be inspired by guilt, obligation, or "should" to share the Gospel - I must love the people that God loves.
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.
This is the harder message to preach. It's the harder motivation to nurture because it's so very unnatural to us - it demands the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, and it can't be accomplished by our own grit. It forces us into a state of dependency and vulnerability. It leaves us humbled at God's feet, desperate to be filled with the kind of love that can't be found within ourselves.
I can't speak for you, but in evaluating myself, I see that most of the time I purposely keep other people at arm's length. I purposely don't lay down my life in that risky vulnerable position. I purposely use a lot of self-powered busy-work ministry to make it look like I'm doing my part for the Great Commission, when really I'm running hard in the other direction.
I would much prefer evangelism to be all about the "should." I can do "should." I can accomplish a lot when I'm running on guilt, pride, and duty.
But what part did guilt, pride, or duty play in Christ's loving walk to the cross? None at all.
And that's the kicker. "Love one another, even as I have loved you."
By THIS all people will know that we are the disciples of Jesus.
Don't evangelize because you should. Instead, love - because you have been loved.