Evangelistic Pause

More than once, Jesus told people not to do evangelism.  Is there perhaps a lesson in this needed today?  Do we ever duct tape the mouth in evangelism?

When He healed the two blind men, the Scriptures say that Jesus “sternly warned them: ‘See that no one knows about this!'” (Matthew 9:30).   Did they listen to the Lord?  Not according to the next verse.  “But they went out and spread the news about Him throughout all that land.”  We see Jesus seeking to quieten others as well, such as the many He healed in Matthew 12 (see verse 16), or the leper He touched (Luke 5:14), or even His own disciples after Peter’s confession (Mark 8:30).  Were these commands just one-time prohibitions, only given to keep Christ’s “cross appointment” from happening prematurely?  Do we just chalk this up to the Lord not wanting undue crowd fervor, meaning His silence commands were not all that serious?  Are we to admire the two blind men for their enthusiastic evangelism and just ignore the fact that they did not do what Christ said?   Alexander MacLaren states it well when he addresses what the two blind men did:

It was a natural impulse to tell the benefits these two had received; but truer gratitude and deeper faith would have made them obey His lightest word, and have shut their mouths. We honor Christ most, not by taking our way of honoring Him, but by absolute obedience.

So are there times when honoring Christ and obeying Him absolutely would lead us to pause in our own evangelistic efforts?

Now, before you start accusing me of cold-hearted Calvinism, please listen.  We are to preach the gospel to all creatures.  We are to disciple nations.  We are to consider no one off limits to gospel offers.  We are to sow bountifully the gospel.  The question here is not whether we do evangelism, but more about how we go about it in certain settings.

You see, this subject came up lately in a morning walk with my wife.  We were discussing a phenomenon we encounter quite often here in our community.  People whose lives are in absolute ruins or whose pride oozes out of their every pore will speak incessantly about Jesus.   You might deem it – and here I apologize for the unfortunate imagery – “vomit evangelism.”  They spew out the precious name of our Lord at machine gun rate. His name, the One before whom every knee is to bow, is bandied about with all the care of a carnival huckster selling pop bottle tosses.  In their presence, we have found ourselves pausing to speak and wishing they would be quiet.

So are there times when we should be more metered in speaking of Christ?  Do occasions arise when little response, or even silence, might be more appropriate and more powerful than words?  Here are a few of the occasions where I believe that is the case:

1) The people to whom you are speaking are mocking Christ’s name, work, and person.  Since they are trampling your testimony like pigs would pearls, you should no longer cast it before them (Matthew 7:6).

2) You realize you are using Christ’s name to draw attention to yourself rather than to Christ.  This should stop one’s mouth immediately (Psalm 39:1).  As John the Baptist said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

3) The person to whom you are speaking simply wants to argue, so you must either not answer (Proverbs 26:4) or do so with a few carefully chosen words (Proverbs 26:5; II Timothy 2:24-26).

4) You have not listened in a complete enough way to the person you are evangelizing.  Jesus often asked questions and listened before He spoke the gospel.  We are to be quick to hear but slow to speak (James 1:9).  

5) You recognize you are not trained adequately to teach in many situations, as you could mislead people, cast stumbling blocks, and/or speak falsely about Christ which you are not supposed to do (Luke 17:1; II Timothy 3:16-17; James 3:1).  Even a fool is considered wise when he is silent (Proverbs 17:28), so a believer should know when he should be.

6)  The sowing and watering needed to reap takes time (I Corinthians 3:6-8).  Often you need to give the person you have evangelized time to digest what you have said and consider on his own the gospel claims of Christ without further input from you.  Though today is always the day of salvation, that is ultimately God’s determination, not yours. 

7) You have faced utter rejection of gospel attempts with a person or group, and the time has come to “shake the dust off your feet” in order to invest elsewhere (Acts 13:46-51).

Though he did not state this about evangelism, Gregory Nazianzen’s words in his Orations are applicable here:

Not to everyone, my friends, does it belong to philosophize about God; not to everyone; the subject is not so cheap and low; and I will add; not before every audience, not at all times, nor on all points; but on certain occasions, and before certain persons, and within certain limits.

7 Comments

  1. Mark La Roi June 6, 2012 at 1:21 pm #

    Y’know, I’ve been looking closely at exactly this subject in recent weeks, thank you for bringing it up. I’m encouraged in that I came to the same conclusions you present, though not so well spelled-out. This helps!

    • Barry York June 6, 2012 at 8:15 pm #

      Mark,

      Glad it was helpful and we reached the same conclusions!

  2. alcoramdeo June 7, 2012 at 11:32 pm #

    Excellent, instructive and encouraging observations.
    Sincere thanks.

  3. digitalink June 15, 2012 at 3:16 pm #

    Thanks for these challenging and careful thoughts, Barry! I would be happy to hear further thoughts on this topic in relation to Christ’s comment about why He spoke in parables, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand.”

    • digitalink June 15, 2012 at 3:19 pm #

      Sorry, that was me, Shawn.

    • Barry York June 16, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

      Shawn,

      As you point out with your reference, the Lord used parables not only to reveal the kingdom to the elect but to veil it to the reprobate. When we look at instances where He was using the parables, often it was in presence of the Pharisees and others who were rejecting His clear teachings and displays of signs. Thus, the parables were a means of “pre-pause” – still speaking to and warning those displaying patterns of rejection before withdrawing from them completely.

      Of course, these means should not be employed until longer term efforts at reaching people have been used. One man, who had been a member of our church but was excommunicated for repeatedly returning to his sins, kept coming back to church afterwards and taking much of our time. He would act as is he was seeking the Lord, but then return to gross sins. Finally, one day when he walked into my office yet again, I said I was only going to say three words to him and then I wanted him to leave. “Remember Lot’s wife,” I told him. When he realized I would not say anymore, he left – but he left knowing what I meant.

      The Pharisees knew the parables were directed at them, yet they still would not believe. Using parables and pauses is not neglecting evangelism, but using a stronger version of it for the hard-hearted.

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