June 3, 2018
Ambassadors have an interesting career. Ambassadors represent their own country while living in another country. They seek to promote the best values and customs of their homeland in a foreign land.
In 2Cor.5:20, Paul writes, “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.” As we are thinking about the fine print of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, we want to continue to focus on the reality that we are witnesses of Jesus.
If we see ourselves first as ambassadors for Christ in this world it shapes our whole presentation to the world. We don’t just represent ourselves. We represent Jesus Christ. This morning I want to say that Christian witness flows out of grace-filled living in the world.
I. WISE ACCOMMODATION. 1Cor.9:19-22
In order for God to reveal himself to mankind in a way that we can understand, he has to accommodate himself to our human limitations. This is why God entered into the world in the person of Jesus Christ. God became man in order to reveal himself in a clear way. Jesus embodies the fullness of God’s goodness, love, humility, mercy, grace, power and justice for all to see.
Before ascending to the Father Jesus made it clear that his followers would be his witnesses in the world. On the day of Pentecost Jesus sent the indwelling Holy Spirit to guide us into Christ-like living and to empower our lives for witness. So here we are, empowered by the Holy Spirit so that we might be witnesses of Jesus.
Just as God accommodated himself to humanity, so there is a sense in which we as witnesses of Jesus accommodate ourselves to the world in order that we might win unbelievers to Christ. We accommodate ourselves so that we do not put up any needless barriers before the gospel. In 1Cor.9:19-22 Paul writes, “For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”
In these verses Paul makes it clear that he accommodated himself to various people groups in order to present the gospel of Jesus Christ. In writing this, Paul is not saying, “Hey, ‘when in Rome, do as the Romans do.” No, he makes it very clear in v.20-21 that while as a follower of Christ he was no longer under the Jewish law, he did understand that he was under the commands and teachings of Jesus. So in whatever ways Paul accommodated himself to people of various ethnicities and cultures, he did not compromise his obedience and loyalty to Christ.
So what is Paul talking about here? Well, I believe that as Paul interacted with various ethnicities and cultures, he went to great lengths to not cause offense. As long as a custom or practice did not compromise his obedience to Jesus and the gospel, he didn’t worry about it.
As you may remember Paul was sent to preach the gospel to the Gentiles. But as a Jew, Paul was a devout Pharisee. Circumcision, Sabbath observance, and eating kosher foods were very important to Pharisees. These are the primary markers that separate Jews from Gentiles. But when Paul became a believer in Jesus he recognized that these boundary markers were of little consequence for knowing Jesus. Those boundary markers may have even continued to hold some personal value for Paul, but he understood that a person does not have to become Jewish in order to know Christ. And so, Paul felt free to associate with the Gentiles and eat whatever was put before him. In Gal.3:28, Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
In his commentary on 1Corinthians, Craig Blomberg writes, “The world’s religions and cultures include many such practices that at times may be intertwined with anti-Christian spirituality but that in many settings are not. These include ceremonial foods, days, festivals, dress and grooming, forms of recreation, social functions, and so on. Where participating in any one of these would inherently compromise the gospel, Christians must refrain. Where abstaining would inappropriately distance believers from their non-Christian friends and neighbors, they should participate.”
As we think about what it means to be a witness for Jesus, I see here that an important part of being a witness is being in relationships, friendships with unbelievers. We don’t just hand out tracts and drop gospel bombs on people. We seek to engage and live life together with our friends and neighbors. Witnessing is part of who we are, not some activity that is a requirement of our religion. We are not like Jehovah Witnesses in this. We are Christ’s witnesses. We are seeking to show in our lifestyle what following Christ looks like.
Now this is not always so easy to discern. We have to think about what is and isn’t truly part of being a follower of Jesus. We need to ask the Lord to give us wisdom in these matters. As witnesses of Jesus we are not trying to get people to follow rules, rather we are seeking to live out and talk out the life of Christ that is in us.
II. ATTRACTIVE CONVERSATION. Col.4:5-6; 1Pt.3:15
In Col.4:5-6, Paul writes, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
Before we say anything about our conversation, let me point out that being a follower of Christ is always front and center in our thinking and living. When I lived in Cameroon, West Africa, I was always very much aware that I am from the United States. I was always aware of this because the way people live in West Africa is quite different from how people live in the United States. After living in Cameroon for a while, I did become more comfortable, after all there were also many similarities because we are all humans, but I was never as comfortable as I am living at home in the United States.
We were all born into this world and we were comfortable living in the world. But at some point we turned to Jesus Christ. Our sins were forgiven. We received the resurrection life of Jesus and our citizenship was transferred into the Kingdom of God. So we are no longer citizens of this world. While we may still feel relatively comfortable living in this world, this world is not our home. We are aliens and strangers here. That is why I say that we are always mindful that we are followers of Christ. We are on display as citizens and ambassadors of God’s kingdom. We represent Christ and his kingdom reign
So this means that everything we do and say reflects upon Jesus. In Col.4:6 Paul focuses on our conversation. Our speech is to always be gracious. In other words our speech is to be attractive, pleasant, and winsome. Not only that, but our speech is to be as if seasoned with salt. It could convey the idea of purity in our speaking or zestfulness. We are fully engaged in the conversation.
Paul says we should speak in these ways so that we know how to answer each person. I take this to mean that even though we may not have an answer to whatever question is asked, we do know how to respond in the sense that whatever our response it will be gracious, seasoned with salt. In days past I used to find myself getting upset when the Jehovah Witnesses came by because to me they are spreading heresy and also because I would get impatient with them. They just keep going from scripture to scripture following the scripts they have been taught. Years ago I had to ask myself, “Wait! Why am I getting upset?” So if I do talk with the Jehovah Witnesses, I remind myself that it is not for me to try to convince them that they are wrong. Because I want to respond with grace, I always know how to respond. Whatever I say I want to say it graciously.
In other words, the goal of our witness is not to win an argument. It isn’t to prove that we are right. Nor is it to get a person to pray a prayer. The goal of our witness is to present Jesus Christ as Savior, Lord and King. The goal of our witness is to show that Jesus is transforming our lives, including our speech.
And I also see that Paul talks about knowing how we ought to answer. This seems to imply that we have been asked a question. I don’t want to make more of this than is warranted, but there is the implication that it is not our duty to go around trying to engineer conversations about the gospel. We certainly are not to force other people to listen to our gospel presentation. As I am in conversations with people I try to listen for cues that might suggest they have an interest in spiritual things. If I sense an openness I might ask a question and based on their answer either move forward towards the gospel or not. The Lord is in charge of this, not me.
In 1Pt.3:15-16, Peter writes, “but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.”
Our gracious speech is not to be filled with ignorance. Peter tells us that we ought to be prepared to give a defense to anyone who asks us about why our hope is in Christ. Notice again the emphasis on being asked about this. What was it that brought you to Christ? What was it that convinced you that Jesus is Savior, Lord and King? What has changed in your life as a result of knowing Christ? One doesn’t have to have a PhD in philosophy or religion or science to be able to give a reason for their Christian hope. We should be able to talk about the gospel in a clear way and according to v.16 our conversation is to be accompanied by Christian behavior.
III. KIND CONSIDERATION. Mt.5:16; 1Pt.2:12
In Mt.5:16 in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Add to this, 1Pt.2:12, which says, “Keep your conduct among the Gentiles honorable, so that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day of visitation.”
We don’t often associate witnessing with doing good works. In the 19th century, German Baptist Pastor, Walter Rauschenbusch, became the father of the social gospel movement. Unfortunately in the social gospel movement, the gospel message often got set aside in the desire to address huge social problems. Ever since then, conservative Christians in the United States have been a bit leery of viewing good works as a part of our witness. However in Acts 10:37-38 Peter is speaking to Cornelius and he says, “you yourselves know what happened throughout all Judea, beginning from Galilee after the baptism that John proclaimed: how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him.”
Jesus did many good works in the name of God. He did these good works because “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” Followers of Jesus seek to reveal the goodness of the kingdom of God in the way they engage other people. We simply seek to do good to others in the name of Jesus. And we seek to do good because God, who is good, dwells in us through the Holy Spirit. Doing good works is what believers do. Our good works help to prepare the soil for the gospel.
Do you seek to do good to your neighbors? Do you seek to do good to your co-workers? Do you seek to do good to those who hurt you and say unkind things about you? Doing good, showing kind consideration to others is part of our Christian witness.
Now it is possible to have an accommodating way about you. It is possible to speak in attractive ways and to show kind consideration to others apart from having any gospel witness. There are many nice people in the world. We are not just talking about being nice. We are talking about letting the gospel of Jesus Christ shine forth in our lives. We are people who are being transformed by the gospel. That transformation impacts our lives. Because we have received the life of Jesus we desire to share Jesus with all we can. Amen.