The commission

great-commission-collageThe other day, a phrase was used that was new to me and it got me to thinking again. The phrase was “passive evangelism.” The basic idea being that so long as we are living a life that is in line with Christ then that alone provides the opportunity for others to come to faith by observing that life. That is one type of evangelism, the other being active which ranges from telling people about Jesus to the bullhorn on the street corner. I had never actually given a great deal of thought to passive evangelism, probably because, as a matter of personality, there is little about me that is passive. So, as a normal part of my reflections, I turned toward that great commission in scripture found in Matthew 28:18-20.

When I had first heard the phrase passive evangelism, I had thought it a great thing. I mean living holy is at the core of Christianity, so it is something that we are already expected to. We all seem to have a good, if different, handle on what living a holy life is, so it is no great mystery. It seems so easy to do that we all can do it without to much extra effort. Sort of like holy multitasking. There was just something that kept nagging at me about it though, and I think I have figured out what it is…

The more that I read the commission, the less I find that is passive. To break it down to the simplest components, we have “go”. This is not a passive action, this is a decision. We decide to go to the store, or the gas station, or even to church. We decide to go to the lost. Not passive, but definitely active. We have “teach”. This again should not be passive. Do we want a passive teacher, or do we want a teacher who has actively made the decision to teach? We have “baptize” which should never be passive. How can a sacrament of the church be a passive event? It is an active interaction, not a passive practice.

This is really just a short blurb that is half me thinking out loud and half me wondering what others have thought about this. My thoughts are drifting toward thinking that when we try to say that the life we live is the only evangelism we need to do, we are not only being lazy, we are failing to fulfill a command of Christ. Holy living is important. Evangelism is important. We just need to realize, I think, that they are two separate and distinct things and not try to lead a holy life and say that alone is evangelism, or to evangelize, and try to count that as leading a holy life, but to realize they are both separate and ongoing activities that we are to do. So, what is evangelism then? Is it active or is it passive?

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21 Replies to “The commission”

  1. The verses before the great commission were
    “16But the eleven disciples went into Galilee, unto the mountain where Jesus had appointed them. 17And when they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.”

    So the Great Commission was directed at only the 11 disciples (those willing to give up everything, including family, friends, and possessions) to take it on.

    Guys like Lazarus, and others healed by Jesus, were not told anything directly by Jesus. Matter of fact, one of the guys healed, was told specifically not to mention anything about Jesus. And women were not told anything by Jesus about evangelism.

    So my answer:
    Passive – for the average Joe.
    Active – for those that want to devote their entire life to the task (clearly, this would be those that fit into the “clergy-class”).

    Or semi-active, for those that do it as a hobby.

    1. Gary,

      I was thinking that discipleship (“those willing to give up everything, including family, friends, and possessions”) was directed toward all who would follow Jesus, not just the “clergy”–per Luke 14:25-34. This invitation extended by our Lord was to “the crowds,” not just the 12.

      Contextually my earlier reference to Acts 8:4 is preceded by 8:3 which identifies “those who had been scattered who taught God’s Word” as “men and women” who lived in houses…like the average Joe does.

      What do you make of the healed (formerly) demon-possessed man who was told by his Healer to “Go to his family and tell them all that the Lord had done for him” — which apparently he did, as well as share that story to a bunch of folks in the Decapolis (Mk 5:18-20; see Mk 7:31f and especially 8:1f–he must have shared with a lot of folks!). Was this man ‘clergy?’

      The “don’t tell anyone about Me” phrase–contextually–is primarily Mark’s view (probably informed by his mentor Peter) that most Jews at that time had a very misconstrued understanding of the promised Messiah–and Jesus was not comfortable with his 12 labeling him with that politically charged term at that juncture in his early ministry. It was only after Jesus began to clarify the role and posture of the Messiah that he allowed that designation to be applied to him (Mk. 8:27-33; 9:30-32; 10:32-34).

      I tend to agree with you that there are those who either are gifted in outreach, or who have been called by God to this type of ministry, who are quite passionate about evangelism and effective in that ministry. But us “average Joes” who have received God’s mercy and grace have our own story to share–and we may not be a Peter who is out front speaking, but we all can be an Andrew who brings our family and friends into the presence of God in a variety of ways (Jn 1:40-42).

      And…I haven’t a clue where ‘hobby’ fits into this discussion…it is indeed a very challenging “commission”–not a “if you like this kind of stuff and have some extra time, let’s share the story of Jesus…” I sense it’s a bit more urgent than that, don’t you? (Prov 24:11-12; Acts 5:20)

      1. But Jesus said along with that, “28For which of you, desiring to build a tower, doth not first sit down and count the cost, whether he have wherewith to complete it?”

        He was most likely trying to discourage the average person from following him as a “disciple”.

        His definition of “disciple”, I think, is different than yours. The so called “Counsel of Perfection” seems to apply to people that “follow” him in a “disciple” job description.
        Per Matt 19: “21 Jesus said unto him, If thou wouldest be perfect, go, sell that which thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, follow me. 22But when the young man heard the saying, he went away sorrowful; for he was one that had great possessions.”

        So, to follow as a “disciple”, why be selective, and only evangelize? Why not hate father, mother, family, sell everything to follow him, and be a Jesus “disciple”?

        I tend to be more Catholic on this issue. A priest or nun has no family (directly), and devote their entire life to follow Jesus (ok, I will ignore the obvious mis-steps of the Catholic clergy). At least in principle, they are “disciples”.

        On the other side, Evangelics view “disciple” differently. Everyone qualifies. However, I see them preach; but not selling everything, deserting their current family, and going out to preach. A Jesus disciple is a very different animal than an evangelical disciple.

        I tend to ignore Paul in this, since clearly he was trying to make a mega-church. He was the Joel Osteen of the 1st century. But Paul also didn’t expect the average Joe to dump his family and travel all over spreading the gospel. He just didn’t want them to have a family to begin with, expecting the second coming SOON.

        1. I would suggest that Jesus wasn’t trying to discourage the average person from following him, only the non-committed person. All are invited to the kingdom of God (i.e., the reign of God in one’s life), but often the invitees offer excuses for not entering that type of life (Lk 14:17f–which [here’s that word again] contextually sets up the discipleship discussion in 14:25f.

          When I read Acts, I find the term ‘disciple/s’ just about on every page–and it obviously is describing all followers of Jesus, not just the apostles or “clergy.” This distinction is a post-biblical understanding, but it doesn’t appear to be Luke’s understanding.

          Would you consider Barnabas an average Joe or an over the top committed guy? He went on at least one of Paul’s missionary journeys…so…I’m guessing a ‘disciple.’ But…here he is selling a field he owned for the furtherance of the gospel (Acts 4:36). This story is followed by a pretty severe reminder that lying to the Holy Spirit is not recommended (Acts 5)–but the point is that Peter didn’t expect Ananias or his wife to sell everything they had, but just tell the truth about what they decided to sell to use toward helping the church. A disciple can be quite well off, as apparently Barnabas was–but he doesn’t claim personal ownership anymore after conversion to Christ. If Jesus needs it, it’s his — Mk 11:1-6. Until then, it’s in the possession of the ‘owner/steward.’

          I see Lk 14’s call to discipleship as a total surrender to the purposes of God–my will, my priorities, my possessions. I am a steward of all of these things–and they are at his disposal. That doesn’t mean I sell everything–but it might—IF stuff is my idol, as apparently it was for the rich young ruler. But it does mean that when I say ‘Jesus is Lord,’ I mean that–and He and his purposes come to take preeminence in my life (Col 1:18). If someone were to come between my wife and my exclusive relationship, then I would hate that breach of covenant. Anything and anyone who usurps the place of the King of kings and Lord of lords is idolatry. This isn’t just for the “super saints,” this is for all disciples of Jesus.

          And then there’s Paul–apparently not one of your favorites. (Joel Osteen isn’t my favorite either…). Yes, Paul wanted to build up the kingdom wherever he went–no doubt about that, but apparently making a lot of money, developing a reputation, or all the trappings of the mega-pastor were not on his radar screen–Acts 20:33-35; 1 Thess 2:3-12, and his resume was simply a mess–2 Cor 11:23-32. I do think his eschatology was certainly anticipatory–but apparently modified or clarified as time went on, even chiding those who seem to have quit their jobs waiting on the imminent second coming–which (obviously0 wasn’t so imminent — 2 Thess 3:6-13.

          Thanks for the clarification on ‘hobby.’ May I suggest a different approach to evangelization that is not Billy Graham-ish in nature. I find that outreach is often very compartmentalized (I go to work, I eat, I go to church, I fish, I evangelize…) when in my understanding it should be more a way of life, a disposition toward people that permeates our daily activities–whether fishing, working, or whatever. It could be a super-organized activity, having trained personnel invade a community on some type of mission–or it could simply be asking God how He would like to use me today in ways that honor Him and bring His peace/presence into one’s life. This is my daily prayer–not as an evangelist that gets compensated for preaching (I am not; I am an administrator for an investment and insurance company), but as one who feebly (at times) and firmly desires to make a difference in the eternity of those around me. I think this was the heart of Paul — Rom 9:1-3; 10:1; Col 4:2-6, not that of a mega-church superstar we see on TV.

          And apparently Peter took Mrs. Peter along with him on some of his journeys — 1 Cor 9:1-3, so I see that more as a partnership–perhaps even as Priscilla and her husband — Acts 18:1-4, 18-26. Excluding one’s family would violate Paul’s own teaching (Eph 5:21-6:4), but I’m sure sacrifices were made in families for a greater and larger purpose, indeed, an eternal purpose — Eph 3:10-11.

          1. I see you make a good evangelist. But not one to give up your family to do it, which is what Jesus required. Interesting that you include a story:
            “This story is followed by a pretty severe reminder that lying to the Holy Spirit is not recommended (Acts 5)–but the point is that Peter didn’t expect Ananias or his wife to sell everything they had, but just tell the truth about what they decided to sell to use toward helping the church.”…

            A difficult story to accept if it is God (Jesus), that plays the role of executioner. Considering that Acts was written well after Jesus, and certainly by the author of Luke, but not Luke himself, I would take the story as a good (or bad, depending upon your inclination), story. But just a story. How to shake down funding with fear and trembling. I do not accept it as fact. But you do, so more power to you.

          2. By the way, concerning “Peter didn’t expect Ananias or his wife to sell everything they had, but just tell the truth about what they decided to sell”…
            Mighty huge intervention by God. Too bad he hasn’t seen fit to do the same with mass murderers, crazy AK-47 toting killers, and global starvation. But maybe he’s on a coffee break. But no need to give an explanation. You have your God, I have mine. But I don’t think our theologies match up too well.

          3. Yes, I’ve sensed that we come from two very different places in our observations–but I’ve appreciated your perspectives and our exchanges today–thanks Gary.

            Final thoughts:

            If Jesus required that one give up his family to be an evangelist, then I’m guessing Philip — called the evangelist — was in direct violation of that requirement as he apparently settled into about a 20-year ministry in Caesarea with his family (Acts 8:40; 21:7-9).

            Per authorship issues, I do understand there are a number of issues related to who wrote what when–and I guess for Luke-Acts we’d have to go to outside sources to see what early believers thought about that, besides internal evidence. But the ending of 2 Thess is quite interesting in that there certainly were false apostles and counterfeit letters floating around during Paul’s day–so perhaps the emphatic statement made by (in my current study) Paul in 3:17 to address exactly any concerns that he was not the author is pertinent here.

            Finally, I too wish God would go ahead and make our broken world unbroken right now, but then that would be paradise wouldn’t it…and that is on the way…in His good and wise timing, but not yet. Apparently Jesus decided not to overthrow the ruthless dictators of his time also (even though he certainly had many who wanted that type of Messiah (Jn 6:14-15)–as he had other purposes in mind. So for now, I guess I’ll just look more closely at the cross to understand that my God entered into suffering willingly and understands the unfairness, violence, and injustice we see daily in our hurting global community when I speak to him. And…as long as there is an open tomb somewhere close to Jerusalem, I am assured there will be ‘payday someday’ and complete reconciliation of all things when He returns. That’s my God…and until I see clear evidence otherwise, I think I’ll stay with that theology.

            Have a good weekend, my friend.

          4. Steve…enjoyed it too. We are birds of a different species, but still birds 🙂

            Philip the Evangelist, I could view, as almost a clergy member. Nice family, hanging around the house when not converting eunuchs. Or when he’s not disappearing on demand. Supposedly he became a Bishop. Although, I guess having a wife and four daughters might put a crimp into his duties if we used the Catholic mode. But if true, definitely clergy. Philip the Apostle, I would view as more a Jesus type “disciple”, giving all, including being crucified upside down, maybe.

            But disciple has been loosely defined, and different in each gospel. And evangelicals use their own definition. Jesus implies, I think, an exclusive group ready to sacrifice all. I don’t think I’ll be preaching upside down on a cross anytime soon.

      2. Btw, hobby is a part time activity, because you want to, but you do not get paid, are not an expert, and you do it because you want to. But you also have a regular job, and support a family, and pet dog and/or cat. I doubt very much that any evangelicals have devoted their entire life, and excluded their families, as Peter did, to preach. Remember, Peter had a mother-in-law, so he must have also had a wife and little Peter’s and Peterette’s floating around.

    2. The number of disciples (followers) of Christ multiplied extensively once the Holy Spirit returned as is described in the book of Acts. Thousands became energized Christ followers and were bold witnesses to the saving power of God. So, I would say that active evangelism is for anyone who is emboldened and energized and compelled by the power of God through the Holy Spirit to be witnesses and is not just reserved to a select “clergy class.”

    3. Gary, Jesus never said anything to anyone alive today to the best of our knowledge. Just because Jesus did not say it directly to you or I does not in any way mean that we are released from the commands. If Jesus saying it to us directly is a prerequisite, we have no need to love God and can hate our neighbor. Remember Jesus, in the commission, said to teach everything that He had taught them…including to go and do the same. Also, who is an average Joe? Maybe some fishermen? Or a tax collector? or a zealot? Save for Luke, pretty much all the disciples were average Joe’s.
      Bill And Donna Foster, I think the question begs to be asked perhaps, how can a Christian not be bold to witness in the power of the Holy Spirit? Shouldn’t we all be? That is a distinctive mark of the early church after all.

      1. Scott, “released from the commands”. What commands? The great commission was addressed directly to the apostles, not the average Joe. The average Joe (as in the rich man) was told to obey the commandments, as in Jewish commandments. The Jewish commandments didn’t include evangelism. Maybe I’m missing something? Every disciple was an average Joe. But not every average Joe is an Apostle (or disciple). All depends on how you want to define “disciple”. Matthew 28:16-17.

        1. Again, even if addressed initially to just the 11, part of the command was to instruct everyone in the way that they were taught. That means the commission as well. As for disciple, how about we use Easton’s Bible dictionary as that is the one I have most handy “A disciple of Christ is one who (1) believes his doctrine, (2) rests on his sacrifice, (3) imbibes his spirit, and (4) imitates his example” So, what Christians are excluded from being disciples? Now yes, to some is given the gift of evangelism, which I take to mean the ability to be exceptional at/make a carer of, etc. but that does not negate the responsibility of all of us to tell the story.
          The rich man was told to sell what he owned and give it to the poor and follow Jesus. You know, be a disciple. He decided that his love for his wealth was to great, so he chose not to. What does that have anything to do with, well, anything?

          1. The simplest definition of disciple is student. The most complex/toughest definition is what Jesus states,
            “26If any man cometh unto me, and hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. 27Whosoever doth not bear his own cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.”

            And everything in between. If you chose Jesus’s definition, you have to assume all conditions apply, including “hateth not his own father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also”. End of story.

  2. Holy living — 1 Peter 1:14-15 (as opposed to ‘holier than thou’ offensive behavior) should be the distinctive element of our lives in our unbelieving world that provides opportunity to introduce people to our Lord. That undergirds our integrity–living as salt and light that effects our communities. And that type of lifestyle is necessary as the initial cogent argument for living a life of compassion, hope, joy, and justice that generally is pretty different than many of our neighbors.

    But Paul did not pray for Philemon to be passive in touching lives for Jesus: “I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith…” (v6, NIV 1984). Even general revelation ‘declares’ that there is Someone greater than us (Ps 19:1) and our innate spiritual sensibilities sense that we are in some way accountable to this Someone (Rom 1:20). But the specific story of salvation must be spoken/taught/preached/declared (Rom 10:14-15; Acts 8:4) for us to know/understand the message of the cross–we don’t figure that out by ourselves (1 Cor 1:18-2:10).

    Thanks Scott for reminding those of us who trying to follow Jesus that if we stay close and imitate that Fisherman, we too will become active fishers of men/women–an incredible opportunity… and responsibility (Acts 20:26-27).

  3. Gary, if you really believe that Jesus says that you have to literally hate your family to be His disciple, then you really need to examine that verse a lot more. Find a commentary or three and check it out. But, I see your point. I will actually use a scholarly definition and you will completely ignore it and throw around multiple subjective definitions to prove whatever point it is that you are trying to make. Cheers.

    1. Cheers as well.
      PS – I’ve read plenty of commentaries. As I already said (or implied), I don’t take the bible literally. I don’t actually view Luke as a sacrosanct Gospel, since it is written many years after Jesus, and the author probably wasn’t really Luke (a scribe for Peter, or a companion of Paul). I take everything with a grain of salt. The author of Luke, just like the authors of the other Gospels, had their particular axes to grind. I don’t direct my life based upon 2000 year old texts. I think you know that about me, so I would think you would not be surprised by that. The bible might provide the outline, but is pretty darn fuzzy on the details.
      (I use it for the sake of argument, but do not necessarily consider it gospel – forgive the pun).

      1. To go old, might as well go really old, to the Greek…

        3101 mathetes math-ay-tes’

        from 3129; a learner, i.e. pupil:–disciple. see SG3129

        Strong’s Greek Dictionary

        So, I don’t think the issue is the definition, as much as the group selected at the time to be a disciple, and who was doing the selecting (Moses, John the Baptist -yes, they had disciples, Jesus, Paul, Pope, Joel Osteen). The select’ers are the ones that place the actions necessary on the select’ee to be a disciple. Mormons want a 19 year old to team up in pairs, and serve two years as a missionary. Jehovah’s Witnesses want you to knock on everyone’s door, and give them a Watchtower. Evangelicals (radicals) want you to be rather obnoxious about it. Most Methodists seem to “May God be with you”, “And with you”, in a rather low key way, which I happen to like, and don’t pound you over the head with their learned prejudice against certain people that don’t seem to be living up to their standards of doctrine or behavior. They are all trying to be disciples. I prefer the low-key approach. I’ll leave the evangelism to Catholic priests and nuns. At least I respect them for devoting their entire life to the process, and generally, not being too obnoxious about it. Same for Methodist clergy (at least the ones I’ve seen so far). Not so much on the fire and brimstone.

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