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Outreach: Growing the Body of Christ

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This is a modified transcription from the audio.

I. Introduction

Last week we looked at spiritual giftedness employed in the church in serving one another. God gave to the church people who are specifically gifted for works of service -- to equip all the saints of the church to do the work of ministry. That is the way a healthy body works. Today we are talking about outreach, or growing the body of Christ. In recent years, some people have begun to frown upon church growth. That may be because some churches have compromised the message and the methods as they seek to increase numbers. I agree that it is proper to frown upon such compromise. We can never compromise the methods or the message of the gospel for the sheer goal of increasing numbers.

Looking at Scripture, we see something positive about growing the body of Christ in a healthy way. If the growth is accomplished by adding those who are coming to faith in Jesus Christ, with no compromise of the methods or the message, then that is a positive thing. The book of Acts presents it as positive. The church begins in Acts 2, and within just a few days we see a couple of numbers reported in the book of Acts regarding the earliest church. We see in one report that about three thousand souls were added to their number, and that is celebrated as a work of the Holy Spirit among the people of Jerusalem. It is a good thing. A couple of days later, it is reported that their number grew to about five thousand. These reports show that numbers are a positive thing when they are produced by nonbelievers who are coming to faith in Jesus Christ, without the church’s having compromised the methods or the message. It is a good thing.

It is a fact that the population of the world is exploding. If we can increase the population in the body of Christ by winning souls, then growing the body of Christ is a very good thing. Jesus commissioned us: “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age” (Matt 28:19-20). It is a commission to grow the body of Christ in a healthy way, rather than merely for the sake of a number. A number is not our goal. The goal is to bring more souls into the Kingdom, in a healthy body. The body of Christ is a growing body.

Jesus repeats this idea in Acts 1:8: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses ….” He is commissioning the saints to multiply (to grow the body of Christ) and it is a good thing. William Temple said, “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its nonmembers.” Isn't that a great truth? As a local body of Christ (a church, a people of God), one of our highest callings is to exist for the benefit of our nonmembers. We must communicate the message of salvation and be witnesses among them -- salt and light (Matt 5:13-15) in a dark and decaying world -- so that people will populate the Kingdom of Heaven ultimately, and will populate the body of Christ today.

II. Church Growth in 2 Corinthians 5

Today we are talking about growing the body of Christ in a positive way. Second Corinthians 5 is a chapter chock full of powerful biblical principles and images. As you read through chapter five, you will encounter several verses that you have memorized or have heard before. People often think about the powerful biblical images of 2 Cor 5. We are going to look at three components of outreach. My goal today is that our passion for Jesus Christ and for the message of the gospel would be reignited. My desire is that we would leave here reignited as ambassadors for Christ, equipped with the message of reconciliation. I want us to go forth prepared, having our feet shod with the gospel (Eph 6:15), to tell people about Jesus Christ.

A. The Motivation for Outreach

First of all, what is our motivation for outreach? Why do we tell people about Christ? Why do we proclaim His name in a lost and dying world? Paul writes to the church at Corinth in 2 Cor 5:11-12: “Therefore, because we know the fear of the Lord, we try to persuade people [not a very politically correct thing to do today], but we are well known to God, and I hope we are well known to your consciences too. We are not trying to commend ourselves to you again, but we are giving you an opportunity to be proud of us so that you may be able to answer those who take pride in outward appearance and not in what is in the heart.” Here Paul probably is addressing a personal issue with the church at Corinth that he experienced while he visited the Corinthians. We are not privy to all of their conversations, or all of Paul’s teachings, or all of the conflict in the relationships between Paul and the Corinthians. Evidently, there was a conflict between Paul and the Corinthians in which some accused him of commending himself too much. Perhaps some thought he boasted about himself too much. There is conflict here, and Paul addresses it with these words (v. 13): “For if we are out of our minds, it is for God; if we are of sound mind, it is for you.” Verse 14 is a powerful verse, and you would do well to commit it to memory: “For the love of Christ controls us….”

The love of Christ controls us. Some of your translations say “constrains us,” and some of your translations say “compels us.” I like “controls us.” The love of Christ is like the fire in your engine, making you go. It is the controlling factor behind everything you do. This phrase does not refer to your love for Christ. This phrase could be understood in a couple of different ways. On one hand, the genitive “of Christ” could be understood objectively, indicating that the object of our love is Christ. Considering this phrase to be an objective genitive, Christ is the object of our love. On the other hand, this phrase could be understood subjectively. In that case, as a genitive of subject, or subjective genitive, the love is Christ’s. Christ is the subject of the verbal noun “love” here. Probably that is the best translation. It is not our love for Christ that compels us; it is Christ’s love for us that controls us.

Paul continues (2 Cor 5:14b-16): “… since we have concluded this, that Christ died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised. [That is a powerful verse.] So then from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view. Even though we have known Christ from such a human point of view, now we do not know him in that way any longer.” Paul says that our purpose is to persuade people. We are to persuade people about the gospel of Jesus Christ. We want to convince people of the truth of the gospel, and here Paul lists a few reasons why we are motivated to do so.

1. Motivated by Fear of the Lord

First of all, we know “the fear of the Lord” (v. 11). In this case, our fear of the Lord is not based on terror, as though we are frightened and trembling before him. Sometimes Scripture does refer to that type of fear of the Lord. In 2 Cor 5:11, Paul is probably saying that because we know our God is awesome, we want to persuade people into a relationship with that God.

2. Motivated by the Love of Christ

The second motivation Paul gives us is “the love of Christ” (v. 14). Christ’s love for us compels us to persuade people of the truth of the gospel. We know that one died for all and all died. “He died for all, so that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died” and rose again on their behalf (v. 15). The whole package (Christ’s love for me and what he did for me) compels me. It motivates me to persuade and convince other people of the truth of the gospel.

3. Motivated by Divine Perspective

The third motivation to persuade people of the truth of the gospel is found in verse 16. There are unsaved people out there, and we no longer see people according to a “human point of view.” In our new view of others, we no longer merely see a shell of a human being that is going to die one day. Perhaps today a person may be in my way. That person may seem to be no more than an inconvenience to me -- just a human being. However, we no longer see people from a human point of view. Now we have God’s perspective. As his chosen people who “no longer live for themselves but for him” (v. 15), we see souls when we look into people's eyes. We see hurting people. We see people who are lost and dying without the Savior. We see people without “hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). We no longer see people from a human point of view. We see people from a divine perspective: we see souls that are lost for eternity, realizing that every soul will live forever. The question is, “Where will that soul spend eternity?” Will he or she remain in conscious torment separated from God in hell, or in conscious bliss and joy in the presence of our Lord, worshipping Him forever? Because of this, we persuade and convince people.

In your parents’ day, it was not politically correct to talk about religion. In the decades of the Thirties, Forties, Fifties, and even into the Sixties, it was not politically correct for a person to talk about faith or religion. They would no more have entered into a dialogue about religion than they would have discussed their sex lives publicly. The topic of religion was taboo. They did not talk about money, sex, politics, or religion. Those areas of a person’s life were considered to be private.

Today we are blessed with a culture that is open and willing to talk about religion. You will hear people openly and unashamedly talking about their faith on an airplane. You may carry on a dialogue in a restaurant about religion or faith. However, the one thing you cannot do today is to try to convince people to change their religion. That is still not politically correct. It is considered politically correct to have a conversation with someone in which you hear about another’s faith, religion, and experience. You may share your faith, religion, spiritual experience and pilgrimage; but the moment you begin to try to convince a person that your faith is the “right” one, you have crossed an invisible line. You have potentially offended that person.

Tolerance rules the day. In political eyes, all religions are equally right and valid, even though there may be violent conflict and contradiction among them. Today all religions are considered to be valid and correct. That is not what Paul’s view. He persuaded people. He convinced them of the truth of the gospel. He argued his case. He had a defense, an apologia, for the hope that was in him. He offered that defense to anyone who asked him, and he defended his hope with gentleness and reverence (1 Pet 3:16).

We are ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor 5:20). As new creatures (v.17), as people who have received the benefits of Christ’s death and resurrection on our behalf, we persuade people. We tell people about Jesus Christ and try to convince them to change their religion for three reasons: because we have an eternal perspective, because of Christ’s love for us, and because we know the fear of the Lord. That is why we members of Trinity Bible Church participate in door-to-door evangelism. Several months ago we implemented a strategy of going into the neighborhood to our neighbors’ homes to look for opportunities to tell them about Jesus Christ. Distributing literature about the church can perhaps get them to the door so they can hear more about the gospel. We must always watch for opportunities to tell people about our faith in Jesus Christ – persuading and convincing people, because we are motivated by the fear of the Lord, the love Christ has for us and our eternal perspective of seeing their souls.

Behind the doors of our neighbors are people who have “no hope, without God in the world” -- people who are lost and dying. We go door to door to tell people about the hope that we have in Christ. We are going out again next weekend, after meeting in this room. First, we will talk here for a few minutes – to have a time of equipping and training and to discuss the etiquette of visiting from door to door – and then we will go into our community. We will go to designated streets and start knocking on doors. That can be a somewhat intimidating thing to do, because you have no idea who is behind a door; but the truth is that a soul who does not know Jesus Christ may reside there. That is why we do what we do.

If we continue our door-to-door evangelism according to our strategy and at our current pace, then every door within a three-mile radius of this church will have been visited within five years. Every home, every household, will have been spoken to by a representative from Trinity Bible Church if we keep at the pace we are going right now. But that is only a three-mile radius and that is five years. We need more. We need more feet that are prepared with the gospel. We need more mouths that are willing to speak the gospel to join us in our Sunday evening evangelistic efforts to share Jesus Christ with a lost and dying world. Why do we do this? What is our motivation? We are motivated by fear of the Lord, Christ's love for us, and by knowing that there are not just human beings behind those doors. There are souls behind those doors. The first component of outreach is our motivation for outreach.

B. The Messengers of Outreach

Second, let’s look at the messengers of outreach. You and I are the messengers of outreach. In 2 Cor 5:17-20, Paul writes: “So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away -- look, what is new has come! And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” Paul is not talking on behalf of the apostles in this passage. Paul is not saying that God has given to us (the apostles) the ministry of reconciliation. Paul is not speaking as a pastor to say that God has given to us (the pastors) the ministry of reconciliation. Paul is not speaking as an evangelist to say that to us (the evangelists) God has given the ministry of reconciliation. In the first part of this passage, Paul said that God “has reconciled us to himself through Christ” (v. 18). How many of you have been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ? All of you who have trusted him as your Savior have been reconciled. It is to you, the reconciled people, that God has given the ministry of reconciliation, or the “service” of reconciliation, as some translations state.

Look now at verse 19: “In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message [logos] of reconciliation [or the “word” of reconciliation]. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ as though God were making his plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God!’” God has given to us (to all of those who call Christ their Savior) the ministry of reconciliation and the message of reconciliation.

It is an interesting term, the ministry of “reconciliation.” That is the same word we studied last week in Ephesians 4:12, which refers to the equipping of the saints for the work of “service” (or “ministry”). That same word for “service” or “ministry” occurs here. God has given us the “service” of reconciliation, or the “ministry” of reconciliation. It is a stewardship passed to us. God has given us the message of reconciliation, and he has told us what to say. The logos of reconciliation is the message we carry with us.

At that point, we are called something just breathtaking. We are called “ambassadors for Christ” (v. 20). An ambassador is an official representative who serves in the absence of a dignitary. When a dignitary is gone, an ambassador steps in as an official representative. Christ is now seated at the right hand of the Father. He is seated because his work is accomplished, and we are here in the world as ambassadors in his absence. We are the official representatives of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. Each of us is an ambassador. The word for “ambassador” occurs only twice in the New Testament. Paul used the word here in 2 Corinthians 5, and also in Ephesians 6. In Eph 6:20 Paul says, “… I am an ambassador in chains.” In both cases in which the word is used, the context concerns the gospel. Each time, the word is related to evangelism -- telling a lost and dying world about the Messiah, serving as Christ's official representatives in his absence.

We are ambassadors for Christ. Our representative position is not a badge that we wear sometimes, but that at other times we remove and set aside. In the morning, we cannot set aside our ambassador badge on the nightstand, get dressed, and go to work. When we come to church, we do not take off that badge and set it aside. We are ambassadors for Christ -- when we wake up, when we go to sleep, when we walk into church, when we eat at a restaurant, when we work out at the gym. You are an ambassador for Christ; it is a title you cannot set aside. There is no such thing as an off-duty ambassador.

About a year ago, a man in North Carolina was wanted by police for dealing in drugs, having an expired license, possible theft of a car, breaking parole, and other reasons. Some police officers saw his car driving along, and ran a check on his license plate. Sure enough, the car belonged to the wanted man. The officers tried to force him over to the side of the road, but he sped off. They called in several police cars for a high-speed police chase that finally ended in a large shopping center parking lot where there is a SuperTarget and a Winn-Dixie. The suspect wrecked his car, jumped out, and took off on foot. With the officers in pursuit, the suspect ran into SuperTarget. He was running down the aisles in the SuperTarget as the police chased him. The police were yelling, “Get of the way! Everybody get out of the way! This is the police and we are on a chase! This guy is dangerous! We do not think he is armed, but get out of the way!” All of a sudden, from the clothing department, a man named Richard May dove out of nowhere and tackled the perpetrator. The police were then able to apprehend him, handcuff him, take him in, and book him.

No one knew at the time that Richard May was an off-duty police officer. He was at SuperTarget that day, shopping on his day off. He did not have his badge with him. He did not have his uniform, his hat, his belt, his pepper spray, his club, his gun, or his shoes. He was in civilian clothes, acting like a civilian and doing what civilians do. The police were yelling, “Get out of the way! This is the police!” Richard May was thinking, “Those officers have guns, but I don’t. They have pepper spray, but I don’t. They have clubs, but I don’t. They are on duty, but I am not even being paid today! I will just get out of the way as they say.” No! He was an off-duty police officer who realized that he is never off duty. He swore to serve and to protect the public. It was in his blood to protect others. He would serve, whether it was on a day he was getting paid for pursuing crime, or on his day off when crime came to him. Richard May can never set down his badge and allow crime to take place.

We are ambassadors for Christ. There is no such thing as an off-duty ambassador. We cannot set aside our badges to go do what we want to do. We are the messengers. Equipped and privileged, we have been given as a stewardship the ministry of reconciliation: reconciling lost people to God through Jesus Christ. We carry the message of reconciliation -- the word of God, the gospel -- because we are ambassadors for Christ. We are the messengers of outreach.

C. The Message of Outreach

Finally, there is the message of outreach. What is it that we proclaim? Paul puts it very succinctly and powerfully in the last verse of 2 Cor 5. He summarizes the chapter with the message of outreach, or the message of the gospel. Verse 21: “God made the one who did not know sin [Jesus Christ] to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.” The Scripture teaches this beautiful truth in Romans, here in Second Corinthians, and elsewhere in the New Testament. You and I have been declared righteous by God. We have received as an imputation the righteousness of Jesus Christ. On the cross, something amazing happened. Christ received our sin, and he was able to pay the penalty we could never pay, even with an eternity in hell. But as Christ was receiving our sin, we were imputed his righteousness. We are declared righteous. As by a legal declaration, you and I are righteous in the eyes of the Father. When he sees us, he sees his Son. He sees the righteousness of his Son that was imputed to us the moment we took Christ to be our Savior.

Righteousness through Christ is called an “alien” righteousness because it did not generate from us. It is not our righteousness; it is his. It is an alien righteousness because it came from without, and now it is in a foreign land – me! It does not belong here; it is an alien righteousness. In Latin we call it simul iustus et peccator: simul, simultaneously; iustus, just; et, and; peccator, sinful. That is me – simultaneously righteous and sinful. That is my contribution to salvation -- my sin! At the same time that I am a sinner, God sees me as righteous because of the blood of Jesus Christ. That is the message of outreach -- it is the message of salvation. Aren’t you excited to think that you are declared righteous? Your righteousness is not based on anything you did; it is a free gift. The one who knew no sin, Jesus Christ, became sin for you so that you could be the benefactor -- so that you could become the righteousness of God in him. That is thrilling! What a message we carry! Why do we persuade people? Why do we try to convince people of the truth of the gospel? Because it is good news! We are excited about it!

My wife and I shopped at a Wal-Mart Supercenter this week. (I did not feel that was right to talk about SuperTarget without mentioning Wal-Mart Supercenter!) We were in the Wal-Mart Supercenter on Wednesday, early in the day – about 9:15 A.M. Suddenly, over the loudspeaker we heard a call for a meeting. They often hold staff meetings in the middle of the day. I wondered how they would hold a staff meeting early on a Wednesday morning. To our surprise, fifty or sixty Wal-Mart employees gathered around. The leader of the group, probably the shift manager, gave out accolades and acknowledged people, recognizing them for their accomplishments over the past twenty-four hours. He recounted numbers of sales: there had been a certain number of tire sales in the automotive department, this many jewelry sales, and that many people per minute through the scanners and the checkout. He recognized people by shouting, “Way to go!” The group’s enthusiasm continued building. My wife and I found ourselves caught up in the whole event! After meeting for about 15 minutes, the employees started chanting. The shift manager led them in a cheer. With an extremely loud voice, the leader yelled, “Whose Wal-Mart is this?” The employees all responded, “My Wal-Mart!” As the cheer was repeated, my wife and I began to yell, “My Wal-Mart!” We got excited about their chant! They were excited and passionate about being Wal-Mart employees -- the highest calling on earth. I thought, “Good for them!” My thought continued, “What are the implications for me as an ambassador for Christ?” If they can get that excited about being employees at Wal-Mart, where is my passion about being ambassador for Christ?

Whose ambassador am I? I am Christ’s ambassador, carrying a message of salvation that has eternal consequences: people can be reconciled with God through Jesus Christ. He who knew no sin will receive their sin and impute back to them his righteousness. When the Father looks at us as saved, born-again Christians, He sees the righteousness of his Son. We have been privileged with that message of reconciliation. Let's be passionate about it!

III. Application and Conclusion

I am going to give you some specific homework for this week, in addition to coming next Sunday evening to our door-to-door outreach. (I assure you that you will be well equipped by the time you leave here to go door to door!) Inside of your bulletins, you will find an invitation card. This is an invitation to the Saturday evening Easter musical that you have heard about. The Easter musical is an outreach into the community. We have mailed one thousand of these invitations into the community. Last Sunday night we handed out over one hundred fifty of these, visiting door to door with the households in our surrounding neighborhood to personally invite them to join us for this event. A gospel presentation is interwoven with the musical, and Pastor Jim will conclude the program with the gospel, as well. We would like for everyone to stay for refreshments in Fellowship Hall, so that we can talk with our visitors and ask them what they thought about the musical.

Your homework is in three phases. I want you to take three of these invitations. In fact, I will make this a couple’s application. Rather than visiting alone, you may visit as a couple. Please complete the three phases of your homework. 1.) Take one of these cards to your next-door neighbor on your left. Knock on the door, hand them the invitation, and invite them to come to our church for the Easter presentation. There is no cost, and parking is free. The program will only occupy an hour and a half of their evening. Childcare is provided for children through kindergarten age. 2.) Take an invitation to your neighbor on your right. Knock on the door and invite them to come to our church’s Easter presentation. 3.) The third one I leave to you to give away. Give it to that person you have been praying about at work -- the person with whom you have been sharing the gospel. Give it to that person to whom you have been a witness, living as light and salt. Give it to the person you see regularly at the workout center, or to someone at the restaurant you frequent. You have three invitations to distribute, and that is homework for all of you this week.

We are ambassadors for Christ. Wear that badge with pride!

Abstract

William Temple once said: “The church is the only cooperative society in the world that exists for the benefit of its non-members.” What a compelling thought. Jesus made this clear with His final words, the Great Commission, calling His followers to share the good news with others. Likewise, Paul commissions believers everywhere to the high calling of proclaiming Christ. According to Paul, we have—each of us—been entrusted with the message of reconciliation. Furthermore, we are “ambassadors for Christ!” How does that make you feel? “Wait a second,” you say. “I’m not a pastor or a minister or a trained evangelist.” But Paul is not reserving these privileges for vocational ministers. Rather, it is privilege of every believer to carry with him or her the message of reconciliation as an ambassador for Christ. Is that how you live? How would your day be different tomorrow if you believed yourself to be Christ’s ambassador?

Related Topics: Ecclesiology (The Church), Evangelism