34. When Personal Evangelism is Inadequate (Luke 10:1-16)
In our last lesson I told you that while “sacred cows make good hamburger” the one who grinds the hamburger is not very popular. And I then proceeded to call the “family” a sacred cow, one which, for many Christians, is an excuse for not following Christ, a hindrance to their discipleship, rather than an expression of it. Apparently some of you agree that such teaching is touchy business. One of the women who teaches in the Sunday School came up to me just before the lesson and said, “I’m not going to be able to listen to your sermon because I’ll be in the back teaching. I’m going to have to listen to you on tape. I’m really sorry about—I’d love to be there and watch the stoning.”
This week, I would like to play it safe. I would like to be less controversial and more positive. I said that I would like to be, but unfortunately I cannot. I cannot avoid pointing out yet another “sacred cow” in Christian thinking. This week we will seek to grind yet a little more hamburger from another sacred cow, and that cow is “personal evangelism.”
Before I go much farther, it is necessary for me to define what I mean by the term “personal evangelism.” This is not a biblical term, and thus is one which can easily be confused. By the term “personal evangelism” I am referring to that sharing of our faith which we do on a one-to-one basis, that witnessing which we do on a more intimate level, with those whom we know or seek to know personally. In short, “personal evangelism” is “personalized evangelism” or “individualized evangelism.” Jesus practiced “personal evangelism” when He spoke to Nicodemus in John chapter 3, and again in His dealing with the Samaritan woman in John chapter 4. The gospel was applied to the personal situation, sins, and needs of the one with whom He was dealing.
Personal evangelism, like the family, is a very wonderful thing. Let me remind you that it is nearly always a “good thing” which becomes a kind of sacred cow. Personal evangelism is a marvelous thing. Many of you were brought to faith in Christ through the personal witness and evangelism of an acquaintance. But personal evangelism seems to have become the means to evangelize, rather than a means of reaching the lost for Christ. It is the method which most of us prefer. It is, at times, a method which can hinder other methods of evangelism. When we insist on using the method of “personal evangelism” when we should be employing another method, we have made it a sacred cow, and it is time for making hamburger.
In our text the Lord says something that is most surprising. In effect, he forbids the disciples who are sent out to evangelize to do so personally. They are forbidden to greet anyone along the road and they are commanded not to go “house to house.” When is personal evangelism the wrong method, and why is this so? That is the tension of our text. Our study should provide us with the answer to these questions.
Our approach in this lesson will first be to understand what our Lord is seeking to achieve in the sending out of the seventy—the goal of this missionary campaign. Then, we will consider the methods Jesus prescribed for the seventy and how they relate to the goal of the mission. Next, we will seek to see why Luke alone records this incident, and what he wanted us to learn from it, especially as it relates to the on-going proclamation of the gospel, as we see it described in Luke’s second volume, the book of Acts. Finally, we shall seek to identify those principles and their applications which relate as much to us and our time as they did to these disciples.
The Structure of the Text
Luke 10:1-16 falls into several divisions:
(1) Verses 1-3—Jesus’ mandate and the seventy
(2) Verses 4-9—Jesus’ methods and the seventy
(3) Verses 10-12—Jesus’ instruction on responding to rejection
(4) Verses 13-16—Jesus’ rebuke of rejecting cities
The Setting of the Text
Luke chapter 9 is the immediate backdrop for our text in chapter 10. It begins with the sending out of the twelve disciples. The report of Herod’s concern with the identity of Jesus is followed by the feeding of the five thousand. After this, Peter’s great confession is recorded, followed immediately by the transfiguration of Jesus. After our Lord’s return with the three from atop the mountain, the various hindrances to discipleship are described:
(1) Their lack of power—reflected in their inability to exorcise the boy
(2) Their lack of unity—reflected in their arguing over who was greatest
(3) Their lack of compassion—reflected in their desire to torch a Samaritan town
(4) Their lack of commitment—as seen in men’s reasons for not immediately following Christ
The first words of verse 1 in chapter 10 (“After this …” ) show the close link between the sending out of the seventy and the preceding context. The sending out of the seventy disciples is thus related both to the sending out of the twelve (Luke 9:1-6) and the Lord’s instruction on discipleship (Luke 9:37-62).
Problems in the Passage
When one consults the commentaries, two problems are usually mentioned. I will only briefly discuss them. The first problem has to do with the difference in the texts concerning the number of disciples who were sent out. Some texts read seventy, while others read seventy-two. In some ways, it is a simple textual problem, one whose existence can easily be explained, even if the problem is not so quickly or easily resolved.187 In another way it is a problem which is simply not that serious. The meaning and the application of the text do not hinge an the text either way.
The second problem in our passage is a delight for the liberal student of Scripture. They enjoy pointing out the fact that the account of the sending of the seventy is found only in Luke’s gospel, and that it has many similarities with the account of the sending out of the twelve (which it does).188 They err greatly, however, in thinking that this account is a pure fabrication on the part of Luke, to establish his own historical theories.
When the two sendings (in Luke’s account) are viewed side-by-side there are a number similarities which are evident, even intentional:
And He called the twelve together, and gave them power and authority over all the demons, and to heal diseases. 2 And He sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God, and to perform healing. 3 And He said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, neither a staff, nor a bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not even have two tunics apiece. 4 “And whatever house you enter, stay there, and take your leave from there. 5 “And as for those who do not receive you, as you go out from that city, shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”
Now after this the Lord appointed seventy others, and sent them two and two ahead of Him to every city and place where He Himself was going to come. 2 And He was saying to them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore beseech the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest. 3 “Go your ways; behold, I send you out as lambs in the midst of wolves. 4 “Carry no purse, no bag, no shoes; and greet no one on the way. 5 “And whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace be to this house.’ 6 “And if a man of peace is there, your peace will rest upon him; but if not, it will return to you. 7 “And stay in that house, eating and drinking what they give you; for the laborer is worthy of his wages. Do not keep moving from house to house. 8 “And whatever city you enter, and they receive you, eat what is set before you; 9 and heal those in it who are sick, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’ 10 “But whatever city you enter and they do not receive you, go out into its streets and say, 11 ‘Even the dust of your city which clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you; yet be sure of this, that the kingdom of God has come near.’ 12 “I say to you, it will be more tolerable in that day for Sodom, than for that city.
In spite of the similarities, which should come as no great surprise, there are many differences, significant differences. It is these differences which point to the unique contribution of this text, in addition to the contribution of the account of the sending out of the twelve:
(1) In Luke 9 only the twelve were sent out. Now, there are seventy others.
(2) The twelve are known individuals, the seventy are not.
(3) The twelve were sent out in Galilee, but this sending is along the route Jesus will be taking to Jerusalem.
(4) The twelve were specifically told not to preach to the Gentiles or the Samaritans, but there is a clear hint of this sending including the Gentiles. This seems to be a more Gentile territory, and there would be no need to speak of what is eaten, if they were only in Jewish homes.
(5) The sending out of the twelve seems to conclude Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, but the sending out of the seventy is introductory.
(6) The twelve were sent out in place of Jesus, but the seventy were forerunners, sent ahead of Jesus, who would be passing by this way (v. 1).
(7) The twelve were sent out everywhere, and the impression is that they went to those remote, previously missed places. This seems to have been a rural, remote mission. The seventy were sent to cities.
What, then, is the central and unique thrust of this sending out of the seventy, which sets it apart from the other sending in chapter 9, and which signals us to its meaning and application? I think the key to the entire text is in making this one simple observation: THE THRUST OF THE SENDING OF THE SEVENTY IS REACHING THE CITIES
I do not usually quote myself, but I want to share a note that I wrote down as I was studying this text in preparation for this message. It reveals the beginning of my realization of what the key to the text was, and yet not knowing what to make of it. I wrote:
“There is a ‘city emphasis’ here. I can feel it but I can’t quite decide what to do with it. Do we have a sense of need for the city? This city? Dallas? Richardson? Does the city know the gospel? We are very intent (at times) in personal evangelism, but I think there is another facet of evangelism here. Moody, for example, and his impact on the city of Chicago.”
I begin, then, with the observation that THE CITY, for some reason is the central theme, the thread unifying the entire text. The emphasis on reaching cities seems to set the sending of the seventy apart from the sending of the twelve. In somewhat reverse order, I wish to go back through the text to show how the theme of reaching the city gives unity and clarity to our text.
The evidence is great in our text that it is THE CITY which is the central and crucial concept in our text. Notice first of all the number of times THE CITY is mentioned in our text:
- Verse 1: “to every city and place”
- Verse 8: “Whatever city you enter… ”
- Verse 10: “whatever city”
- Verse 11: “dust of your city”
- Verse 12: “that city”
- Verses 13-16: “all cities which are rebuked”
In chapter 9 the term “city” is mentioned one time (Luke 9:5), with “villages” being mentioned once as well (9:6). Here, “city” is much more frequently mentioned. Note also that while the term “city” appears five times in our text, six cities are specifically named: Sodom, Chorazin, Bethsaida, Tyre (2x), Sidon (2x), and Capernaum. Some of these cities are hardly referred to elsewhere.
In speaking of the rejection of the disciples, our Lord speaks more in terms of cities than of individuals:
“When you enter a town and are welcomed, eat what is set before you. Heal the sick who are there and tell them, ‘The kingdom of God is near you.’ But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you. Yet be sure of this: The kingdom of God is near.’ I tell you, it will be more bearable on that day for Sodom than for that town” (Luke 10:8-12).
In these words we see that when disciples are viewed as being rejected by the cities, and thus the cities are symbolically warned of the coming judgment of God upon the city, just as the cities of earlier days (like Sodom) were judged of God.
If the goal of the sending of the seventy is so that the gospel may be preached in the cities, then many of the difficult problems raised by our text are resolved.
(1) The statement in verse 2, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,” is explained. The problem with this statement is that our Lord has repeated taught elsewhere that few will choose the “narrow way” of salvation through Him:
“Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).
“For many are called, but few are chosen” (Matthew 22:14).
In addition to these verses we know full well that Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, to be rejected and crucified (cf. Luke 9:22, 44, 51-53). He was not going to be accepted as Messiah by the masses or by the leaders of Israel. The “great harvest” would not come from the Israelites, and certainly not at this time. How, then, can Jesus speak of a large harvest, with few workers? Why should He not be speaking of a small harvest, a harvest of the few?
This statement, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few,” provides us with the explanation for our Lord’s emphasis on reaching the cities. If the harvest is great, but few of those who hear the gospel receive it, then the gospel must be broadly proclaimed, to as many people as possible. If many people must hear the gospel for a great harvest to occur, then the logical place for proclaiming the gospel is in the cities, where the masses are congregated.
Speaking in farming terms, I believe that Jesus taught that the “yield per acre” for sowing the gospel would be low. If the harvest is to be great, the only way that this can happen is by sowing many acres. The only way that many can be harvested by the gospel is for many to be sent out, covering a great multitude of people. The city is the focus of the disciples’ efforts because reaching many is the goal of their mission.
(2) The emphasis on reaching the cities with the gospel also helps us understand our Lord’s instructions not to greet anyone on the road. Our Lord’s words here should perplex us if we take them seriously:
“Do not take a purse or bag or sandals; and do not greet anyone on the road” (Luke 10:4, emphasis mine).
How could Jesus command the disciples to refrain from the normal social amenity of a friendly greeting on the road? If Jesus were intent on the proclamation of the gospel “en masse” rather than one-by-one, and if the time were extremely limited, such individual contact would have to be restricted.
Suppose that you worked in advertising for a soap company and your boss wanted to make the most people possible aware of the company’s product. After much thought, it was decided that a television commercial would best accomplish this goal. The filming studio was reserved for one hour on a certain afternoon, and you were to be there to make the commercial. On the way to the studio, you might have stopped to tell five people about your company’s soap, but if you had done so, millions would not have been able to see the commercial on TV. Thus, while it may seem rude not to chat with everyone you met on the way, your task required you to avoid such conversations, due to the higher priority of being at the television studio and making the commercial so that many more could be made aware of your product.
This is exactly what Jesus was instructing the seventy to do. While they could have spoken of Messiah to many individuals one-at-a-time, they could make much better use of their time by speaking to many at one time. And the place to find concentrations of people is not along the highway, but in the city, where many people live and gather. Thus, time should not be wasted on the way to the city. The disciples should hurry to the city and there make the gospel known to the greatest number of people.
(3) The emphasis of our Lord on the cities also explains why the disciples were not to “move around from house to house” (Luke 10:7). The homes where they stayed were the place of eating and sleeping. Perhaps the gospel was proclaimed from the home as well, but it was more likely done in the street or at the gate of the city. This is where important matters were discussed in Israel. In one sense, this was not as personal, not as intimate, a place from which to minister, but it was more public. The public factor was more important than the personal factor. This may not strike us as “warm and fuzzy” but it is nevertheless true.
(4) The command of the Lord which prohibited the disciples from taking any provisions with them also makes sense in the light of the goal of reaching the cities. The Lord told the disciples not to take any provisions along with them (Luke 10:4), immediately after telling them that He was sending them out as “lambs among wolves” (Luke 10:3). Why would Jesus send the disciples into hostile territory unarmed and without provisions? The key to the answer is again found in the Lord’s emphasis on reaching the cities.
Jesus spoke of wolves and lambs. The disciples were sent out like lambs amidst wolves. What do wolves normally and naturally do to lambs? Answer: THEY EAT THEM. When Jesus sent the disciple “lambs” out in the midst of wolves, how would they know that the people were not wolves? Answer: THEY WOULD FEED THEM. This helps me to understand why the disciples were sent out without provisions. The response of the people of the cities to the gospel which the disciples proclaimed was evidenced by their hospitality, by their offering a “bed and breakfast” to those who came in the name of the Messiah. When people opened their hearts to the gospel, they also opened their homes to the disciples. This was a test of the people’s response to the message they heard.
There is much biblical precedent for what I am suggesting here. Abraham welcomed the angels (unaware) with hospitality, with a special meal, as did Lot, but the people of Sodom wanted only to rape the men (Genesis 18:1-8 with 19:1-11). In Judges chapter 19 the Levite from the hill country of Ephraim received great hospitality from his heathen father-in-law, but not from his fellow-countrymen, who, like the Sodomites, wanted only to rape him. In the gospels we see the people who loved Jesus asking Him to their homes (like Mary and Martha). In the book of Acts, chapter 16 (vv. 15, 34), we see the Lydia and the Philippian jailer demonstrating their acceptance of the gospel by taking Paul and Silas into their homes. In Hebrews chapter 13 the true believers are to continue to “entertain angels unawares” (v. 2) by showing hospitality to strangers.
In one of those towns it would not have been unnoticed that two strangers had arrived. It was their obligation under the law to show them hospitality. If they received these men and their message, they would take them into their homes. If they did not, their rejection was all the more evident. Incidentally, this act of taking a preacher into one’s home also helps us to understand the warnings of the Scriptures against inviting false teachers into our homes, for in putting them up we also become partners in that message which they proclaim (cf. 2 John 10).
Why Public Proclamation
and Not Personal Evangelism?
The Lord’s emphasis on reaching the cities should now be clear from the text, as well as providing us with a plausible explanation for the instructions which our Lord gave the seventy. The reason has been given by our Lord in this text: “The harvest is great and the workers are few” (Luke 10:2). By inference, I think that there is another reason: the time was short. Jesus was on His way to Jerusalem, to die. He would then be raised from the dead and ascend to His Father. The emphasis of Luke 9:51 is our Lord’s ascension. When our Lord came to these towns on His way to Jerusalem, they must either receive Him as their King, or they must reject Him. Time was short, the decision was crucial. This was not time for casual conversational witness, it was a time for bold, broad proclamation of the gospel, a proclamation which reached as many people and as wide an area possible, in a short period of time. Given this goal, it is easy to see why “public evangelism” must have precedence over “personal evangelism.” Personal evangelism was a luxury which Jesus said the cause of the gospel could not afford.
We should thus be able to see why these seventy were commanded to reach the cities and to practice “public evangelism” as opposed to “personal evangelism.” But what did Luke intend to teach the church and us by this account? The Lord’s commands here were intended to shape the disciples’ methods, but what were they intended to teach us? Let us first consider this incident in the light of Luke’s second volume—the book of Acts—and then move one to consider its principles and applications for us.
The Sending of the
Seventy and the Book of Acts
We know that Luke is not only the author of this gospel, but also of yet another volume, which we know as the book of Acts. It is incredible how the account of the sending of the seventy anticipates and foreshadows the proclamation of the gospel in Acts.
The “great harvest” of Luke 10 can be seen as the harvest of the Gentiles, as well as the Jews. When Jesus told His (seventy) disciples that the harvest was great, there was only one way that this could be true, and that was through the expansion of the preaching of the gospel from the Jews only (as was the case in the sending of the twelve—Matthew 10:5-6) to the Gentiles as well. This is hinted at in Jesus’ instructions to the seventy concerning eating whatever was put before them (Luke 10:7-8). It is boldly played out in Acts.
Acts 10 is the vision which God gave to Peter, preparing the way for him to stay in the home of Cornelius, where he would preach the gospel to the Gentiles. Chapter 11 then expands on this by telling of the reaction of Peter’s colleagues, and of the way that God spoke to them through Peter’s experience. The book of Acts begins with a Jewish church in Jerusalem, but in chapter 11 there is a thriving Gentile church (Antioch) which becomes the launching point for missionary activity aimed at the Gentiles (cf. Acts 13:1ff.).
The turning point of the gospel of Luke seems to be our Lord’s setting His face toward Jerusalem (cf. Luke 9:51-53). In Acts, it seems to be Paul’s face turned toward Rome. The gospel is being more and more widely proclaimed in Acts, which was foreshadowed in Luke 10.
Note also that in Acts the thrust of evangelistic efforts is not just toward individuals, but also to cities. The great commission was our Lord’s command to take the gospel to all nations. The book of Acts shows the beginning of this world-wide thrust. The guiding hand of the Holy Spirit can be seen not only in His leading apostles and missionaries to individuals, but almost more strongly, to cities. True, there is individual leading. The Spirit directed Philip to the eunuch in the desert (Acts 8:26ff.), but this only serves to demonstrate the point, for in this conversion I believe we find the key to the evangelization of Ethiopia. Thus, we find Paul hindered from going to certain places (Acts 16:6-7), but being directed by a vision to go (come) to Macedonia (Acts 16:9).
In Acts we find that evangelism was as much or more of the “public” variety than is was “personal.” Evangelism took place more out of the public preaching of the gospel (e.g. Acts 2, 4) than it is described as coming from person-to-person encounters. It might be objected that the witness of those who fled Jerusalem (Acts 8:1ff.) was personal, but I would remind you that those who fled bore witness on their way. These people seemed to be traveling about, and were not settled people, witnessing casually to their next-door neighbors. To put it is different terms, they were not “sharing their faith” (personal evangelism), but “preaching” (public evangelism):
Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord (Acts 11:19-21).
There is another interesting parallel between the sending of the seventy in Luke 10 and the spread of the gospel in Acts. Can you name the twelve who were sent out? Yes, you can because Matthew (10:2-4) gives us their names, and even their team (he lists them by 2s). How about the seventy? Can you name any of them? Not a one, for certain. In the book of Acts, the apostles, the twelve, were key leaders in the church, and in the evangelism of many of the Jews (e.g. Acts 2). But when the church is forced to flee Jerusalem (Acts 8:1ff.) the apostles stay in Jerusalem (8:1), while the others flee, proclaiming the gospel as they go. But for a few exceptions (like Paul), these Gentile evangelizers are not named, just as the seventy are not.
All of this serves to underscore the fact that what Luke has recorded in the chapter 10 of his gospel is preparatory and foundational to what is recorded in the book of Acts. This should come as no surprise to us. The hand of the Holy Spirit is once again evident in the Scriptures.
BUT WHAT DOES THIS TEXT HAVE TO TEACH US?
The sending out of the seventy was not written only for the early church, it was written for our instruction as well. What is it that we are to learn from this account? What lessons are there to be learned by us? The first question which we must answer is this:
HOW DIRECT IS THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN THE SENDING OF THE seventy AND THE CHRISTIAN’S RESPONSIBILITY FOR EVANGELISM TODAY?
This is a very critical question. It would be easy to see this one incident informing us of a particular goal, at a particular point in Jesus’ earthly ministry, which required the methods which He prescribed. But is it only that? Is this a unique event, one which has no close parallel for our own day? I think the relationship if quite direct. Let me give several reasons for concluding that there is a close parallel between the mission of the seventy and the mission of the church today.
(1) Luke recorded the event for us. Its a simple observation, but an important one. The Holy Spirit inspired this account because it has something important to say to us. The presence of this passage tells us that the mission of the seventy is important for us.
(2) Our Lord’s instructions to the seventy seem to cover a greater period of outreach than just the mission of the seventy for this short period of time. Why would Luke go into such detail on the instructions which our Lord gave the seventy if these instructions were not important to us? You will note that in Luke 22:35-38, Jesus modifies the instruction given earlier,189 but the very fact that there is a modification suggests that our Lord expected His earlier instructions to still have relevance. Why modify non-applicable instructions? In the sending out of the twelve, similar instructions are given, in much greater detail in Matthew. The detail of these instructions implies a broader period of application. I therefore understand them to apply to evangelism through the history of the church, including today.
(3) The Great Commission of Matthew 28 conveys a sense of urgency, portrays a world to win, a world to which we must go. In short the Great Commission seems to be little more than an extension of the commands given to the seventy.
(4) The work of the Holy Spirit through the church in the book of Acts bears testimony to the fact that the commands given to the seventy were carried out on a much greater scale in the early history of the church. We have already seen how Acts plays out and expands upon what commences in Luke. I believe that we see this happening with regard to world evangelization as well.
(5) The needs and conditions of our time very closely resemble those of the seventy at that point of time. Are the words of our Lord, “the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few” not as applicable to our day as they were then? Think about these facts, facts which were true then, and are just as true (even more so) today:
- The world is perishing without Christ
- Jesus is soon to come
- There is a great territory to be covered, a great harvest to reap
- The need for reaching many quickly with the gospel is urgent
All of these factors lead me to conclude that the need for reaching the world for Christ is greater today than at any other time in history. And the urgency of the need requires us to use the right methods to reach this goal.
What lessons, then, can we learn from the sending of the seventy? Let me suggest a few possibilities, although there are undoubtedly many more:
(1) We need to have a greater sense of urgency for reaching lost men and women with the message of the gospel. There is in the sending of the seventy a note of urgency, a great sense of the need to go forth from city to city. Jesus was coming and each city needed to be told.
Jesus is coming again, this time not to die for the sins of the world, but to judge those who have rejected Him. Men and women who do not know Him as the Savior will perish, suffering God’s eternal wrath. In a word, they have nothing to expect but Hell. In my opinion the evangelization of the lost is not suffering so much from bad methods as it is from bad motivation. If we were to gain a biblical sense of urgency, such as that seen in the sending of the seventy, the Great Commission or in the book of Acts, we would find a way. The old adage: “Where there’s a will, there’s a way” is true. We need the will to reach the lost.
(2) We need to broaden our vision from reaching those around us to reaching those around the world. We need a “world vision.” Our Lord loved the world. He died for the sins of the world. He commanded the church to go into all the world with the gospel. If J. P. Phillips was correct in saying that our God is too small, it is also true that our vision is too limited. We need a vision for reaching the world with the gospel.
We should learn from our text that Jesus loves and cares about cities. This sounds a little strange, but His concern for the city is wrapped up with His concern for people. And it is not a new concern. Abraham appealed to God to spare Sodom, which He would have done if there were but ten righteous souls there (Genesis 18:32-33). While Jonah hated Nineveh, the Lord showed compassion on this city (Jonah 4:10-11). Jesus also loved the city of Jerusalem and wept over its unbelief (Luke 13:34-35). God cares about cities because He cares about people.
I am not so sure that we have the same kind of concern for cities that our Lord does, or that men like Abraham had. We seem to have lost the sense of the lostness of the cities, even though the evidence of man’s sin and the warnings of impending judgment are everywhere. May God give us a heart for cities, and for our own city in particular. How desperate is the need here in Richardson, and in Dallas, for the gospel of Jesus Christ. How great the need for finding ways to reach entire cities with the message of God’s salvation.
(3) We need to utilize the most efficient and effective methods for reaching the world with the gospel. Much of our Lord’s instruction to the seventy pertains to their methodology. In order to reach our goal, we must utilize the right methods. Jesus was teaching the seventy that in order to reach the masses they must use methods which was oriented to the masses. They could not stop to greet men along the way because this was too individual, too personal. There is nothing wrong with the personal approach, so long as reaching masses is not our goal.
I have heard it said and implied that “personal evangelism” methods are the way to reach the world with the gospel. I think not. The argument goes something like this: “If each Christian were to lead just one other person to Christ, and that new Christian were to win one … ” The fact is that this has not happened. I believe that the world is to be reached by the preaching of the gospel, and this involves more than just a personal witness, as important as this may be.
Jesus’ teaching strongly implies that “personal evangelism” methods were not going to be effective in making a great harvest and in covering a vast area with the good news of the gospel. My fear is that we have come to equate evangelism with “personal evangelism” and that we automatically think of reaching people by personal methods when we should be utilizing those methods more geared to multitudes. Further, I suspect that some of us have come to the conclusion that “public evangelism” is pass while “personal evangelism” is the only way.
The film, “The Gospel Blimp,” illustrates how we have become muddled in our thinking in the area of evangelism. As best as I can remember the movie, the Christians in a certain city wanted to reach their city for Christ, and they commenced doing so in inappropriate, foolish, and even offensive ways. The movie begins with ludicrous and laughable efforts of mass evangelism of their city and then concludes by focusing on several people who begin to effectively share their faith in terms of “personal evangelism.”
Insofar as the film encourages sensitive, well-motivated, well-executed “personal evangelism,” it is great. But the movie does a serious disservice to the viewer. It sets “personal evangelism” at odds with “public evangelism,” and leaves us with the impression that we would be well advised to forget any efforts of reaching a city as a whole and to concentrate entirely on “personal evangelism.” Perhaps I do the film a disservice, but that is the impression I was given.
In the film it was not Christians’ desire to see “public evangelism” take place in their city which was wrong. What was wrong with their effort to reach their city was that they were using poor methods, methods which unnecessarily irritated and offended people with the message of the gospel. What we should learn from this film is that our methods must match our goal. If we are striving to reach the masses, we must use appropriate methods. If we are trying to reach our neighbor, we use a different method. What we should not learn from this film is that “public evangelism” should be replaced by “personal evangelism.”
(4) This text does not tell us that “personal evangelism” is wrong, or that we should slack up in our efforts at it. As we have seen, Jesus practiced “personal evangelism.” Please do not misinterpret what I am saying here. When we have a sense of urgency for reaching the lost, we will strive to reach all that we can, and we should use various methods to do so. Some of us are not doing nearly enough in the area of personal evangelism. Jesus would not need to have told us to slack up in this effort. More than anything I am saying that we need to expand our vision from “reaching our neighbor” to “reaching the world” and to expand our methods from “personal evangelism” only to “personal evangelism” plus public proclamation.
(5) Our text causes me to reevaluate both my methods and my motives in personal evangelism. Once I recognized “personal evangelism” to be a kind of sacred cow, I also realized that it was not subject to very close scrutiny. After all, what Christian wants to be caught criticizing personal evangelism? But I have discovered that personal evangelism has a number of inherent dangers and is subject to certain abuses. Let me mention a few that have come to my mind.
Personal evangelism can quickly be caught up and manipulated by what I call the CULT OF THE INDIVIDUAL. One of the great problems in our thinking as it relates to “personal evangelism” is what I have called the “cult of the individual.” We have, in recent years, become obsessed with discovering “individual needs” and dealing with everyone in the light of these needs. As a former school teacher I find this dramatically demonstrated in the public school classroom. In days gone by, there was a teacher in the front of the class, with 30 or more students facing the teacher. The students listened, the teacher taught. Now I know that this wasn’t the perfect system, but I believe that it was not wrong to think that there were enough common factors that all students could be dealt with in a similar way, at the same time.
Now, the classroom is the scene of absolute chaos and anarchy. Every child is “doing his own thing.” Some are roaming around the halls. Others are doing who knows what outside. Others are “independently working” inside the class. Any form of uniformity seems to be unacceptable. Progressive education is guided by the concept of individuality. The fact is that all kids are basically alike. Oh, they develop at different rates, they have different aptitudes and interests, but they can be dealt with as a group—perhaps not all the time, but at least some of the time.
The “cult of the individual” has invaded the church, and now we find the watchword of biblical proclamation being that we must “relate truth to the individual needs” of people. Some of this individualization is at the center of “personal evangelism.” Jesus individualized the gospel for both Nicodemus (John 3) and for the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4). But the tendency to individualize has gotten out of reason. We now condemn all communication which is not addressed to the specific needs of the individual. We used to talk about “the needs of women” and now it is the “needs of the young mother,” the needs of “the working woman,” and on and on it goes.
Quite honestly this “individualistic” approach does not neatly square with the Scriptures, which inform us that all temptations are “common to man” (1 Corinthians 10:13). But we would rather view our problems as unique, for then there is no ordinary solution for them. The fact is that the problem of men (old or young), women (single or married), and children (male or female) is sin.
I know a man in Dallas who is a converted homosexual, and a very fine fellow. He is having a great ministry in the homosexual community. When he came to speak to a group of ministers, who were as “straight” a group as you could find, he said this: “Don’t try to identify with me in my specific form of sin. Identify with me in the struggle which we all have with the flesh.” This man has his head on straight. He sees that the root problem of the homosexual is the same problem as the alcoholic, the wife-beater, the child molester, or the upright citizen who is dominated by his pride.
We have become so individualized in our approach to people that we are failing to address people at the lowest and most common level of their sin. Abraham lied about the identity of his wife, and we would thus have dealt with him about lying—his individual problem. But God dealt with him concerning his (lack of) faith, the root problem. To be quite frank about it, all of our individual problems can be boiled down to a handful of root problems common to all men.
What this means is that “public evangelism” should not be pass. We can address large groups of people with the message of the gospel, because every sinner has the same problems, and Christ has provided but one solution for the problem—the cross of Calvary. In this way, the gospel is too simple for some, who would like to think that men’s problems are much more complex, much more individualized.
There is one other variety of individualism, often a rugged individualism, which is related to the cult of the individual. Personal evangelism can be appealing to an individualist because he or she can do it on their own, without having to work with others, without having to make concessions to the opinions and convictions of others. One of the reasons why we do not do more mass evangelism, I fear, is that Christians and churches are so autonomous, so individualistic, that they can’t work together. Personal evangelism is especially appealing to the autonomous type. This does not make personal evangelism wrong, but it does tell us that any good thing can be abused by sinful people.
Another danger of personal evangelism is that it is just that—personal. We can become so caught up in our relationship with the one we are trying to personally evangelize that we “lighten up” or “soften up” on the message. It is very difficult to maintain a biblical sense of urgency and to take a “laid back” approach to presenting the message. Because I know the person and assume a long term relationship, I do not feel the urgency to tell it all and to tell it directly. I pull my punches. If you were honest, don’t you feel the same tension I feel here, the temptation to say things a little too obliquely, a little too indirectly, a little too casually? Friendship evangelism has the danger of practically putting the friendship above evangelism. These dangers do not mean that we scrap personal evangelism, but that we recognize its dangers and inherent weaknesses and seek to avoid them.
Personal evangelism also has a subtle way of affirming and sanctifying my lifestyle, rather than challenging and changing it. The term and the concept of “lifestyle evangelism” has become very popular, but I’m not sure that we’ve thought enough about its inherent problems. The inference is that “I can be a Christian Yuppie, self-seeking, self-satisfied, indulgent, and thus I am able to relate to others like me.” “Lifestyle evangelism” assumes that my lifestyle is pleasing and acceptable to God, and thus I may evangelize from its context. The Bible challenges my lifestyle, it tells me that my lifestyle should be vastly different than those around me without Christ. My lifestyle may need to change first, and then, from a Christian lifestyle I should seek to win those who live a worldly lifestyle.
Lifestyle evangelism tells me I’m okay as I am, and, worse yet, that I can have a positive impact, just as I am.
Personal evangelism thinking can justify many sins and whitewash them to look pious. I can tell myself that since I am an upper-middle class white, I have no point in common with someone of another race or socio-economic strata. The Bible flies in the face of this, indeed it calls this contrary to the gospel itself (cf. Paul’s rebuke of Peter in Galatians chapter 2). One of my good friends, Dr. Ruben Conner, a godly Black Christian leader, was won to Christ through the (personal) witness of a white man on the job.
We Do With This Message?
What am I suggesting that we do specifically? Let me summarizes and conclude with a few parting remarks. First, we need to have a greater sense of urgency, which only comes from a grasp of what the Bible tells us the fate of the lost is, and from a realization the our Lord is coming soon. Second, we need to have a wider vision, a world vision. Personal evangelism is a good start. Concern for our neighbor is a good beginning, but it is not enough. Christ’s command was that the gospel should be proclaimed in all the world.
Am I saying that everyone should become a missionary, or that everyone should stand on a street corner? No. But I am saying that we should all be bolder in our witness, that we should all seek to proclaim the gospel to the greatest possible number of lost individuals. And, I am saying that we should recognize that there are other methods than just the one-on-one kind, which should be employed when the evangelism of the many is to be attempted.
How does what I am suggesting relate to the person who does not have a gift of public proclamation. Obviously we are not all Billy Graham’s or Luis Palau’s. That is true. For some of us, doing a better job of personally sharing our faith is a lofty goal itself. But all of need to recognize that reaching the world with the gospel is a task in which all of us should play some part. It may be in contributing to evangelistic efforts. It may be in planning and executing them (we could use a good evangelistic campaign here in Dallas). But we all ought to sense the burden, the responsibility, and seek to discover opportunities in which we can play a part. Certainly we can do exactly what Jesus told His disciples to do: pray that the Lord of the harvest would send forth workers.
As individuals and as a church, I believe that we need to pray that God will give us a burden for the lost souls of our city, Richardson, Texas, and for the city of Dallas. It means that we should be praying and pondering ways that we may let the people of our city that they are sinners, destined for an eternity without Christ, and that Jesus Christ has died for sinners so that they might have eternal life. It means that we may consider ways in which the media can be utilized to proclaim the gospel effectively and efficiently. Let us pray for the gospel to be sent forth, and let us do what our Lord leads us to do in the evangelization of the world.
187 “The textual evidence is very evenly divided between seventy and seventy-two. This vacillation of the manuscripts is best explained by Genesis 10 in the Massoretic Text in which the number of the nations is seventy, whereas in the LXX the number is seventy-two. Whatever the original reading, then, the point is the same. The number seventy or seventy-two symbolizes all the nations of the world: the mission is a universal one.” Charles H. Talbert, Reading Luke: A Literary and Theological Commentary on the Third Gospel (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 1984), p. 115.
Shepard goes on to suggest likely explanations of the significance of the seventy in our text: “As there was special significance in the previous choice of twelve representing the twelve tribes of Israel to whom they were sent primarily, so now the number seventy was not merely a larger and convenient number for the work in hand, but pointed to certain important things in the Jewish history and tradition, linking this number—as the Tubingen School would indicate—in the interest of his universal gospel; but Christ consciously chose seventy to do what the seventy Sanhedrists had failed to do in preparation of the people for the coming Messiah (Hahn). This number harked back also to the seventy elders appointed to assist Moses. The symbolic meaning of the number seventy continued in the seventy translators of the Hebrew Bible into Greek. A more significant symbolism even is found in Jewish reckoning of the number of the nations of the world to be seventy. Here was an implication of the universalism of the Kingdom work, a representative missionary for each nation. Certainly this idea would be in accord with the universalism of Luke’s gospel and the mission of Christianity as revealed more clearly later, whether it was the conscious teaching of Christ at this time or not.” J. W. Shepard, The Christ of the Gospels (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1939), p. 367.
188 Geldenhuys summarizes how they handle this text: “Easton, Klostermann, Creed, Luce, with many other modern critics, reject in part or totally the historicity of the mission of the seventy disciples. So they regard it as a duplication of the mission of the twelve, or as a deliberate invention on Luke’s part to try and justify his Pauline ideas.” Norval Geldenhuys, Commentary on the Gospel of Luke, The New International Commentary on the New Testament Series (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1975 [reprint]), p. 302, fn. 1. Geldenhuys goes on in this extended footnote to show why such a view is untenable.
189 Jesus modified the instructions in the light of His own rejection and crucifixion. If they hated Him, He said, men would hate His disciples. Thus, the disciples are now to go forth prepared to provide for their own needs, for men can be expected to reject both them and their message. But in all of this, the essence of the instructions given the twelve and the seventy applies to Christians today.