WE MUST BE THERE TO CULTIVATE (1 CORINTHIANS 9:23)
We are not shouting the Gospel down from a mountain top, but taking it to people in the valleys, streets, gutters, and trenches of their lives.
In part one of this series, we looked at the fact that we must be aware of culture. In reaching out to people, we must have our eyes open to their customs and conditions, seeing who they are and how they are. From the Apostle Paul, we learned lessons on attitude and adaptability—lessons on being ready to put aside our own identities in order to identify with others, not just coming up to their lives, but also being willing to come alongside them in their lives.
We’re not out to make buddies, though. Friendship evangelism today tends to put more emphasis on friendship than it does on evangelism. We are entering into and engaging people’s lives to intentionally impact them with the truth of eternity, leading them to look beyond their fleeting lives and see where they are with God: we must be there with them to cultivate the Gospel among them.
Paul cultured himself into people’s lives so that he could cultivate the Gospel into people’s lives (1 Corinthians 9:23):
I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.
Earlier in this book, he stated how he saw his work of evangelism: I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6) Paul put down every piece of himself that could possibly get in the way of planting the seed of the Gospel—any piece of himself that could harden the soil of people’s hearts against his message. He wanted people to be receptive to him so that they would be receptive to his message.
We must be careful not to get so caught up in the camaraderie of good relationships with lost people that we forfeit cultivating the Gospel into their lives. We must build relationships with those that don’t know Christ for the sole purpose of leading them into a relationship with Christ. We will drive some away, because the truth of their sinful depravity and desperate situation will be so offensive to them that they will not be willing to look beyond it into the face of Christ, and we must let them go. Our hope, though, is that God will use our sincere love for them to till and soften the soil of their hearts, into which we can sow the seed of the Gospel for it to germinate and grow into a rich harvest of eternal life.
Now, Paul went beyond familiarity with people to help him share the Gospel. He also used familiar pieces of their own cultures as tools with which to cultivate. We see him do this in the book of Acts:
Acts 17 22 So Paul, standing in the midst of the Areopagus, said: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious. 23 For as I passed along and observed the objects of your worship, I found also an altar with this inscription, ‘To the unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you. 24 The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for ‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, ‘For we are indeed his offspring.’ 29 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. 30 The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
Paul politely acknowledged their religious lifestyle. Then he pointedly told them, “I’m here to introduce to you the God you do not know.” In explaining God and His providential relationship with humanity, leading into God’s call to repentance and faith, Paul even reached into the writings of their own poets and pulled out familiar shreds of truth to help him tell them the whole unfamiliar truth. Everywhere he went, Paul looked for means, within the context of each culture, with which to accomplish his end in mind.
We don’t have to stress over having just the right attention-getters figured out before we step into a situation. I believe we can go in confidence that God will show us pointers to use within each situation. However, we must not let any situation change the points of the Gospel. We will look at that next time.
The Sum of True Worship
Everybody is worshiping someone or something—the god in the mirror—the god in the garage—the god on the shelf—the god of his or her imagination. We are taking a call to lost idolaters everywhere: Worship the God of heaven and earth revealed in Christ. This is a personal call. We are not shouting it down from a mountain top. We are taking it to them in the valleys, streets, gutters, and trenches of their lives. We are connecting ourselves to them so that we can show our spirits and truth to them, out of concern for their eternal well-being and conviction for the glory of our eternal God. As our spirits are informed by and in tune with God’s truth, we live to tell it as we live with others.