I plan to provoke people, through preaching the gospel and by doing the work of an evangelist, to be evangelistic-minded and -hearted. Therefore, my definition of personal evangelism is this—an overflowing happiness in the mercy of the crucified Christ that spills over into other people’s lives.
In order to better define what this definition of personal evangelism means, I first want to talk about what personal evangelism is not before I talk about what personal evangelism is. Personal evangelism is not an action. This is why in my definition I wrote in terms of a desire or “want.” If personal evangelism is simply an action, the result is that personal evangelism becomes a mental reminder that quickly jabs and kicks the will until the person is forced to “evangelize.” The result is that the person who is “evangelizing” attempts to prove that he or she is right and tries to find how the other person is wrong. This act of “evangelism”—this act that is devoid of any concept of joy or desire or pleasure or zeal or privilege or love—is totally abhorred by God. He hates that kind of obedience, and he hates that kind of evangelism. How do I know?
Let me give a personal example. I have found previously in my own life that I personally “evangelized” in exactly the way described above. When I met somebody whom I perceived to be non-Christian, the reminder to evangelize came to mind. The reminder to evangelize then quickly jabbed and kicked my will until I forced myself to ignore my desire not to evangelize. I then proceeded to find out where the person “needing evangelism” was wrong and told them how they were doctrinally wrong. My act of “evangelizing” was simply based upon a got to, have to mentally. I was not taking pleasure in evangelizing in order to please my Savior, and I was not giving them Jesus’ hope of forgiveness. I wanted me to be right and them to be wrong, even if that meant imposing what I wanted Scripture to say in order to justify my own ideas. God hated this kind of evangelism because my act was not based on love for him and love for my neighbor. God could say of this evangelistic act that, “This Stefan draws near to me with his mouth, and honors me with his lips; but his heart is far from me. In vain does he worship me and in vain he speaks!”` (Matt. 15:8-9). Why? Because Stefan’s heart was far from him! I was far from having the heart of Jesus for people! “Evangelism” that is done without feelings of love and joy and happiness because of Christ, and without a notion of privileged opportunity, is not pleasing to him! This is why Biblical personal evangelism is not an act—it is not an act that is produced by a reminder that kicks and prods the will in order to force the will to “evangelize.” If the Lord wants me become a pastor some day, I will do everything I can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to make this a clear reality to myself and to God’s people.
At the beginning of the paper, I said that the preaching of the gospel would move and induce people to personally evangelize. Am I just mixing the gospel in at this point because I have to and because saying “gospel” sounds nice to Reformed believers and to people who may read this paper? No. Then why do I think the preaching of the gospel is so necessary? I believe that the gospel is necessary because I believe in its power to change peoples’ lives through the Spirit of Christ, and I believe that the gospel is the well-spring from which all evangelistic desires flow. How does the gospel do this? The gospel provokes strong, passionate, can’t-get-over-it evangelistic desires within believers because of Christ’s merciful rescue (O precious mercy!) of them. He absorbed all the wrath of God for me, so that I can be free to enjoy God as my treasure forever! He crushed the sin that enslaved me and told me what to do! This gospel frees people from their fear of the earth-shaking wrath of God! (Ps. 18:7-8). This gospel sweeps away the cruel accusations of the devil upon their conscience! This gospel takes smelly, festering little sinners and gives them absolutely every treasure and pleasure that Christ has on his throne in heaven! (Ps. 16:11). This gospel gives every reason for joy and happiness in God when before there was no reason for joy and happiness in God! Christ Jesus sets free helpless and hopeless little birds from the fowler’s net of entrapping sin! (Ps. 124:7).
When people truly believe in this gospel and really feel Christ’s blood-bought mercy for themselves, I say, upon the basis of the Bible, that no sinner-Christian can help but display their feeling of joy in response to God’s mercy. (Ps. 30:11-12) When a Christian displays that feeling of joy, others will desire the sweet joy of knowing the Lord Jesus! The gospel is the source of an overflowing happiness in the mercy of Christ crucified that spills over into other peoples’ lives. There’s something wrong if there is no feeling of joy and happiness in God for that merciful rescue from eternal death in response to the gospel, and there is something profoundly wrong if that joy and happiness is not communicated in the gospel. Let there be joy in every Christian heart so that this rescuing gospel spreads for the joy of all peoples!
People whom I might get to serve as a pastor may ask, “So is this type of mercy-led evangelism found in the Bible?” I believe it is found in the confession of Paul in Romans 1:14. Paul expressed that he was “debtor both to the Greeks and to the Barbarians; both to the wise, and to the unwise.” The important word there is “debtor.” Paul owed something to the Greeks and the Barbarians, to the wise and the unwise. He owed it to every kind of person—to fools on the street, to his neurosurgeon neighbor, to the homeless, to people who cursed and swore at the bowling alley. He owed it to people who shamed him and scoffed at his “foolish” lifestyle. What did he feel he owed them? No, it was not a profound “Yuck!” at their sin. Instead, he felt he owed those people God-centered, Christ-exalting love in speaking the gospel! “So, as much as in me is, I am ready to preach the gospel….” Why? “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes” (Rom. 1:15-16). [emphasis mine] Paul did not feel in his heart, “Ugh, those people and their sin is so sick—I can’t even talk to them.” Rather, he thought, “O these poor sin-ridden people—they’re hopeless, just like I was. I owe them the gospel that changed my life!”
Paul is not confessing here only as an apostle, as if he believed that only apostles and pastors are debtors to speak the gospel to everybody. He is confessing as a Christian! How do we know that he is confessing that as a Christian? How do we know that Christians really want to tell others about what Jesus has done for them? Let’s look at I Thessalonians 1, one of the most amazing passages describing the evangelistic desires of God’s people. In verse 6, Paul wrote how the Thessalonian people received the gospel, “the word.” But what is so amazing is that these Thessalonians received the gospel “in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost.” [emphasis mine] How did these Christians respond? They spread that Word of the gospel! (vs. 8) That verb “sounded” in the English in verse 8 means “to sound forth” or “ring out.” The Thessalonians let the gospel ring out to everybody so that the gospel tones resounded all over the country!
I intend to teach others to implement this practice in their daily lives by preaching a Christ-exalting, mercy-magnifying, joy-provoking gospel. Yet people may ask, “But how do I evangelize? You need to show me how—I feel inadequate.” I would probably reply, “Good! The more inadequate we feel, the more we will rely on God for wisdom and boldness.” I do believe that examples and how-to’s can be helpful. I would really like to show by example, Lord-willing as a pastor, how to let desirous evangelism flow freely to people in the neighborhood lead or attend Bible studies and seminars and prayer groups that focus on evangelism. I am very excited to establish my own home so that I can, everywhere I go, be hospitable and love people who need Jesus. But I do not believe that the Church needs examples and how-to’s to evangelize in their daily lives nearly as much as they need the pure gospel so that they can have boldness and mercy to evangelize in their daily lives. Every single example and how-to will achieve nothing if there is no mercy-produced desire to evangelize in response to the gospel. Once the Christian understands the meaning of the gospel within his or her heart they will not only be able to but also want to spread the gospel. It will almost come naturally! They have found such joy in Jesus! Humility and compassion will come from the lips! God’s answer of sweet mercy will flow to needy people from Christian hearts spilling with living water! (John 7:38).
There is one last thing that I believe will provide even more zeal for evangelism. I will try to make plain to people whom I might someday get to serve that “there be many that say, Who will show us any good?” (Ps. 4:6a). There be many who live on this planet earth who truly doubt that there is any good or any good God. I have talked to many people who, as it were, voiced this question to me: “I am experiencing a living hell—Why?” In other words, from a Christian’s perspective, these people whom we see every day are doubting whether there is anything better for them than having a guilty conscience, knowing that the judgment of God is coming, and being tyrannized by Satan. The Psalmist’s prayer rings out to us, telling us that we (yes, we Christians!) hold the linking answer to these people’s question. The answer is a prayer—”Lord, lift thou up the light of thy countenance upon us!”’ (vs. 6b). That is, after hearing these people, we pray: “Lord, rain showers of manifold grace upon us so that we can show people Thy countenance that holds ten thousand oceans of mercy and love for them!” We Christians are the link between God and non-Christians—how else will they know who God is?
If I were to sum up what evangelism is without using my definition, I would say that evangelism is love in action. Let God’s people have joy-filled, mercy-led evangelistic desires, founded upon Christ’s merciful rescue from imminent death, that result in bold and active love. I pray that God gives to me, not only now but also Lord-willing as a pastor, a vision and zeal for doing the work of an evangelist through the power of the gospel so that others are led by the Spirit of Christ to have bold, self-sacrificing, evangelistic desires.
Why am I singling out only guys? As young men, we are being attacked by Satan every day, even though we don’t usually realize it. He wants to attack us when we’re young in our faith and still closely attached to the things of this world. He attacks slyly, and we would be foolish to think that he wouldn’t attack the future leaders of our churches, homes, and schools. And he wants to attack us especially now because he knows his time is running out; he knows that Christ is coming, and coming quickly. Because Satan is especially attacking young men and because we can be so spiritually vulnerable at this time in our lives, I want to encourage young men at this crucial time in the battle.
Let’s first read together Romans 13:11-14. “And that, knowing the time, that now it is high time to awake out of sleep: for now is our salvation nearer than when we believed. The night is far spent, the day is at hand: let us therefore cast off the works of darkness, and let us put on the armour of light. Let us walk honestly, as in the day: not in rioting (revelry) and drunkenness, not in chambering (licentiousness)1 and wantonness (lewdness)2, not in strife and envying. But put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”
Do we know what time it is? Paul is telling us here what the time is on God’s clock. God’s clock reads, “The night is far spent, the day is at hand.” We are living in the end times, and there are only a few final ticks before our Savior comes this last time. He prophesied of the signs that will point to His second coming, and some of those signs are occurring now. People have been telling us, “Lo here is Christ; or, lo, he is there,” and He is not (Mark 13:21). The world is failing to even show natural affection (II Tim. 3:3). Young men of the world, our peers with whom we rub shoulders with week in and week out, are taking much pleasure in unrighteousness because God is sending them a strong delusion so that they are believing the deadly lies of Satan (II Thess. 2:1-12). But really, “of the times and the seasons, brethren, ye have no need that I write unto you. For yourselves know perfectly…” (I Thess. 5:1) With all of the teeming wickedness of this world so close to us, weknow that God’s watch definitely reads “night.” And not only is it night-time, but the night-time is far spent. Just before the sun rises in the morning the night is at its darkest. So it is with the time right now on God’s clock, as we near the time when Christ comes. The black and dark night of wickedness is so dense around us that it is inky. These are the spiritually dangerous days that you and I, as young men, are living in before Christ returns.
Because these are the dark days of wickedness, and because the night is far spent, “it is high time to awake out of sleep” (Rom. 13:11). We, as young men, need to wake up. On this morning, with just a few ticks before the dawn of Christ’s second coming, we need to shake off our sleepiness and laziness. The night is at its darkest, and we really feel like sleeping more … but we need to get up! Christ is pulling at us, shaking our arm, even giving us a few good hard shoves and saying, “Your salvation is now nearer than when you first believed—the day is at hand! Get up!” We’ve been sleeping in the darkness by living and dying for sports, selfishly pursuing girls for our own satisfaction and lust, and seeking approval from our friends (and not from our Lord). And I’m guilty right there with you. We’ve stepped out on the court or field seeking for the praise of men. We’ve been more concerned about standing strong for ourselves and our own “image” in front of people than being concerned about standing strong for our Lord when His name is taken in vain or His glory is thrown into the dirt. We’ve been told by the world and we’ve even told ourselves that now is the time in our lives when we can live it up for ourselves. We’re in our prime, with few responsibilities, and we’re not “tied down” (as they sadly say) by marriage. So we foolishly think, “I’ll never get another chance at this kind of freedom,” and we put aside the thought of marriage for now because we’d like to avoid godly, honorable responsibilities. We’ll enjoy the single life as much as we can, gaining whatever pleasures our money and time can afford to fulfill our youthful lusts. We’ll devote our God-given talents and masculine energy towards ourselves. By doing all these things, we toss aside God and His church from its necessary central position in our lives and place the big ME there instead. By thinking this way, we’re sound asleep spiritually. We’re sleeping, ignoring the coming kingdom of Christ!
That is a sleep from which we’ve got to wake up; we’re not living as if Christ is coming soon! Rather, we’re living like we’re totally unaware of the imminent, grand marriage feast of Christ when He comes, almost as if we’re no longer invited to that celebration (Matt. 22:2-10). Or, even worse, we’re living as if we don’t even want that celebration to happen! We can say to ourselves, “I’ll get serious when I need to, when I get a little older,” and we can arrogantly toe the edge of the cliff, hoping to play with the fire of friendship with the world and not get burned. However, that’s exactly what Satan wants us to do and think. He wants us to think those things because then he knows that we don’t care about Christ’s coming marriage feast. Then Satan’s got us right where he wants us. Satan doesn’t have to get young men to leave the church outwardly by getting erased or excommunicated in order to destroy us. All he has to do is get us to think that the time is ours, that we have the time to live it up now for ourselves and seek to be men of God later. But there is no later with God when He demands obedience from us now. If we think we have the time for “later,” or if we think that our Lord delays His coming, then Satan will soon strike the death blow with the fiery darts of lies and temptations for which we’ll be unprepared. And even worse, Christ will come and find us unprepared and wrapped up in the pleasures of this earth (see Matt. 24:45-51).
Do you know how I know some of the specific areas in which young men can be so weak? I know because I have to struggle and struggle against all the temptations, too, and too often I’ve been tempted to quit struggling against them. Why? Because in those times and moments I haven’t put on the “armor of light.”
What you and I need to do is “cast off the works of darkness,” and “put on the armor of light” (Rom. 13:12b, from our opening passage, remember?). If we’re truly awake now, and we see the inky darkness of our sin to which our eyes had been closed, we’re going to want to hastily (and we mean hastily, too—fast and furiously!) cast off those works of darkness and put on Christ and His “armor of light.” This is the same armor that we learn about in Ephesians 6—the girdle of truth, the breastplate of righteousness, the shoes of the prepared gospel of peace, the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. We could study in depth about what putting on each of those pieces of spiritual armor means for us as young men, but for now just imagine that you and I have put on a full suit of actual medieval armor. If we’ve got that clunky, protective armor on, there is no way we will be able to fall asleep! Even more, by putting that armor on consciously, we’re preparing and setting our minds to fight. So it is when we’ve put our spiritual armor on. We won’t fall asleep with our “armor of light” on because we’re busy battling our spiritual foes. That is how we must put on Christ—by putting on His armor of light.
With our eyes focused on Christ, we’re going to fight in the thick of the battle, and we’re going to put on this armor by being in the Word and in prayer. Before, we’ve been fooling around behind the battle lines like little boys, and by our selfishness and foolishness we’ve been hurting our brothers and sisters in Christ. We used to hear the quick warnings of the knights and soldiers (our pastors and parents) on the battle front shouting, “Watch out!” and we’ve barely managed to scramble out of the way of the arrows and cannon shot of our enemies just in time. But now we’re going to fight on the front lines. We’re going to be using our shield of faith to quench those fiery arrows of the devil. We’re going to go on the offensive with the “sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God” against our sins, learning how to use our sword effectively, not clumsily (Eph. 6:17). We’re going to live in the Word of God so that we can use it to witness and testify of our King Jesus, bringing others to join Christ’s camp of Truth. We’re going to be praying long and hard to lay hold of His spiritual agility and energy to battle long and hard for Christ like men of God.
First, however, we need to get our orders and training from the Captain of our salvation. We can put on our suits and look really nice to go to church, and we can totally look and act the part of a soldier of God, but if we don’t have real soldier hearts as men of God, then we won’t have a clue how to fight. We need to have a Christ-like mind in order to be real soldiers of God (see I Cor. 2:16, Phil. 2:5-8). Christ needs to transform our selfish minds into minds that deny ourselves in serving and washing feet. He says to young men, “Watch ye, stand fast in the faith, quit you like men (i.e., be brave men), be strong.” And yet, in the very next breath, He says, “Let all your things be done with charity” (I Cor. 16:13-14). Christ is telling us to stand up, stand strong, be brave in Him; and yet in the same command He tells us to do all things “with love,” His love. We need to be praying for His strength to endure hardship, to be strong and firm for Him while at the same time being loving, gentle, and kind. He commands us to be courageous to love and to serve as men of God. We must seek to bless people and to encourage them, and not to seek to gain whatever we can get from them.
Christ next gives us the command to “untangle ourselves from the affairs of this life; that we may please him who hath chosen us to be soldiers” (II Tim. 2:4 paraphrase). In our modern world, we’re so distracted by the lights, sights, and sounds that flash at us: promises for fake and fleeting gratification for our flesh. Let’s pray that God’s powerful grace would untangle us from the world’s pursuit for more money for buying, better cars for driving, and an easier life for living. We can be filled with so many of the earthly affairs and desires during the week that they are still twirling around in our heads on Sunday, distracting us so that we hardly hear any of Christ’s words to us. We have to purify ourselves from these distracting desires so that we can be focused soldiers. I know that if I’m truly battling hard, I still have such a hard struggle to fight my own besetting sins (Heb. 12:1). I can’t be distracted with the extra weight of earthly pleasures and cares of this world, too! If I am distracted, I hinder my own struggle to fight and to pray seeking God’s strength against sin.
If we do put on Christ, we will be noticeably different than many other young guys. He will mark us and people will know that we belong to Him. We will stick out like strobe lights in this inky dark world of sin. But we don’t put Him on just to be different. We put Him on because we are determined that His work in and through us will not be hid. We are determined that His refreshing and renewing love for us will refresh and renew those around us. Let’s rely, then, upon His love in true humility, knowing that there is no way that we can even begin to be young men of godliness of ourselves. Listen to Psalm 119:74: “They that fear Thee will be glad when they see us; because we have hoped in Thy Word.” Our hope is in Him and His Word, and not in ourselves! Isn’t that exciting! When God’s people see a generation of godly young men whose lives are obvious testimonies to their sole reliance and hope in God, they are so encouraged and they praise God’s grace. What a testimony that is to the faithfulness of God!
God isn’t looking to use for His kingdom only the athletic, the popular, the self-confident, the extremely-smart. Some guys may think, “Well, I don’t have any talents to give. I just don’t have the smarts like ____, or the outgoing personality like ____, or the athletic abilities like ____.” However, God’s did not create us to have our chests out, chins up, and shoulders squared in order to put in a good showing, having only an outward aura of a man of confidence, purpose, and ability. God created us (and all His people) with talents with which to seek the kingdom. We can’t compare ourselves to others and conclude that because we don’t have the talents they have we don’t have any talents with which to serve the Lord. God did create each of us with certain gifts and abilities with this purpose in mind: that we would explore those talents and develop them to their fullest to serve Him and His kingdom. So let’s do that. We were created to seek His kingdom with all that we are and have.
So let’s not worry about what others think, worry about what will be accepted, worry about what is in and cool, worry about what we look like in the eyes of men. Rather, let’s despise the gaining of attention to ourselves, and be concerned that our life is always a testimony to God and His glory, especially with the talents that He has created in us. Let’s forget about relegating ourselves to our culture’s “manly” mold, having an attitude of stoic indifference towards the well-being of church, family, friends, girlfriend, and women in general. If we put on Christ, we’d much rather show loving concern for our brothers and sisters in Christ, for our siblings’ and friends’ welfare. We’d much rather serve God and His Church (and therefore supposedly look “unmanly” and “soft” to the world) than conform ourselves to the world’s idiotic definition of manliness.
God desires to make us to be faithful, not unmanly and soft. Faithful men are men who are solid. These men are solid because they know their Lord, and they pattern their “manliness” after the example of Christ. Faithful men are strong in heart because they are strong in Christ. These faithful men stand for the Truth no matter the cost, following His will from the heart even though they will be despised by others, even within their church. They learn obedience by enduring suffering and pain (Heb. 5:8), and their minds are blessed with a continual emptying of self and a “full-filling” with Christ that gives and serves others. Godly men find their confidence and strength in knowing the loving will of God for themselves and for others, and they have learned thankful obedience through prayer. These are guys who watch, guard, and protect their brothers in Christ, their sisters in Christ, and their own hearts. They stand fast in the faith, brave and strong in the Lord (I Cor. 16:13). And they do this all because they love God and their Savior so much; He is everything to them.
Finally, (and this subject is part of faithfulness, too!) … we like the ladies, don’t we? It’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? That’s a good thing, but what is not good is that too often we’re trying to be ladies’ men around whom the ladies love to flock. We’re trying to get whatever we want from them. Too easily do we put on an impressive (and really a not-so-impressive-at-all) show of the world’s version of manliness by saying and doing all the “right” things. Let’s forget that and put on the only perfect, real man that ever lived. Let’s put on Jesus Christ and seek to follow His example of godliness, even in our dating. Let’s put on Him and be looking (not for all the girls we could date, but) for the right one to marry and love in Christ. Any girl that isn’t really attracted to you because you’ve put on Christ isn’t worth your time anyway. Besides, putting on Him makes it easier for you to pick out the right one, and you won’t have to worry about whether you’ve made the right choice either! This doesn’t guarantee that God will give you “the perfect girl” really soon. But if God did create one for you, then your putting on Christ will be really attractive to her.
We’ve got a long way to go in following after Christ as young men of God, don’t we? I know I do; I’m still just a little boy stumbling after Christ, falling flat on my face again and again. Really, that’s what we’ll be and be doing the rest of our life (when we’re 15, 50, and 93)—little boys stumbling after Christ. But the Savior who saved us from our sins and selfishness, and who is now ruling at God’s right hand in sovereign power, is the same King who walked His whole earthly life as the only One Who lived as the perfect real man of God. He has been our age and has faced the same temptations and struggles that we face now as young men, but He never failed His Lord! Now He fights for us against our enemies of lust and selfishness, and He doesn’t leave us to our own ideas and strength to figure out what it means for us to be faithful young men. He says, “I have written unto you, young men, because ye are strong, and the word of God abideth in you, and ye have overcome the wicked one” (I John 2:13b). He’s given us Himself for an example, and He’s given us grace that now strengthens us for our nearly impossible calling. He’s already gained the victory, and now He’s making us to be the men He desires for His kingdom now and in heaven. So let’s focus our eyes on our Captain with hearts full of confidence that He will lead us to His victory over our sinfulness. “Faithful is He that calleth you, who also will do it” (I Thess. 5:24, check out vs. 23, too). In that confidence, then, “Rise up O men of God.”3 We don’t rise up, from our sleep with some fleeting feeling of revival or in hasty foolishness, but in loving obedience and focused reliance on Him… “for the Lord is calling faithful men.”4
1 Youngblood, Ronald F. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 765. “Licentiousness—undisciplined and unrestrained behavior, especially a flagrant disregard of sexual restraints (Mark 7:22, II Cor. 12:21, KJV). The Greek word translated as licentiousness means “outrageous conduct,” showing that licentious behavior goes beyond sin to include a disregard for what is right.”
2 Youngblood, Ronald F. Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary. (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 1995), 766. “Lewdness—preoccupation with sex and sexual desire; lust (Judg. 20:6; Hos. 2:10; 6:9; Rom. 13:13). The Hebrew word translated as lewdness means an evil plan, purpose, or scheme; a wicked thought, especially with reference to sexual unchastity; ideas and practices that are indecent and disgraceful.”
3 Merrill, William P.. Rise Up, O Men of God. Music by William H. Walter.
4 Paris, Twila. Faithful Men. “Perennial: Songs for the Seasons of Life.” Sparrow Recordings. Online streaming.
About a year and a half ago, I attended a young adults summer retreat hosted by Redlands Protestant Reformed Church. During that retreat, Rev. Vander Wal spoke to us, warning us not to give in to the temptation to use our God-given talents for ourselves and our glory. Prof. Gritters also gave a speech, instructing us about how we young adults should be seeking to serve the church in specific ways. At the end of his speech, Prof. Gritters asked if somebody would volunteer to email us all later in the year to remind us of how we need to be serving the church. I’m afraid that nobody has reminded us all, and if they have, I must have overlooked the reminder. In either circumstance, I am writing to give us this reminder with an added perspective of our friendships. I also want to include the young people of our denomination in this reminder because friends are very important to us as young adults and young people (which is a good thing). Also, it won’t be long and you young people will be young adults, and this reminder is applicable to both young adults and young people. So I want to remind us of what our friendships should be like and how we young people and young adults need to be serving the church and not ourselves.
Let’s look at Jonathan and David who show us what a real friendship should be like. The first thing we hear about Jonathan and David’s friendship is that “the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul” (I Sam. 18:1). The first part of this passage can also be translated as “the life of Jonathan was bound up with the life of David.”1 Immediately, these two young guys became friends who would stick closer than brothers, brothers born for adversity (Prov. 18:24, 17:17). These two knit-together hearts were bound by God.
While it cannot be doubted that David and Jonathan’s hearts were knit by none other than God, we should also notice when and how God bound their hearts. David had just finished defeating Goliath in front of Israel and the Philistines, and now he sat in the presence of King Saul. Saul asked him, “Whose son art thou, thou young man?” and David responded with, “I am the son of thy servant Jesse the Bethlehemite.” Now, notice what happened next. “…when he [David] had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soul of Jonathan was knit with the soul of David” (I Sam. 17:58-18:1) In the instant that came immediately after David finished speaking, Jonathan not only had taken a liking to David, but his life was immediately bound up with David’s life. Amazing! Why did this happen after David spoke? What was so special about David simply identifying himself so that immediately Jonathan’s soul was knit with David’s after David spoke?
It wasn’t necessarily what David said but the manner in which he answered Saul that caught Jonathan’s attention. There was evidently something special about David. What was so special about David was his godly character that radiated from his heart to all those around. When he spoke before King Saul, General Abner, and Jonathan, his godly character was all over him. Jonathan’s attention was probably also caught by the common interest that could only be shared by two young but brave warriors—battle tactics, equipment, training, etc. However, it was Jonathan and David’s godly character, which immediately bound their lives and souls together, that was central to their friendship.
Let’s compare our friendships with Jonathan and David’s friendship. What is the basis of our friendships? We probably have friends “in the church” and we date within the PR church just like our parents told us because we’re brought up with the same doctrines. But is that faith, that common godliness, the center of our friendships and dating relationship? Read I Samuel 18:1-4, 19:1-6, and all of chapter 20. Whether David had joyful circumstances or hard afflictions, Jonathan was always bringing David to God. I know that there are different levels of relationships—our date, our closest friend(s), other not-as-close friends that we just don’t see as often. We probably don’t talk much about “the deep stuff” with some of our not-as-close friends and therefore don’t speak much about our common faith with them. But do our close friends’ or boyfriend’s/girlfriend’s godly character cause a certain bond between us because we share the same faith, just like Jonathan and David’s friendship?
A very good way to gauge what really is the basis of our friendships is what we talk about. I am aware that God never commands us to have a Bible study or to engage in a deep discussion about something like the theology of worship, every time we go out with our friends. In fact, I think that God doesn’t want our faces to be always frowning in deep thought when we’re with our friends. Leave that for when the time calls for it. Let’s go to Bible study, meeting our Father over His Word night and day, crying with our friends who are crying, and encouraging them with the Word. Let’s have fun, laugh it up, keeping it light, keeping it real (i.e., be genuine, be real). God wants us to enjoy being around each other, doing all these things at the right time and in the right way. He is not opposed to us busting a gut over something that is truly funny (Eccl. 3:1, 4). But my question to myself and to all my fellow young people and young adults is this: what are you and I talking about and laughing at when we are with our friends?
I would be dishonest with myself and you all if I thought I was nit-picking the little things. I fear for us, young people and young adults, because the “little things” have added up. We are consistently talking about the wrong things; our conversations are suddenly taking those quick twists and we delve into some sinful and empty subject. We are gossiping about other people’s sinfulness and foolishness, whether that be from our own life or from watching our TV or computer screen. We’re eagerly throwing it out and around to anyone who will “get a load of this” juicy bit of news. Worse yet, by all our laughing and talking about these things, we’re enjoying exactly what Satan wants us to enjoy—wickedness. And to top it all, plenty of our conversation is littered with profaning the name of God, cursing and swearing, and filthy words. We’re laughing at and enjoying sin, and we’re loving it. The problem isn’t that we’re laughing or talking; the problem is what we’re laughing at and talking about. I know I’ve been guilty of all these things time and again. My friends, we have messed up. You’ve messed up, I’ve messed up.
It would be easy for us to make excuses for our sins like, “Yeah, wow, my friends and I, we’re just talking, and suddenly the conversation takes a turn and we’re on some topic that’s, well,…pretty worthless.” Or, “Man, the things I watch on the TV screen and the ‘innocent’ magazines I read they just so deceptively twist my idea of what is truly funny and what is really important.” Or, “You know, I just have been hooked on watching this TV show, and because it was just ‘my kind of show,’ I let all the other bad stuff get into my mind. I know I gotta stop.” We kind of blame our sins on ourselves, but mostly on what “just gets thrown at us, you know!” We think we’re kind of helpless, and we like it that way. But you and I can’t make those types of excuses and expect to change. We need to be honest with ourselves.
The root of this problem isn’t with this sinful world or the devil. No doubt they are our “mortal enemies” who attack our sinful natures day in and day out, presenting tons of opportunities for us to feed our flesh. But we can’t blame others, not even our enemies. Our root problem lies in ourselves—our selfishness (look up LD 52, Q&A 127). We need to look inside our hearts and do some serious self-examination. The first thing I find when I look at my own heart is my own selfishness. Only the Lord knows how deep my selfishness lies! I’ve gone to somebody’s house or whatever the place thinking that this time is “my” time and I’ve failed to even think of serving God and my neighbor, even the very neighbor I call “best friend.” We’ve gone with our friends to gain whatever we can in the sight of men, and we certainly don’t go with the proper mindset of seeking to serve and enjoying the joy of others. We’ve gone out on dates or out with our friends with the goal of me, myself, and I. We’ve forgotten that we must first deny “self’ before we can take up our cross and follow Him (Matt. 16:24). The vain and sinful things we laugh at and talk about are just our selfishness that has crept to the surface, from our hearts to our mouths.
Now our selfishness is leaving a wide-open way for the world’s and the devil’s weapons to continuously be unleashed upon us. We’re hurting ourselves, but the consequences for our selfishness don’t stop there. Those consequences impact our friends so much so that to the extent in which we selfishly seek ourselves we also persecute our friends. Imagine that! By not encouraging holiness in each other while enjoying sin, we’re openly persecuting our friends! (James 4:1-3). We’re causing them to sin, and we’re definitely not seeking their good. Further yet,…well, it’s too painful to think of the kind of witness we’re spreading to our neighbors around us.
However, I would also be deceiving myself and you all if I didn’t tell you that we have every reason to hope even though we’ve been selfishly seeking ourselves, persecuting our friends, and destroying the glory and name of God. That reason is Christ’s humiliation and the power He gave to us described in Philippians 2:5-7a. This passage seems to be one of the best places in the Bible to help us to begin chiseling at our selfishness. The passage reads, “Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant….” Paul is pointing to Christ to show us young people and young adults the kind of mind, the kind of heart-attitude, we should have. He washed our feet by making “himself of no reputation,” meaning that He “emptied Himself.”2 Our King Jesus, who is fully and holy God, having every blessing and possessing every piece of creation, took it upon Himself to empty Himself of everything that was His in heaven to come to earth to serve us. We can’t understand the depths of that grace and mercy! The Son of God came down to wash our feet, even us young people and young adults! He left the perfect fellowship He had in God Himself, and He forsook His throne as the Son in Heaven to take on our flesh and triumph over our sins. And He did it all by emptying Himself and washing our feet, going the whole way to the cross. And now Paul can say, “Let this mind be in you,” because Jesus Christ merited for us this powerful gift of a self-emptying mind by His own self-emptying life.
So, let’s empty ourselves. Let’s remember what we are on this earth for Him and His kingdom. Let’s throw out our desires for the fake satisfaction of what the devil and the world throw at us and rely only on Him for all our joy, all our life, all our laughs. “Wait,” you say, “did you just say rely on Him for all our laughs?” Yes, I did.
We want to laugh? I mean, really laugh? Then let’s live the laugh-full life of joy and love by not seeking self or the praise of men, but by seeking to serve. By always seeking to serve, we will have plenty of joyful things to laugh about. Having the mind of Christ and washing other peoples’ feet won’t make everything funny, but He does give us a joy that no man can take away (1 Cor. 2:16, John 16:22). And I know, without any doubt, that even when you don’t feel at all like smiling, singing, or laughing, when you are in the sorest of afflictions, or you are wounded and discouraged in the battle of faith, God will give you joy (see Acts 16:23-25, and 5:41). In that joy, the joy that no man can take away, you can always look up to your God in the heavens and smile knowing that your Creator is sovereign and provides you with everything you need.
So what does emptying ourselves look like for young people and young adults like us? Let’s be specific. At night, let’s let go of our favorite feeding-the-flesh movies and TV shows to serve whomever. We’re going to get our godly creative juices flowing and use whatever talents we have to glorify God and seek to serve. If we think we have nothing to do, let’s take a walk or run through creation. Chances are it’s been too long since the last time we really enjoyed God’s handiwork. After the Sunday morning service, let’s quit gorging ourselves with Sunday dinner (while deeply discussing the latest sports news) and sleeping the whole afternoon away to “catch up” on sleep. We can use that Sunday afternoon to taste heavenly fellowship with God and His people, get some physical rest, and diligently labor to enter into His spiritual rest (Heb. 4, esp. v. 11). We can visit our grandparents or other elderly people with our friends on Sunday. Let’s sing with them, talk with them, learn from them. Whether we are over 21 years old or not, let’s quit drinking too much alcohol for our belly’s sake and start drinking a little for our stomach’s sake or to enjoy God’s abundant blessings to us. And pray, Oh let’s pray! We’re going to pray to God that He would be pleased to shine His glory through us. We’re going to rely on God’s strength for selflessness and for a Christ-like, self-emptied mind. Without gaining His strength through prayer and relying on Him there is no way we can glorify God by serving Him and His church (John 15:5).
When we live with hearts full of love and empty of self, God’s glory and beauty shine through us to change ourselves and those around us by our seeking to serve. By His power of seeking to serve, He will work through us to transform our and others selfish hearts into hearts that respond to His love. We won’t make excuses for our sins any more, but we will seek the Holy Spirit to show us our sins so that we can repent quickly. We will delight in encouraging spiritual growth in our friends as Jonathan and David did, and we will be prepared for every good work (John 14:12, 7:38). Do you see what hope we have together with Christ’s self-emptying power within us? It’s not easy to see how ugly our sins are, but “faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Prov. 27:6). My friends, “it is of the Lord’s mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not.” This we recall to our minds, and therefore we have hope (Lam. 3:21-22).
1 The King James Version of the Bible. Reference Edition. Thomas Nelson Publishers. Nashville: 264 Alternative translation in the reference section.
2 Prof. Engelsrna preached a sermon on December 10, 2006 based on Phil. 2. In that sermon, he said that the phrase “made himself of no reputation” in Phil. 2:7a actually means in the Greek “emptied Himself.”
Stefan is a member of the Protestant Reformed Church in Loveland, Colorado. He wrote this essay for the Protestant Reformed Scholarship.
Respect, the literal meaning being “to look again,” is neither given nor required by the world we live in. If the world does demand honor for authority, it is only for selfish and sinful reasons. The Protestant Reformed teacher, as a witness to the baptism of children must, along with the parents, also “see that these children be instructed and brought up in the aforesaid doctrine…, to the utmost of [his] power.” He earnestly desires to diligently teach the students the fear of the Lord. Respect is at the very heart and core of fearing the Lord and obeying His commands. Respect does not come naturally to man at all, so the students must be taught and led in the way of honoring authority. Even though authority is a matter of the heart, it still must be taught and demanded by the teacher, for God does use this means to mold and shape His church for His glory.
The disrespect shown to authority and peers on this earth is indicative of fallen man’s natural state of enmity towards God. Man is conceived and born in sin (Ps. 51:5), and his proud heart hates God and the neighbor (Ps. 14:1-3, Rom. 3:10-18). Disrespect can be wrongly encouraged by friends, and Satan uses negative peer pressure to tempt deceitfully wicked hearts. He knows that if he can get covenant children to despise and hate authority, he has won a battle in his fight against God and His Church. The old man of sin must be constantly mortified, or it rises in rebellion against the enthroned Christ reigning in the regenerated heart. Not only does man have his innate sinful nature, but God promises in Scripture that the end times of Antichrist are characterized by extremely disobedient and hate-filled children (Matt. 10:21, Mark 13:12, II Tim. 3:2). The recent news reports, which tell of children rising up and murdering their parents, cannot be ignored. Knowing the end times are present or very near must spur the Protestant Reformed teacher to instruct the students in proper honor and respect.
The dishonoring of authority might be allowed to bloom and grow because of the teacher’s dereliction of duty. Children learn very soon who is really in charge of the classroom when the teacher shows himself to be hesitant to use godly Biblical discipline when necessary. This is not true Christ-like love to let God-given children go uncorrected and allow their sins to be unpunished. God commands that His children be chastened in love when they sin (Prov. 3:11-12, Heb. 12:5-7) as He chastens all of His beloved.
The teacher must deal with the heart. If he does not, the child learns to obey the law to avoid conflict or punishment rather than to obey from the heart to show thankful obedience to God for salvation. When he teaches, he must show how the sovereign God glorifies Himself in all things, and therefore how we must glorify Him because of our knowledge of Him and His creation. The teacher must correctly portray why the Christian is placed on this earth: not for himself, but to respond in gratitude by performing good works to the glory of God.
God’s fifth commandment is foundational to all the succeeding commands. In other words, a heart that shows honor and love for all those in authority also reveals a love for the neighbor, shows a desire to live chastely and temperately, wants to promote the advantage of the neighbor, loves the truth, and delights in all righteousness. The Protestant Reformed teacher must teach that, when God speaks to Israel of having long life in the land which He gave them, this is a picture of the full realization of God’s promise to us that we shall be given eternity in heaven.
The basis for this loving correction is the place of authority given the teacher by God and the fact that the child is the sole possession of God. This is absolutely essential to know because the teacher disciplines for disrespect towards God and not simply because the teacher has been offended in some way.
How God regards disrespect of authority is quickly understood by the students when they hear the story of the punishment of the children who mocked Elisha (II Kings 2:23-24). God caused two bears to kill them! All throughout their history Israel was chastened by Jehovah because they disobeyed Him. On the contrary, obedience is always crowned with the rewards of grace. Noah, by faith, obeyed God by building the ark when there had not yet been rain. He and his family were saved from the flood by God’s grace and mercy. When the students are shown from Scripture their obligations and duties in honoring authority, the heart is affected because God has spoken.
Just as the parents are called by God to bring up their children “in the nurture and admonition of the Lord,” (Eph. 6:4) the same must be carried over into the classroom so that there is the consistency that what is taught in the godly Reformed Christian home is also upheld at school. They must be taught that their responsibility is to show “all honor, love and fidelity, to my father and mother, and all in authority over me, and submit myself to their good instruction and correction.” (Heidelberg Catechism Q & A 104). The Protestant Reformed teacher clearly shows to the class that obedience and honor to God go hand-in-hand and are inseparable. The students must know that they ought to be thankful to God not only for their parents and teachers, but also for their pastors and elders. It is the teaching and ruling elders’ duty to tend the flock, and they are the means God uses to watch over His people’s souls.
The teacher must lead God’s children in living under God’s ever faithful eye rather than living for the approval of peers. Setting forth the holiness of Jehovah must cause the children to see how they ought to strive with all their hearts to be holy (Lev. 19:2, I Pet. 1:15).
With all of the obligations and responsibilities the teacher has concerning God-given youth, it is the grace and blessing of God that the Protestant Reformed teacher needs to accomplish this all-consuming task. Though the teacher may not always be brought to his physical knees in prayer, he is spiritually “brought to the knees” to pray in his heart. He knows that though he can speak to the hearts of his students by using God’s Word for instruction, it is only God who, by His Holy Spirit, can change the heart. And oh! how the teacher knows from his own experience that the heart needs the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ for sorrow, confession, and repentance. How utterly futile is the teacher’s labor except the Lord work in and through it!
At the end of the school day the teacher leads the class in prayer that God “would give us humble hearts to receive godly instruction, to honor and love all authority, and to obey God’s commands from the heart.” When he has graded all the papers and has prepared for the next day, he thanks God from the depth of his soul that He has shown His faithfulness to him once again in that day to carry out his task. He implores God for his great need to be patient and forbearing. He prays for wisdom to instruct His children and for God’s continued grace to use him as a weak means to fulfill His will.
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