Epiphany: a season of evangelism
By Stephen Andrews
Jan 15, 2024
‘For the God who said, “Out of darkness light shall shine,” has caused his light to shine in our hearts, the light which is knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ’ (2 Corinthians 4.6)
John Stott wrote, ‘If the gospel is the “good news” it claims to be, and if it has been entrusted to us, we incur guilt if we do not pass it on.’ This quotation comes to mind every time discussion in the church turns to the matter of whether or not we have too many church buildings, the economic advisability of consolidating congregations, and the sale of property. A hard question we all have to ask ourselves (and here I include the so-called ‘successful’ churches) is how faithful we have been as stewards of the Christian story – a story that sheds the light of truth and love in the darkness of confusion and suffering that is the human condition.
What is at the root of our silence, I wonder? Even the shyest among us will usually have some opinion to contribute to a discussion on the weather, while the more gregarious can positively bore us with details of the latest trip to the dentist. But let the matter of religion be mentioned, and conversation dries up like a hose with a kink in it. Why is this? Is it, in part, that we lack an incentive to share the faith?
Incentive, of course, is an important part of most of what we do in life. Employers dangle the promise of bonuses and promotions before their employees, while parents are wont to expand on the lucrative rewards awaiting the child who behaves well or performs exceptionally in school. Perhaps we have never stopped to think about the incentives for being more open and engaging with people about spiritual matters.
What should impel us as Christians to be active in witness? In his commentary on Romans, John Stott mentions three important incentives: obedience, love of neighbour, and the glory of God.
Obedience comes as a response to a command, and Jesus gave a clear command to his followers at the end of his earthly ministry: ‘Go, make disciples’ (Matthew 28.19). Our churches can be hives of activity, but how much of our energies actually support the nurturing of discipleship? If we want to live in obedience to our Lord’s charge, we should be intentional about relating everything we do in our congregations to Christ’s mission of disciple-making.
But there is of course such a thing as blind obedience – obedience rendered mechanically, without sensitivity, or for the wrong reasons. So, we have another incentive (also given in the form of a command): ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’ (Mark 12.31). Jesus means by this that we should seek to serve our neighbour’s highest good. For the most part we do this quite automatically when our neighbour lacks food, clothing, or shelter, or when he or she is in distress. But like us, our neighbour has needs which go beyond the physical and psychological. Jesus said that one ‘does not live by bread alone’ (Matthew 4.4). Human beings have spiritual as well as physical hungers, and we cannot claim to love our neighbour truly if we fail to introduce our neighbour personally to ‘the true bread from heaven’ (John 6.32).
Obedience and compassion are strong incentives, but perhaps the overriding impetus for doing the work of the gospel has to be the glory of God. The season of Epiphany is all about the glory of God. Our readings from the Gospels describe how, in his birth and in his baptism, in his miracles and in his preaching, the glory of God was being revealed to the world in Jesus. What ought to lie at the heart of our own worship and witness is the belief that God is truly great, and that those who come to know him through Jesus Christ will discover life in its abundance.
Is this a fundamental conviction for us? Indeed, have we ever stopped to consider that the very fact that our churches exist, and that we know anything at all about the Christian faith, is because somebody, somewhere, at some point in history – whether through blind obedience, through his or her own love of a neighbour in need, and through a determination to bring glory to God – shared the gospel with another person?
We are understandably concerned about the state of the church these days. It is a lot harder and more unfashionable to be a Christian today than it was forty years ago. But it is God’s way to dispel darkness with light and to fashion hearts of flesh out of hearts of stone. If we would but be willing partners in the ministry of the good news (motivated by our desire to be obedient, compassionate, and honouring of God’s glory), I think our perspective on our situation – and our destiny – would be transformed.
With every good wish for a glory-filled Epiphany,