Why the labourers are few

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Luke 10:1-2

There are a few reasons why there is a lack of labourers, and they are:

  1. Inappropriate Response to the Call of Jesus
  2. Incomplete Gospel
  3. Incompetence to Preach the Gospel
  4. Inactivity as an Ambassador for Christ

Inappropriate Response to the Call of Jesus

Events in the preceding chapter explains Jesus’ conclusion that the harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Let’s look at what happened in chapter 9.

As Jesus and his disciples were walking along the road, a few had expressed their desire to join Jesus on this mission to seek and save those who are lost. Three of such men were chosen to be mentioned by Luke in his narrative.

The first man was ready to follow Jesus anywhere but had a change of heart after knowing the imminent uncomfortable life that awaits him. About the second and third men, while their approach were different: one was invited by Jesus to follow him and the other came on his own accord, their responses were similar. One of them asked Jesus to first let him go and bury his father and the other asked Jesus to first let him go back and say goodbye to his family. These men clearly had no concept of the immediacy of obedience, that nothing, regardless of their importance or urgency, takes precedence over following Christ.

The way the brothers Andrew and Peter responded to the call of Jesus was both appropriate and exemplary. “At once they left their nets and followed him” (Matt 4:20). At once. Likewise, the sons of Zebedee, James and John, “immediately…left the boat and their father and followed him” (Matt 4:22). The immediacy of their response was important to Matthew such that he was careful not to neglect the mention of this small detail because it was the way he responded to the call of Jesus too. This was how Matthew describes his encounter with the Lord Jesus, and his response:

As Jesus went on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax collector’s booth. “Follow me,” he told him, and Matthew got up and followed him. (Matt 9:9)

Not only was their responses immediate, they were also unreserved. All native English speakers will know that ‘follow’ is a verb that means “to move behind someone or something and go where he, she, or it goes” according to the Cambridge Dictionary. But to the disciples (that I just talked about), in ‘follow’ are two verbs, not one. The first is to leave something or someone behind, and the second is to go after someone or something else. The former must precede the latter for optimum results. The majority of the multitude that accompanied Jesus as he went from place to place had not made the willful decision to leave something or someone behind. Hence, after some time…and distance, many turned back and went home.

Incomplete Gospel

One of my favorite illustrations is of a man who faithfully stands at a certain street corner and preaches to anyone who is within earshot of his voice. Day after day, he preaches, and day after day people would walk by, pause to listen for a while, and then carry on walking. On the second storey of the building behind where this man stands lives a young boy. Unable to hold back his curiosity, the young boy musters enough courage to ask the man, “Sir, why do keep preaching when no one is listening to you?” The man’s reply to this boy’s legitimate question hopefully will inspire and convict you at the same time. He said, “Son, it isn’t true that no one is listening to what I preach. I am listening. It is important that I preach the gospel even if it is to myself so that I will not forget what God has done to save me from my sins.”

Wow!

So, it is crucial that we continuously preach the gospel, even if it is to ourselves. The Psalmist reminds himself to bless the Lord with all his being, and to “forget not all his benefits” (Psa 103:2).

What benefits, you say?

The gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News for sinners because it is about how “while we were yet sinners Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8) and how “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21). As a result, the redeemed are “blessed with every spiritual blessing in Christ”: election, adoption, redemption, forgiveness, and divine revelation, just to name a few (Eph 1:3-10).

Many missed the point that if God “did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all–how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Rom 8:32)

Unfortunately, in modern Christianity, the gospel has been re-engineered and re-packaged to indulge the various segment sof the population. To the sick, we promise (on God’s behalf) healing. To the poor, we promise material blessings. While healing, health, wealth and the such are part of the benefits of knowing and believing in God, they are secondary to the benefits of redemption and salvation of our souls. Please remember that the gospel is about Jesus Christ and about him alone. The name Jesus, as announced by the angel Gabriel to Mary, tells us why he was given in the first place: “to save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21).  John MacArthur rightly says that “a gospel that does not confront sin is not the gospel of Jesus Christ.” “A gospel that does not address the cross or sin might be more palatable to the world and might get more people in the pews, but it does not get them saved” (Michael Davis, A gospel that does not confront sin does not save).

In preaching the gospel, sin must be front and centre. It must be talked about more than the benefits and blessings of God. Preaching the gospel without talking about sin is like a TV salesman persuading someone to buy a TV set based on its looks rather than its function. The buyer might end up displaying the TV at home but never realising he could be enjoying the many programmes it carries.

Incompetency to Preach the Gospel

Many Christians are not preaching the gospel regularly, or even occasionally, because they lack confidence. They lack confidence because they are incompetent. And they are incompetent because they have not be properly trained by the Evangelist.

Role of the Evangelist

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up” Eph 4:11-12 NIV

I believe that we have misunderstood the meaning of these verses, and consequently erred in our practice of them.

According to Paul the apostle, these five types of ministers were given by God to the Church to equip the saints to do the work of the ministry and not to do the work themselves. Take the evangelist for example. His (or her) role is to train the saints to share the Gospel of Christ with unbelievers. In the modern Church, the roles have been reversed. Instead of equipping the saints, evangelists are doing the work themselves while the Church watches and cheers from a safe distance.

With the present understanding of the evangelist’s role, we would naturally think that Paul was charging Timothy to devote himself to preaching of the gospel to unbelievers in Ephesus, the city where he was (See 2 Tim 4:5). If Timothy had done that, then it would be at the expense of his primary duties of warning those who were spreading false teachings (1 Tim 1:3-4), passing on Paul’s teachings to faithful men (2 Tim 2:2) and appointing elders to oversee the church at Ephesus. Timothy, you see, was first an apostle who was urged by Paul to double up as an evangelist at the same time since none was yet identified.

Over the years, God has anointed many and used them greatly to preach the gospel to the masses in the nations. These, in my opinion, should be the exceptions rather than the rule. When the church hires the ‘anointed man’ to preach the gospel, it turns saints into spectators. This inactivity on the part of the saints will naturally lead to atrophy of their spiritual muscles and senses. Thus churches are full of spiritual handicaps.

Inactivity as an Ambassador for Christ

The task of preaching the Gospel does not belong to the evangelist – one of the five types of ministers God has given to the church – but to every believer of Jesus Christ. Paul, in Second Corinthians 5:19-20, tells us that God has “committed to us the message of reconciliation”. Henceforth, we are to go forth as “ambassadors for Christ”, imploring sinners on behalf of God, saying, “Be reconciled to God”.

If you have been involved in any form of mediation, you would know that the process of reconciliation is a long and arduous one. It is necessitated by the breakdown of the relationship between two friends for various reasons, such as an unresolved conflict. When friendly attempts to bring them together again has failed, or when neither of the estranged parties are willing to bury the hatched, then the help of professionals will need to be sought. Enter the Mediator.

The compassionate mediator will tirelessly approach each of the two parties, beseeching them to either apologise or forgive, to let bygones be bygones. Indignation, denials, and blame shifting are common responses at first. But, say, the mediator was successful in bringing the two ‘enemies’ together. Has reconciliation taken place? Say that the mediator was able to persuade the two parties to forgive and forget. Has reconciliation taken place? It is possible that in spite of efforts of the mediator, the two ‘enemies’ can shake hands, declare a truce, go their separate ways, and never want to see each other again. If this happens, reconciliation has failed.

Reconciliation has taken place and is complete when the relationship between the two former friends have been restored to the original state – to the way it was before it was damaged by conflict. In other words, they must be friends again.

The Bible says that a sinner, which we all were, is an enemy of God (Rom 5:10). This is true not just for some, but for everyone because “all have sinned” (Rom 3:23). But God was not content to let mankind remain hostile towards him. He sent His Son to reconcile the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:19). In Christ, the sinner will find forgiveness of sins, redemption, adoption, inheritance, and much more. But the sinner must first believe in the Son. We call this Conversion. And typically, it is marked by the sinner’s willingness to pray to God and acknowledge Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior. But has the sinner been completely reconciled to God at this point?

Far from it. The process of reconciliation continues and culminates in the sinner becoming a “friend” of God. And who is a friend of God? Jesus says: “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you” (John 15:14 NKJV).

Based on this, we know that many Christians still have not been fully reconciled to God because they are still habitually disobedient to God. They are, in Paul’s words, “carnally-minded” and not “spiritually-minded”. “The carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be” (Rom 8:7 NKJV).

The Ministry of Reconciliation seeks to bring the sinner all the way to becoming a “friend” of God. Evangelism, sad to say, falls short of this goal.

Somehow, we have managed to dichotomize the Ministry of Reconciliation into two distinct tasks: winning soul (evangelism) and nurturing the believer (discipleship).

Ministry of Reconciliation…Re-loaded.

The work of evangelism is the work belonging to every Christ. This is the message of 2 Corinthians 5:18.

“Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.”

This squashes the excuse used by many Christians that they do not have the “gift of evangelism”. They gladly let the anointed “evangelists” do the work for them.

There is no such thing as the “gift of evangelism”, says Ed Stetzer.

The Ministry of Reconciliation is inline with the Great Commission because it incorporates the work of “teaching them to obey” – discipleship.

Often, it is said that The Great Commission has become The Great Omission. I agree, to a certain extent. The Great Commission has become The Great Omission not because Christians are not going but because, even having gone, we are not making disciples. We are merely evangelizing – a half-step between “Go” and “make disciples”.

The Great Commission is a two-part commandment. You have not obeyed it if you have only obeyed one part – to Go.

What remains to be done, urgently, is for the Church to recover the missing file and reload it into its spiritual DNA. Evangelism is at best a task, a project, a program, or an event. Granted, we try to encourage Christians to make evangelism a lifestyle, but we must admit that we have failed drastically. Instead of being clever in our own eyes and invent new ways of achieving this, let us return God, and Do His Work His Way.

Preach Always

Is there a good time to preach the gospel? Apparently not. If there were, Paul would not have exhorted Timothy to “preach the word…in season and out of season” (2 Tim 4:2). I like the New Living Translation which renders it “whether the time is favorable or not”. The reason for this exhortation is that the day is approaching when “men will not tolerate sound doctrine, but with itching ears they will gather around themselves teachers to suit their own desires.”

In spite of this explicit command from the apostle, many Christians today still hold back from preaching the gospel to their friends and colleagues, and prefer to employ the Lifestyle (a.k.a. Relationship Evangelism) or Relational Evangelism strategies.

Examples of Relationship Evangelism are abundant in the Bible. Here are a few of them:

  1. Andrew brought his brother Peter to Jesus.
  2. Philip brought his friend Nathanael (John 1:40-51).
  3. The Samaritan woman told her whole town about her encounter with Jesus (John 4:28-42).
  4. The exorcised man from the Gerasenes went home and told his friends how much Jesus had done for him (Mark 5:19-20).
  5. Matthew invited his friends to a dinner party where they could meet Jesus (Matthew 9:10-13).
  6. Zaccheus invited many of his friends to a dinner party (Luke 19)

The same, however, cannot be said about Lifestyle Evangelism or Friendship/Relationship Evangelism. This method of evangelism is a process of developing meaningful relationships with people in which they can see the gospel lived out in your life, which hopefully will lead to spiritual discussion, and maybe even an opportunity to share the gospel. The operative word is ‘hopefully’. Months, even years of living godly lives before your friends and relatives and colleagues might or might not lead to great spiritual thirst in their spirits. What will you do if they never say to you, “Please tell me why you do what you do?”

I am not against becoming friends with unbelievers but many Christians never get around to sharing the gospel after they had become friends with an unbeliever. It becomes harder to share the gospel with people as you get closer because you have more to lose now. The longer you wait, the probability that you will share the gospel with your friend will diminish greatly.

The reason this method of evangelism is popular is because it is comfortable. Christians do not have to open declare their faith – they hope that others will realise it eventually. Because they are not preaching the gospel, they avoid the risk (more like pain and embarrassment) of rejection or, worse still persecution.

Another common type of “evangelism” is called servant evangelism, which is defined as: “Actively looking for ways to do small acts of kindness for people so you can “win their hearts” and open them up to share the gospel with them” (servantevangelism.com).

We should be getting out and serving people. This is a good idea. But I have one question to those who believe that this is evangelism: “Is the gospel not powerful enough on it’s own to bring people to Christ?” The Apostles and early disciples preached the gospel no matter how they thought the people would respond.

 

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