Sunday, April 19, 2009

Purpose

Purpose. It's become a loaded word in my fellowship of churches. Some of you may recall the debate (still ongoing in my heart) between our "purpose" as Christians and our "mission." I won't get into that debate here other than comment that my heart has recently been challenged with a recent run of sermons on this topic. I want to stand up and shout, "our purpose is not to bring people to church!" The topic of evangelism always makes me queasy, because I relate that to "numbers" and "accountability" that were used as abusive, manipulative, incorrect means to the correct end. To me, evangelism isn't about church invites, or "visitors", or "cranking." Instead it is literally about "sharing my faith" with someone else. If they respond, amen! If not, that seed is planted and I trust God to do with it what He pleases.

Sadly, whenever I hear "purpose" or "share your faith" in a sermon, my ears tune out the message and my ego turns on with defensiveness. So it took an outside source to shake this from me. I was listening to a radio sermon last week (if you haven't read my last post, let me sum it up: if you listen to a radio ministry, support it financially!) and the topic was Purpose. Right away I wanted to listen thinking that this lesson would validate all my feelings on the subject. It didn't. Instead it reaffirmed the Christian purpose to "seek and save the lost."

This lesson referenced Philippians 1:12-30 where Paul is referring to being imprisoned for the sake of the Gospel: "Now I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel... The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice...I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death...If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me...Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel." (Phil 1:12,18ff,20,22ff,27 emphasis added)

While the context was Paul's sufferings, his encouragement to the Christians in Philippi was that this suffering can be used to advance the Gospel and therefore to not be discouraged by any hardship. With that in mind, I want to focus on how Paul was evangelistic here. Obviously he couldn't invite his captors to church, where would they go? Instead he used his circumstance to explain his conviction. This is something we all can do, and is more literally sharing our faith than a simple invite to church.

Something else he points out here that is very important to me. He talks about "Christ being exalted in [his] body," and, "conducting [our]selves in a manner worthy of the gospel." Our lives should reflect the gospel of Jesus. Our very lives should be our evangelism. In my wallet I have a business card that reads, "How have I been Christ's presence today?" I keep it in front of my driver's license because I consider this my real ID. In this context, evangelism to advance the gospel of Christ is very much my purpose.

Purpose or mission, it's all really just semantics anyway. The real question is how have you been Christ's presence today?

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