Rev. Mahtani was the eastern home missionary of the Protestant Reformed Churches who has recently taken the call to Bethel PRC. Previous article in this series: May 1, 2005, p. 344.
Godly Christian hospitality, a healthy covenant family life, broader study, and fervent prayer
I would like yet to suggest several practical and concrete ways by which we can help equip our people in personal evangelism.
The first is the exercise of godly Christian hospitality. The word translated “hospitality” in the Greek Scriptures literally means “the love of strangers.” God’s people are commanded to exercise hospitality! This was done in the Old Testament already: “Love ye therefore the stranger: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt” (Deut. 10:19). Since God has in His mercy drawn us to Himself, we are to have a gracious disposition towards strangers. It is true that we are to exercise hospitality also one to another, as I Peter 4:9instructs: “Use hospitality one to another without grudging.” However, we must not limit the exercise of hospitality to the communion of saints. As children of our Father in heaven, we must show love and mercy to all men, even to our enemies (Matt. 5:44, 45). This we do out of the love of God, who loved us and saved us in His Son.
The parable of the Good Samaritan recorded in Luke 10:30-37 is a good example of such instruction. We must not ask who is my neighbor, but to whom might I be a neighbor? Whom has God placed on the pathway of my life so that I might show him the love of Christ and bring the mercies of Christ with deeds and with gospel words? From my experience, it is much harder to evangelize when we have not established some kind of rapport. True, we might give out an invitation, or we might even debate a certain point of doctrine in the midst of small conversation here and there, but if there is no trust, care, and love, personal evangelism is impossible. Why should our neighbors or our colleagues listen to what we have to say about the holy gospel when in every other sphere we show ourselves unfriendly and inhospitable? But if we show a gracious and hospitable and friendly spirit, the door is usually open to some kind of spiritual conversation.
One of the concerns usually raised is that if we encourage such personal evangelism we stand in danger of encouraging our people to compromise with the world. I believe, however, that there is a proper, biblical way in which we must learn to befriend the stranger, even when such a one may not be a Christian. This is different from establishing a friendship, for our friends must be the people of God. We must not use personal evangelism, for example, as an excuse to enter into a romantic relationship with the unbeliever. This is dangerous and this is wrong. We must beware lest we use personal evangelism as a cloak whilst we pine after the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (I John 2:15-17).
Nevertheless, it is equally wrong to go to the opposite extreme and refuse to do personal evangelism. The call to an anti- thetical life is an intensely spiritual matter. The lines that are drawn must not be physical lines but spiritual lines. We must not live in isolation. We live in this world. God has placed us here for a purpose. We are to be lights in the midst of darkness. We must not use the calling to be antithetical as an excuse not to do personal evangelism.
We must refuse to be “hyper-Calvinist” when it comes to personal evangelism. I firmly believe that our doctrinal stand is in no way hyper-Calvinist. That is oftentimes the false accusation hurled at those who deny the free offer of the gospel. Nevertheless, we must be careful that in our practice we do not put on a hyper-Calvinist attitude and refuse to work with people who come with all kinds of previous baggage. Neither must we be rash in condemning everything and everyone outside of our own denomination. Then we are guilty of making people shy away from the very truth that we claim to treasure and uphold, the truth of God’s amazing grace, which humbles the pride of man and teaches us to give glory and gratitude to God alone.
Godly Christian hospitality must extend to strangers, not only to those who are Christian but also to those outside the faith. Again, we must not do this out of any carnal desire to make friends with the world and simply have a good time. We must do this because we know that that is why God has placed us on this earth. In fact, I would say that the only reason—whether at work, school, in the grocery store, or in a restaurant—that God has placed His people in this world is that they might evangelize. This ought to be our motivation. We must walk in love for strangers so that through our faithful testimony others might be won to Christ.
After all, the motivation for all evangelism ought to be love—love for God and love for our neighbor. God has so greatly loved us. He has given His only begotten Son for our salvation. We deserve not that love. Now, out of gratitude to God, we evangelize. We who know the grace of God must be gracious to our neighbor. We who know His bond of friendship ought to be friendly towards others. God does not show us His grace merely in giving us things. He reveals Himself to us and speaks to us His Word of love and mercy. We too must love our neighbor that way. Not only by showing compassion by acts of kindness, but also by speaking the word of the gospel to our neighbors. Jehovah has shown His great love to sinners and has drawn us to His own house; we, His covenant people, must manifest that great love by drawing sinners, even into our homes.
Does that mean we allow the sinner to come in and corrupt our homes? What if he comes cursing and swearing? Clearly, when we make contact with unbelievers, we must ensure that we do so without fellowshipping with their sin. We must be careful not to allow unbelievers to be an ungodly influence on us and on our children. In that regard, we must make sure that we have a healthy covenant family life if we are to do personal evangelism within our homes. This, as we shall see next, is one of the most powerful ways to do the work of personal evangelism.
We must be sure that the purpose of our contact is to bring them the gospel by a godly witness. When one enters into our home who is either an unbeliever or yet un-Reformed in his thinking, our prayer and our hope is that our covenant life and testimony might be a good influence to him. We do not condone the taking of God’s name in vain or any other corrupt act. We let such a one know that if he insists on displaying his sin in our home, he is not welcome back. But we have found that if this is done with love and not with condemnation, the stranger goes away impressed. Such a one is welcome back, if at least while in our home he behaves! And the door is open to personal evangelism. At other times, such a one does not wish to return, or closes the door to further communication. Then, because he has clearly rejected our hospitality (and only then) we know that we must not “cast our pearls before swine.”
The Word of God never returns to Him void. It always performs a twofold work. It draws the elect, but it also hardens the reprobate. This takes place not only under the preaching of the Word, but also through the personal witness of the saints. We must know that, so that we do not always expect and look only for positive fruit. Sometimes God may be pleased to use us to expose error and to show the unbeliever the error of his way. But always we must bring the Word of God with fear and sincerity, refusing either to change the message or present it in a sinful way.
One of the hindrances to personal evangelism is that we (all of us) naturally desire to remain within our own comfort zones. It is easier to have conversations with those of the same background, whether that be faith or culture. It is easier to invite those into our homes with whom we agree and who probably would invite us into their homes. But in personal evangelism we must be willing to put away those selfish thoughts and extend hospitality to those who might disagree with us and who might be very different from us.
There are many peoples in our neighborhoods that are different from us. We do not necessarily have to reach these “nations” by going abroad. Yes, we must do foreign missions too, but we must begin here at home. There are so many nationalities in this country, especially in the larger cities. Several of our congregations are located in or near those cities. It is important that our people be equipped to do personal evange lism with them by adorning a hospitable spirit.
Officebearers must take the lead in this, since this is one of the qualifications listed in God’s Word for an officebearer. Romans 12:13: “Distributing to the necessity of saints; given to hospitality.” I Timothy 3:2: “A bishop then must be blameless, the husband of one wife, vigilant, sober, of good behaviour, given to hospitality, apt to teach.” Our preachers, elders, and deacons must take seriously the calling to love strangers so that we might equip our people to the task.
The church is like a hospital: when visitors come, they must be treated like patients in need of help; the doctors and nurses are the officebearers, and all God’s people are volunteer helpers. Together they must exercise much patience (unlike the regular doctor’s office, hospital, or clinic, where we patients need to wait and wait patiently for a doctor or nurse). And why so? Because some of the visitors at the church might be elect sheep! They must not be despised or sent away without treatment; they must be received and welcomed and instructed and healed. The only medicine is the Word of God, and the only Physician is Christ, and the only Applicator is the Holy Spirit! But God our Father uses His children to draw His other children, and He does that by instructing us to be lovers of strangers!
Of course, as we exercise this hospitality we must balance that with a godly covenant family life. This is another concrete way to do personal evangelism. We must never forget the command of God to love our spouses and give godly instruction to our children. We must not only have the love of strangers in our hearts but also the love of our own family and especially our covenant children. This aspect of personal evangelism must be remembered. We are a powerful testimony to others by the way we treat our spouses and our children. If we maintain, for example, the sanctity of marriage as a lifelong bond that cannot be broken except by death, we must make sure that we dedicate time and prayer in maintaining those marriages so that in that way we are personally witnessing to the truth. If we maintain that God establishes His covenant with us and our children unconditionally, then we must raise our children in His fear and discipline them when they walk contrary to His Word. This aspect of the covenant is emphasized in our churches—we bring our children with us to worship, we send them to Christian schools, we promote godliness among our youth, and we are constantly reminded of these obligations in the preaching.
However, it is important to remind our people that this focus on the covenant ought not to be pitted against evangelism. The two are not opposite and contrary callings. We must recognize the unity of both those callings so that we promote a healthy balance. We may not be so busy with evangelism that we neglect our children. Neither must we focus only on our children and say we have no time for missions. We must seek both the preservation and the increase of God’s church (Lord’s Day 48 on the second petition: Thy kingdom come). We must not bring home all our missionaries so that our pulpits can be filled. Both the building up of our church and the spread of the gospel are callings we must take seriously, and never at the expense of each other. Here is where oftentimes we need prayerfully to seek a good balance.
After all, the father of all believers, Abraham, to whose spiritual seed God promised the covenant, was also made the father of many nations (Gen. 17). The apostle Peter, in Acts 2:39, reminded God’s people that the promise was unto them and to their children, but he did not forget to add that that same promise was to those afar off! Both from within our loins and from outside, God is pleased to call as many as have been ordained to eternal life. Therefore I say that a godly covenant home life, coupled by a godly love for strangers, will serve as an effective tool for personal evangelism. We ought to equip our people to realize the unity of those callings.
This leads us to the next practical and concrete way we can equip our people: it is the way of study: careful, serious, broad, and comprehensive study. We have many good sermons, books, and pamphlets to help equip our people for personal evangelism. However, most of these sermons, books, and pamphlets at the disposal of our people address listeners who are Reformed or at least have some sort of Christian background. It would be good if we could develop some soundly Reformed and biblical messages, tracts, pamphlets, and books that our people could use to present the gospel of grace to non-Christians or non-Reformed contacts.
It is not that such material is unavailable. I am sure that if we search, we will find some excellent material that our people can use. Besides work done by our own ministers, other organizations and other denominations have also produced such material. We could avail ourselves of them. The distinctive positions we hold are missing in those books and pamphlets, but we should not be so afraid that we are unwilling to read and research.
I believe that one of the greatest hindrances to personal evangelism is our own lack of knowledge or our fear of approaching someone of a different background. We realize that we could be embarrassed, or be put on the defensive. The solution is study—broader and careful study of other religions and cults so that we can present the truths of the gospel over against the false teachings of man. Our churches could equip the saints in this by providing a good library for them. Our churches could help further to equip our people by requesting our professors to do some writing, keeping in mind those who are outside the faith or are un-Reformed in their thinking.
Our churches could also equip our people in personal evangelism by giving their missionaries a sabbatical so that they can be relieved for a season from active mission work and devote themselves to writing such material for the benefit of our people.
Above all, I think preachers and elders can encourage our people to read. Read the Bible, read good, solid, Reformed books, read good magazines—all this to be kept informed so that personal evangelism becomes a joy and not a burden. Study to give good answers in a godly way. Study and be prepared so that we might speak the truth in love.
Finally, of course, we must emphasize prayer: the work and the fruit is the Lord’s! We must ourselves pray, and we must ask the saints to pray! We must pray for the work of evangelism, and we must remember to pray for newcomers, each and every one of them. We must learn to begin the day praying: “Lord, make me ready to speak a word of truth to the neighbor that is put on my path.” Jesus said that the harvest is plenteous but the laborers few; He did not tell us that due to this reality we should try all kinds of new methods! Neither must we begin to worry when we see vacant pulpits, or begin to complain that we have too much mission work to do. No! We are to pray! We must look to the Lord of the harvest that He might send forth laborers into His harvest!
We must examine ourselves, seeking to improve, and that is good. But we must not forget to pray! Let us equip our people by praying for them and asking them to pray for the preaching, to pray for more preachers, to pray for our elders and deacons. Let us urge our young people to consider prayerfully the ministry themselves! When we face difficulties in missions due to lack of money, time, or manpower, and when God’s people ask how they should deal with this or that hurdle in personal evangelism, let us never forget to remind them: whatever you do, do not forget to pray!
May God grant us grace to take heed to ourselves and to the flock, also in regard to personal evangelism, through humble prayer. May we take the prayer of the psalmist upon our lips: “God be merciful unto us, and bless us; and cause his face to shine upon us; Selah. That thy way may be known upon earth, thy saving health among all nations.”