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For some people, evangelism comes easy. For others, though, just talking about evangelism makes their palms sweat and their stomachs turn. As Christians, we want to evangelize. We know we should evangelize. We’re commanded to evangelize. But many of us are afraid.

What if I told you that there were times when the Apostle Paul was afraid to share the gospel—times, in fact, when he was so afraid that he was tempted to keep his mouth shut? Acts 18 records Paul’s first visit to Corinth. In verses 9–10, the Lord Jesus confronts Paul’s fear one night in a vision. Jesus commands Paul, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent” (v. 9). Thankfully, these commands aren’t the only words the Lord Jesus offers Paul. Jesus undergirds His commands with three promises in verse 10: the promise of His presence (“I am with you”), the promise of protection (“no one will attack you to harm you”), and the promise of fruitfulness (“for I have many in this city who are my people”). To be sure, these are specific promises to the Apostle Paul in a specific situation—Corinth at that time. Still, these specific promises flow out of Jesus’ general promises to all His disciples in the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18–20): the promise of Jesus’ sovereignty (“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me”) and the promise of His presence (“I am with you always, to the end of the age”). You see, because Jesus is with us and because He is sovereign over all things (including salvation), we can share the gospel courageously and confidently. Christ will build His church, and we need not fear what man may do to us.

In the Face of Rejection

Because Jesus is with us and because He is sovereign, we can share the gospel courageously and confidently, even in the face of rejection. Paul faithfully and diligently shared the gospel in Corinth, doing whatever it required of him, including supporting himself to supply for his material needs (Acts 18:1–5). Like Paul, we, too, are to share the gospel with unbelievers, doing whatever it may require of us in order to testify solemnly to the truth of who Jesus is. The problem, as we all know too well, is that many reject the gospel (Acts 18:6).

Paul’s response to the Jews’ rejection in Corinth is instructive. Though Jesus is sovereign in salvation, Paul holds them responsible for rejecting their own Messiah: “Your blood be on your own heads!” (v. 6). Additionally, Paul declares, “I am innocent.” While Jesus is sovereign, all people are held responsible for what they do with Jesus. Jesus has chosen whom He will save before the foundation of the world (divine sovereignty). We must share the good news (human responsibility). All will give an account for their response to Christ (human responsibility).

To our finite minds, divine sovereignty and human responsibility may appear at odds, but the Bible never pits them against each other.1 In the words of Charles Spurgeon, divine sovereignty and human freedom are friends, so there is no need to reconcile them.2

The doctrine of election is not a hindrance or obstacle to evangelism; it is actually an encouragement.

We are responsible to share the gospel. We are not responsible for how people respond. If we faithfully proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ, our hands are clean; we are innocent. May we not be afraid, and may we not keep silent. Instead, let us share the gospel courageously and confidently, even in the face of rejection. Jesus is with us, and He is sovereign.

In Expectation of Fruitfulness

Because Jesus is with us and is sovereign, we can also share the gospel courageously and confidently expecting fruitfulness. Paul may have been expelled from the synagogue in Corinth, but he moved on to minister to the gentiles, establishing his ministry next door to the synagogue (v. 7).

Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, and his entire household came to faith in Christ and were baptized, along with many Corinthians (v. 8). Paul persevered in sharing the gospel, and it resulted in fruitfulness. But, in fact, we learn that Jesus is behind Paul’s evangelistic success, for He urged Paul to not be afraid, to not keep silent (v. 9) because He had a number of His elect in Corinth.

Again, this specific promise to Paul is rooted in the promise that Jesus will build His church. And to build His church, Jesus has commissioned His followers to go into the world and proclaim the gospel, calling all peoples everywhere to repent and believe, incorporating them into the body of Christ (baptism), and teaching them to obey all Jesus has commanded (discipleship) (Matt. 28:19–20).

Now, some may object to divine election on the grounds that it sounds like only a few will be saved. But nothing could be further from the truth. Jesus Himself says that He is with Paul and will protect Paul from harm because He has “many in this city who are my people” (Acts 18:10). Revelation 7:9 confirms this reality in John’s vision of a countless, multiethnic multitude standing before the throne and the Lamb.

The doctrine of election is not a hindrance or obstacle to evangelism; it is actually an encouragement. Because Jesus has many who are His people in cities throughout the world, we can share the gospel with the expectation of fruitfulness.

Armed with these promises, Paul remained in Corinth for one and a half years sharing the gospel (Acts 18:11). Opposition came, but Paul stood on Jesus’ promise of protection (vv. 12–17). If you’ve ever been afraid to share the gospel, even to keep your mouth shut when an opportunity presented itself, you’re in good company. Be encouraged. Jesus has many people that are called by His name that have yet to believe, perhaps even in your city. Don’t be afraid. Go on speaking and do not be silent. For Jesus is with us, and He is sovereign. He will build His church, through our faithful testimony, for His own glory. Some will reject Him; others will believe. Our responsibility is simply to share the gospel.

 

  1. See, for example, John 1:12–13; Philippians 2:12–13. ↩︎
  2. See J.I. Packer, Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Downers Grove, Ill: IVP, 2012), 35–36. ↩︎

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