STUDY TWENTY-NINE: THE COMMAND TO GO AND TELL

© Rosemary Bardsley 2018

When Jesus called his first disciples to follow him his call had a specific orientation: ‘Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men.’  [Matthew 4:19]. Later, after his resurrection, he said to his disciples ‘As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ [John 20:21].

The Father sent him into the world [1] to glorify and reveal God [John 1:18; 17:4]; [2] to seek and to save the lost [Luke 19:10; 1 John 4:14], and [3] to give his life a ransom for many [Mark 10:45]. The last of these is the exclusive responsibility of Jesus Christ. Christians might die because they are involved in the work of the kingdom, but their deaths are never redemptive. The first, Christ did fully and perfectly, and commands us to follow him in this purpose of making God known by our witness, both verbal and non-verbal. The second he did in his earthly life; to us he commits the job of telling others about him as the One who seeks and saves.

In all of this Christ commands a radical communication.

Karl Barth comments:

‘Faith is the act in which man relates himself to God as is appropriate to God. For this work takes place in a stepping out of neutrality towards God, out of any disavowal of obligation towards Him in our existence and attitude, out of the private sphere, into resoluteness, responsibility and public life. Faith without this tendency to public life, faith that avoids this difficulty, has become in itself unbelief, wrong belief, superstition. For faith that believes in God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit cannot refuse to become public…. If you had all trust and all knowledge and did not have the freedom to answer publicly for your trust and your knowledge, you would have to be told straight that all is not well with your trust and your knowledge! In accordance with what the Christian Church confesses of Him, God Himself is He who did not wish to remain hidden, who did not and does not wish to be God for Himself alone. He is the God who in His royal majesty emerges from the mystery, from the heights of His divine existence and comes down to the humble estate of the universe created by Him. God Himself is He who is revealed as God. He who believes in this God cannot wish to hide this God’s gift, this God’s love, this God’s comfort and light, to hide his trust in His Word and His knowledge. … God’s glory is hallowed in the universe, and the Name of the Holy One hallowed on earth, where men may believe, where God’s people, God’s congregation assembles and goes into action. Where there is faith, man in his complete limitation and helplessness, in his utter abandonment and folly, possesses the freedom, the freedom royal in all humility, to let the light shine of the doxa, of the Gloria, of the glory of God. More is not required of us; but that is required of us. This public responsibility of our trust in God’s Word and of our knowledge of the truth of Jesus Christ is the general concept for what in the Christian sense is called confessing and confession.’ [p29f ibid].

[Note: the lists of verses in this study are representative examples; you will find more in the Scriptures]

 

A. THE PROCESS OF CHRISTIAN COMMUNICATION

A.1 Verbal communication

Some of Christ’s commands tell us that we must talk. In commanding us to follow him and learn how to be fishers of men, he commands us to:

  • Call sinners to repentance [Matthew 9:13]
  • Preach the message of the kingdom [Matthew 10:7]
  • Speak in the daylight [Matthew 10:27]
  • Proclaim from the roofs [Matthew 10:27
  • Acknowledge him before men [Matthew 10:32]
  • Preach the good news [Matthew 11:5]
  • Sow the ‘seed’ of the word of God [Matthew 13]
  • Make disciples of all nations [Matthew 28:19]
  • Teach people to obey all that he commanded [Matthew 28:20]
  • Preach the unsearchable riches of Christ [Ephesians 3:8]
  • Declare his praises [1 Peter 2:9b]

A.2 Non-verbal communication

Other commands tell us that the whole of our lives are to communicate the truth about Jesus Christ:

  • We are the salt of the earth that has to keep salty [Matthew 5:13]
  • We are the light of the world that has to shine [Matthew 5:14-16]
  • We are to do such good deeds that men will glorify God [Matthew 5:16; 1 Peter 2:12]
  • We are to influence people by our lives [1 Peter 3:1-2]

Reflection and response: Make a quick list of contemporary verbal and non-verbal ways of obeying Christ’s command to communicate

Verbal

 

 

Non-verbal

 

 

B. THE REASON AND PURPOSE OF CHRISTIAN COMMUNICATION

Nothing Christ does or commands is without reason or purpose. When he tells us to communicate, our communication, whether verbal or non-verbal, has a God-given reason and a God-given purpose. In other words, there is something behind it and there is something ahead of it. It comes from his reason and it leads to his purpose.

Reflection and response: From the texts below, identify the reason or the purpose of Christian communication. Questions to help you: why did Jesus do or say what he did in these texts? Why did he command that we communicate?

Matthew 4:17

[reason]

Matthew 5:16 [purpose]

Matthew 28:19 [purpose]

John 20:31 [purpose]

Romans 1:5 [purpose]

Romans 1:18 [reason] [verse 18 starts with the word ‘for’ in the Greek]

1 Corinthians 9:22 [purpose]

1 Corinthians 10:31 [purpose]

Ephesians 2:15b-17 [4 purposes]

Ephesians 3:6 [purpose]

Ephesians 3:10-11 [purpose]

Ephesians 4:11-16 [at least 5 purposes]

1 Thessalonians 3:2-3 [purpose]

1 John 5:13 [purpose]

From the limited group of texts above we find two reasons for Christian communication:

  • The fact that the kingdom of God is near [that is, because Christ is the King], and
  • The fact of God’s wrath that is being revealed against the sinfulness and godlessness of mankind.

And we find several significant purposes for Christian communication:

  • The glory of God
  • The salvation of men
  • The formation of one people of God
  • The teaching and strengthening of the church

 

C. THE CONTENT OF CHRISTIAN COMMUNICATION

This section refers specifically to verbal communication. However, non-verbal communication is not completely out of focus here, as our actions and attitudes have the power to either confirm or deny the validity of the verbal message we try to communicate.

Reflection and response: Read the verses. What do they identify as the specific content of Christian communication? Try to find a one-word answer, or very brief phrase, from each verse. Discuss the signification for your communication

Matthew 4:17; 10:7

[1]

[2]

Matthew 9:35; 13:19

Matthew 28:20

Romans 1:15-16

Romans 16:25

1 Corinthians 1:6

1 Corinthians 1:23; 2:2;

1 Corinthians 2:7

2 Corinthians 1:19

2 Corinthians 5:19

Galatians 1:11

Galatians 3:1

Ephesians 1:9

Ephesians 3:4-6

Ephesians 2:17

Ephesians 6:19

Philippians 1:14

Philippians 1:15,17,18

Colossians 1:6b,7

Colossians 1:25

Colossians 1:26-28

Colossians 2:2

Colossians 4:3

1 Thess 2:13

2 Thessalonians 3:1

1 Timothy 1:11

1 Timothy 4:1-11

2 Timothy 1:8

2 Timothy 2:2

2 Timothy 4:2

Titus 1:9

Titus 2:1

1 Peter 3:15

1 Peter 4:11a

2 Peter 1:16

2 Peter 1:19-21

1 John 1:1, 3a

1 John 1:2

1 John 1:5

Jude 3

Notes:

[1] The content Christian communication is not limited to content aimed at bringing people to saving faith in Christ; it also contains instruction in the truth and in godliness that is directed to believers. This balance is evident in the Scripture itself. In fact, if we were to do a statistical analysis it could well be that we would find that the bulk of its content is primarily communication to people who are already believers.

[2] The content of Christian communication is both the Old and the New Testaments.

[3] The content of Christian communication is what was taught by ‘the prophets’ and ‘the apostles’.

[4] The content of Christian communication is what God has revealed in his word, specifically what he has revealed in Jesus Christ; it is not what humans have made up.

[5] The content of Christian communication is not our story: it is Christ’s story.

 

D. THE TARGET AUDIENCE FOR CHRISTIAN COMMUNICATION

God’s wants everyone to hear and to know his truth. No one is excluded. Everyone is to be told about him. This is his nature. This is his heart. He is not a silent God. He is a God who speaks. A God who reveals himself. The incarnation is the ultimate proof that God wants the whole world to know him: as the writer to the Hebrews states: In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son… [1:3]

The Christian is a person who knows God. He knows that God is not a silent God but a God who communicates. For this reason Christians cannot be silent: if they are to be true to their God, they must communicate, for the Christians, of all people, have the answers to the ultimate questions about life and meaning.

Francis Schaeffer puts it this way:

‘He is there, and he is not silent. There is no use having a silent God. We would not know anything about Him. He has spoken and told us who He is and that He existed before all else, and so we have the answer to the existence of what is. He is not silent. The reason we have the answer is because the infinite-personal God … has not been silent. He has told us who He is. He is not silent. That is the reason we know. It is because He has spoken. … He has told us the truth about Himself – and because He has told us truth about Himself – that He is the infinite-personal, triune God – we have the answer to existence.’ [p291, He is there and he is not silent]

His message, his truth, his self-revelation is to be communicated to both unbelievers and believers.

In our emphasis on evangelizing the world, we also need to remember that we have an equal responsibility to talk to each other about the Lord and his Word. We are to be about the business of encouraging and building each other up in the faith through the communication of the truth of God. Note the following from Ephesians:

[1] About how Christians are strengthened and stabilized: 4:11-16. All that happens here is the result of communication of God’s truth:

  • Preparation of God’s people for works of service
  • The building up of the body of Christ
  • Unity in faith and in the knowledge of God
  • Maturity
  • Stability in the presence of false and deceptive teaching
  • Growing up into Christ
  • Being built up in love
  • Every part of the body of Christ doing its part in his work

[2] About our communication with each other: 4:29: ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ It is in this context that we are commanded not to grieve the Holy Spirit. How and what we communicate with each other as Christians is either in line with the Spirit of Christ or grieves the Spirit of Christ. In the surrounding verses Paul identifies the kind of communication that grieves our Lord: falsehood [4:25], anger [4:26], bitterness, rage, anger, brawling, slander and malice [4:31]; obscenity, foolish talk, coarse joking [5:5].

[3] About being filled with the Spirit: 5:18-21. In verses 19 to 21 Paul lists, in a series of present participles, the observable expression of the Spirit’s control. Most involve communication:

  • Speaking to each other with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs
  • Singing and making music in our hearts – the communication of joy
  • Giving thanks to the Father for everything
  • Submitting to one another [how often is rebellion expressed in words?]

Thus the target for Christian communication is both everyone and each other. The unsaved world and our fellow believers. To both we are to communicate the truth about the Lord Jesus Christ.

E. THE CRITICAL NECESSITY OF CHRISTIAN COMMUNICATION

Because God is a God who speaks, his people must not be silent.

In addition to this fundamental basis for communication, there are other Biblical truths that make Christian communication an urgent necessity:

Only God’s truth can set people free [John 8:31-32; Galatians 5:1-3].

Only acceptance of God’s truth can give people eternal life [John 5:24; 20:21; 1John 1:1-2].

Only the name of Jesus Christ can save people [Acts 4:12; Romans 9:8-15].

It is God’s unique and final truth – there is no other truth like it [Acts 4:12; Galatians 1:6-9; Hebrews 2:1-4].

False teaching is always present and always deceptive [Matthew 24:4-5,23-25; 2Corinthians 11:13-15; Galatians 1:6-9; Philippians 3:2; Colossians 2:4,8,16; 1Timothy 1:3-4; 4:1-8; 2Timothy 4:3-5; Titus 1:10-11].

Sin is always present and always offensive to God 1Thessalonians 4:1-8; 1Peter 1:22-2:3].

There is an enemy and an ever present battle [Ephesians 6:10-18; 2Thessalonians 2:1-11; Hebrews 12:1-5; 1Peter 5:8].

There is going to be a Day of Judgment [Matthew 10:14-16; Matthew 11:20-24; Hebrews 2:1-3a; 2Peter 2:10; Revelation 20:11-15].

From the above selection of verses we understand that communication of God’s truth to both unbelievers and believers is a critical necessity because of several facts:

Here we are each challenged: do we really believe what we say we believe? Do we really believe each of these points? Our response to Christ’s command to communicate reveals our true answer.

[Note: this list is not complete. Our human sinfulness and our separation from God are assumed by the first three points. God’s utter holiness is also assumed, but not mentioned. Each of these is a powerful necessitating reason for Christian communication.]