“Continue steadfastly in prayer, being watchful in it with thanksgiving. At the same time, pray also for us, that God may open to us a door for the word, to declare the mystery of Christ, on account of which I am in prison – that I may make it clear, which is how I ought to speak.
Conduct yourselves wisely towards outsiders, making the best use of your time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person (Col 4:2-6, ESV)”.
During a bible study last night, a small but significant distinction was drawn between evangelists’ and preachers’ approach to gospel proclamation, including those working specifically in such endeavours for a time, and the obligations of other Christians in sharing the gospel.
Paul, in Colossians 4:3-4, requests prayer that God would grant opportunities to proclaim the gospel and, where such openings come about, his words would be clear. He pointedly makes this request for himself and those working with him in the gospel. In verses 5 and 6, Paul states his prayer for the members at Colosse. The emphasis here changes from proactive proclamation of the gospel to responsive reaction to the questions of non-believers prompted by the differences in the lives of believers.
Evangelists and preachers are clearly called to proclaim the gospel publicly. This public proclamation can also be said to apply to those working in such endeavours for a time e.g. those on short-term mission or who run evangelistic groups (1). For those of us not called to full-time evangelism, the emphasis is on living a Christian life and responding sensitively to those who question us about it.
It is often assumed that unless we shoehorn the gospel into every available opening we have not fulfilled our evangelistic duty. For the evangelist, taking such opportunities to ‘declare the mystery of Christ’ is key. For other Christians, it is for us to respond wisely to the questions of unbelievers rather than unnaturally spew forth the full content of gospel simply because we are asked why we go to church. Indeed, this reflects something of how Jesus himself interacted with people – when he spoke to crowds he proclaimed the gospel, when dealing with individuals he responded to their questions and reacted in such a way as to provoke real thoughtfulness and insight.
I am certainly not suggesting that many of us have no need to share the gospel. However, it seems clear that we are not all called to proclaim the gospel in the way Paul was but rather to share the gospel through responsive reaction to the questions of unbelievers.
- In these cases, however, the emphasis on proclamation would apply to the times when the individual is engaged in the specific evangelistic work