What a presumptuous title for a blog post! It sounds like I, Dave Criddle, think I’ve cracked it and have the how-to guide on how to share the good news. Far from it!!
This week, I preached on 1 Thessalonians 1:2-10. In it Paul describes how he shared the gospel with non-believers in Thessalonica. I was deeply challenged by his evangelistic method(s) and wanted to spread that challenge around!
The verse that struck me was 1 Thessalonians 1:5:
because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake.
There seem to be four elements at work here, and each presents me with a big challenge.
‘not simply with words’
It would be easy with a phrase like that to downplay speech, to say talking the gospel doesn’t matter. Francis of Assissi is famously quoted as saying, “Preach the gospel. Use words if necessary.” Francis himself wasn’t promoting a wordless gospel, but his words have been taken to mean that.
There are folk who advocate sharing faith by actions and lifestyle instead of words. While the ‘not simply’ in this verse certainly means words aren’t all we need, it’s a stretch to say we don’t need them at all.
Whether it be Jesus, Paul or anyone else who ever shared ‘the gospel’ in the New Testament, words were always used. We can’t escape the need to articulate our faith with words.
‘with power, with the Holy Spirit’
Not just words, then, but power also! There are two things Paul says add power to the message he proclaimed. The first is the Holy Spirit at work.
All through Acts, when the gospel was preached God added confirmation of the message with miraculous signs and wonders. People were healed and there was breakthrough in communities. People saw first hand the power of the gospel which was being talked about.
Do we have reason to believe God is no longer in the business of adding his ‘Yes!’ to our message by working wonders in people’s hearts and lives? I don’t think we do. We need the Holy Spirit to convict, to add power to what we proclaim.
‘and deep conviction’
The second source of power is the messengers’ own conviction. They really believe this stuff! They were deeply convicted and passionate about the truth, power and importance of their message.
We can all tell whether someone cares about what they’re talking about. And if we as messengers of the gospel aren’t excited about it, captivated by Jesus, who He is, what He’s done, what He’s doing and what He’ll do then how on earth can we expect others to catch the vision?
I saw a statistic recently (I can’t find it now) that said the majority of people who come to faith are led to Jesus by someone who has been a Christian for less than two years. Is that just because the infectious zeal has worn off after that? If so, how sad.
‘we lived among you’
Paul’s message wasn’t a hit-and-run gospel. He stuck around and lived with those he shared Jesus with. A chapter later in his letter Paul says, “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well” (1 Thessalonians 2:8).
He lived alongside them. He became their friend. He shared life. The ups and the downs. He walked with them, hand in hand. He chose to commit to them, and in doing so became a model of what a life lived with Jesus looks like. This was real relationship.
And in fact when they did convert, Paul was their role model (1 Thes 1:6). It was the life they’d seen him living that they aspired to. He was their model of faith, and the only reason he could be was that he had shared life so totally with them. That is sobering.
Like I said, I find all of it very challenging indeed. It is such a holistic vision of what sharing faith can look like. I’m sure all of us naturally lean towards parts of it and away from others. To embrace all of it is a big calling, but if we take it seriously there is huge power. Let’s step up!