One of the most misguided sentiments I ever heard was: “I just like a small church.”
I get it. It’s a well-meaning compliment of the joys of a Christian fellowship, in which everyone knows and likes each other. But think it through, and the ugly selfishness of it emerges: “I would rather enjoy myself at potlucks than see other people go to Heaven.” It’s like the selfishness of Jonah, who was more concerned about his shady spot than the thousands of lost souls of Nineveh.
God lets us know how big He wants the church to be … bigger than it is right now! The proof is 1 Timothy 2:4, He “desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.”
In Isaiah 49:5-6, God describes His intention for the Messiah: “It is too small a thing that You should be My Servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the preserved ones of Israel; I will also make You a light of the nations so that My salvation may reach to the end of the earth.”
The Jewish people of Isaiah’s day could be forgiven for thinking that the Messiah was exclusively their Messiah (think Isaiah 2:2, etc). Indeed, the gospel was preached first to the Jews (Romans 1:16). But God wasn’t sending Jesus just to save national Israel. It would be too small a thing for so great a Savior to provide life only to Israel. God sent Jesus to provide life to all who believe in Him, in every nation (1 Timothy 4:10).
The salvation of mankind has always been God’s plan. All the way back in Genesis 12:3, God promised that the Christ would bless “all the families of the earth.” The Lord patiently delays judgment today, for He is “not wishing any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).
It’s easy to forget that evangelism is the central commandment of the church. In many ways, we have suffered mission creep. Members of the church must be willing to sacrifice and focus in order to proclaim the gospel to the lost. And that comes mainly in tolerating sinners, to reach out to them.
Notice I did not say tolerate sin, but tolerate sinners. Acceptance of sinners does not mean approval of their sin. We take our example in this from the Lord, who dined with tax-collectors and prostitutes, to invite them to salvation (Matthew 9:10–13). Jesus was called “friend of sinners” (Luke 7:34). The Pharisees meant it as an insult, but it accurately identified Jesus’ mission. The Son of Man has come “to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:1-10). Jesus shocked His own disciples when He had a spiritual conversation with the quintuply-married Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:7-14). She spread the news, and “many of the Samaritans believed in Him” because of the word of the woman (4:39).
It’s a trite phrase that you’ve probably heard before, but it’s true: the church is not a museum for saints to get dusty, it is a hospital for sinners to get saved. The church must not be a place where the righteous relax, but a place where sins are confronted, confessed, and forgiven through the blood of Jesus Christ (Acts 19:17-20). Remember that Jesus was willing to leave the 99 in the field while He went looking for the one lost sheep (Luke 15:1-7).
In practical terms, this means that if we are doing our job inviting friends and neighbors to hear the gospel, we must expect to host people who are not yet righteous. We cannot expect people to act like believers until they are believers. People with kids who don’t yet know how to behave in a worship assembly. People who are ignorant of our worship practices. People who aren’t dressed in their Sunday best. Our job is to invite them to sit with us and hear about Jesus. With God’s help, those sinners will soon be brethren!
If evangelism is about becoming fishers of men (Matthew 4:19), remember that fishing is smelly. Many Christians want the fish they catch to be already cleaned, scaled, gutted, filleted, and cooked. That’s not the way it works (Galatians 6:1, Jude 23). Paul reminds us that we must be in the world to change the world (1 Corinthians 5:9-12).
Evangelism should happen regardless of the social distinctions made in the world: rich or poor (James 2:1-9), pretty or ugly (Acts 10:34), black or white (Colossians 3:11), citizen or foreigner (Revelation 5:9). May saving the lost be our priority! –John Guzzetta