Sharing is a virtue. From earliest age we teach our children to share their toys. Adults may share recipes or photos online. More significantly, we can share by giving money or resources to the needy, even by honestly paying taxes. Those are all helpful ways to share. In fact, the writer to the Hebrews commands us to do good and share with others. Such acts, done in faith, are a delight to God. But curiously, have you ever noticed that the Bible never commands us to share our most important possession, the gospel?
I first awakened to this reality while studying a foreign language in a previous country of service. As I took a course in spiritual terminology, my teacher, via a somewhat dated video lecture, was bemoaning the fact that many westerners had begun to import the idea of sharing the gospel into the vocabulary of the local church. At that time, he said, if you tried to use such American Christianese no local would even be able to understand what you meant by such gospel “sharing.”
By the time I was actually watching those language lessons, years after they had been produced, the local Christians had subsequently adopted the phraseology. The concept of sharing one’s faith had infiltrated the believing community and become common parlance. I can only assume that the instructor, had he been able to see the future, would have been in disbelief, perhaps even disheartened. The church had been enculturated by the jargon of western Christianity. Not the vocabulary of the Bible.
Why Not Share the Gospel?
But what, you might ask, is the problem with sharing the gospel? The greater problem in the church today is that people aren’t sharing at all, some might say. However, I wonder if these dual problems aren’t somehow related, with the way we speak of evangelism imperceptibly affecting the way we do evangelism.
In scripture, the Greek verb euangelizo (from which we get our English verb, to evangelize) is perhaps best translated “to preach good news.” The term conjures images of sprinting messengers with a word of victory and a shout from the hills. Evangelism implies a heralding of news. We announce it, preach it, proclaim it.
These days Christians prefer the notion of sharing the good news. More than just semantics, this subtle change in terminology represents a shift in our whole ethos of evangelism. The very idea of sharing involves giving someone something that they desire. Children share Legos with other kids who want to play with them. Friends share a great chocolate chip cookie recipe with others who ask for it. We share money to those with outstretched hand or a cardboard sign on the side of the road. Those people are asking for what we possess. But the fact is this: few if any people are begging us to share the gospel with them.
A Message That Must Be Announced
Consequently, we find ourselves and the people in our churches only willing to speak the gospel if we perceive openness on the part of another, only if someone wants to hear what we have to say. But the gospel has never been and will never be innately desirable or en vogue. It’s a message of sin and death and hell. It’s a message of the Son of God taking the death penalty for rebels on a bloody cross, rising from the dead, and coming again to judge the world. It’s a message that demands proclamation to disinterested hearers. It must be announced, not simply shared.
Does that mean that we don’t evangelize with compassion and understanding? Certainly not. Does it mean that we should be careful to find other ways of speak of and encourage evangelism? Absolutely. We can and should use biblical language to articulate biblical instruction. Our spiritual vocabulary should be the glossary God has given. Which means we can and should encourage one another to announce the good news, to witness to Christ, to proclaim the gospel, to persuade, to reason, to plead, to call.
Ultimately, we must ask ourselves whether the casual guff of our Christianese has influenced the way we view the gospel mandate. Are we engaging in polite spiritual conversations and timidly sharing opinions, then calling it evangelism? Do we speak the gospel only when we perceive an “opportunity”—that is, the sense that someone is ready to listen and receive? Or is our speech marked by the authority and urgency of a proclaimed message?
Jesus, our example, did not speak as the carefully religious and calculated scribes of his day. He spoke with authority and conviction. So must we.