Sunday, October 2, 2011

Until the Whole World Hears

A people group is defined by its shared language, customs, practices, rules, heritage, etc.* According to one study, there are 11,627 people groups worldwide, or approximately 6.8 billion people.

Of these people groups, 58% (or 6,750) are labelled unreached, meaning less than 2% of the group's population are professing evangelical Christians. Another 32% of these people groups (or 3,684) are considered unengaged, meaning there is no active strategy for evangelism and church planting among the group.

For Christians, these numbers should be convicting. Knowing how few people have access to the gospel, knowing that 1.8 people die every second, well, you do the math.

In contrast to these vast numbers of people with no access to Jesus, the past decade in America has seen a literal explosion in available Christian-education material, with Bible studies, conferences, podcasts, and online commentaries devoted to helping Christians learn about this God they serve.

It's no longer just you, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit helping you plow through the thee's and thou's of the King James version. Instead, there are dozens of authors, speakers, bloggers just waiting to help Christians learn more about God, experience God, commune with God.

Making disciples by teaching ourselves about the Bible, about God, about our relation to Him and His kingdom plan for our universe--it's important. Yet, the number of unsaved dying each day begs the question, "Is taking the time to study Scripture really important when millions are dying without Christ while we sit hunched over our Bibles, trying to discern its truths? "

Should we stop learning and start just doing?

Consider what author David Platt says in Radical: "How do we make God’s glory known in all nations? If God has given us his grace so that we might take his gospel to the ends of the earth, then how do we do that? Do we walk out into the streets and just start proclaiming the glory of God somehow? Should we all go to other nations? If we go, what do we do when we get there? What does all this look like in our day-to-day lives?...If we were left to ourselves with the task of taking the gospel to the world, we would immediately begin planning innovative strategies and plotting elaborate schemes....But Jesus is so different from us.....All he wanted was a few men who would think as he did, love as he did, see as he did, teach as he did, and serve as he did. All he needed was to revolutionize the hearts of a few, and they would impact the world" (87-88).**

In Platt's view, evangelism is important, but it first involves revolutionizing the heart.

The New Testament says that Christians are made, in Christ, "be a kingdom and priests to our God" (Rev. 5:10). Paul said of all Christians, even those grafted-in Gentiles, "you are A CHOSEN RACE, A royal PRIESTHOOD, A HOLY NATION, A PEOPLE FOR God’s OWN POSSESSION, so that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who has called you out of darkness into His marvelous light" (1 Peter 2:9).

If we Christians are to be priests with hearts revolutionized for evangelism, for sharing Christ, then what does that priest look like?

While Christ, our High Priest, is always the foremost model of what a priest should be, Scripture provides us with another example as well.

In the second wave of exiles returning from captivity in Babylon was, Ezra, the prophet, who models a three-pronged approach of what a priest, a Christian, should be. Scripture says, "For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel" (Ez. 7:10).

1. TO STUDY--Four times in chapter seven, Ezra is described as "skilled in the law of Moses" (6), "learned in the words of the commandments of the LORD and His statutes to Israel" (11), and "the scribe of the law of the God of heaven" (12 & 23). This man studied the Word so much that others knew it, even a pagan king.

2. TO PRACTICE--Ezra practiced what he studied in Scripture. He led those traveling with him so that they "fasted and sought our God" (8:23). He demonstrated in action His faith in God's ability to protect him from harm: "I was ashamed to request from the king troops and horsemen to protect us from the enemy on the way, because we had said to the king, 'The hand of our God is favorably disposed to all who seek Him'" (8:22).

What's more,
Ezra mourned openly over Israel's sin, interceded on Israel's behalf, and called for the people's repentance even when taking action would have far-reaching implications among God's people; he "pray[ed] and ma[de] confession, weeping and prostrating himself before the house of God" (10:1).

--Even the pagan King Artaxerxes understood the importance of Ezra teaching God's chosen people the holy Scriptures: "You, Ezra, according to the wisdom of your God which is in your hand...teach anyone who is ignorant of them [laws]" (7:25).

Ezra apparently did just that because two short chapters later, the people of Israel approached him, explaining that that they had sinned against God by intermarrying with pagan foreigners and saying, "So now let us make a covenant with our God...according to the counsel of my lord and of those who tremble at the commandment of our God; and let it be done according to the law" (10:3).

Ezra studied. He practiced what he studied. And he taught what he studied. I think the order of these steps presented in Ezra 7:10 is highly important--Ezra could not practice before he studied. He could not effectively teach before he had practiced, nor could he effectively teach before he had studied.

The same is true of us as Christians today. If we are to be priests in Christ's kingdom, if we are to have revolutionized hearts that love like Christ so that we can reach the millions who are, as of yet, unreached by the gospel, we must not think ourselves better than Ezra. We must not be arrogant enough to believe we can go and do without first establishing a firm foundation in Jesus.

Sharing about God cannot be separated from learning about God, cannot be separated from living for God.

Take out any part of the equation and you have an evangelism that is powerless, you have a gospel full of holes, and you have a life ripe for a falling away from Christ.

*Global Research IMB. "What is a People Group."

**Platt, David. Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. Colorado Springs: Multnomah, 2010.

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