I’m reading in Romans right now. Started Monday morning (it’s now Wednesday) and I haven’t finished the first chapter yet. Isn’t that something? No, I’m not a slow reader, but the Spirit keeps stopping me. I have a tendency to just read because I actually enjoy reading, and then gloss over or skim what is the inspired word of our Creator. Shame on me. But when I’m paying attention, He stops me on a given verse or passage that He seems to want me to focus on.
Yesterday’s focus was on verse 12, and I was reminded of just how blessed I am by the friendships and family He has given me within the body of Christ. I felt prompted to reach out to some of those friends and just offer a word of encouragement (something as simple as “I’m thinking about you and truly appreciate you”). I didn’t do it, and felt like I had a really good reason not to…after all the impulse came at around 6:30 in the morning. But I never did follow through with it.
This morning I got stopped on verses 15 and 16. In the translation I study, verse 15 says Paul is “eager to preach.” The wording there brought to mind traveling evangelists, the Billy Grahams of the world, those guest pastors who occupy the pulpit from time to time. But I got stopped there because that phrase just kept running through my mind.
I could have read that and moved on to the next verse and just assumed those words only applied to Paul, or to someone in this day and age who has been called and purposed to preach. But there was a little something, a little voice that said maybe that’s not what it means, or at least not all it means.
I looked up the original Greek word that was translated “preach the gospel.” It literally means announce the good news. I think about how fun it is to share something exciting with someone else. Got a new job, a financial windfall, a new anything good. Sometimes it just leaps and burns within you until it falls out your mouth, until you can share it with someone. The word translated “eager” means forward in spirit, ready, willing. It puts me in mind of someone leaning in with excitement on their face to tell me something. That’s the sentiment that Paul is sharing in this letter.
That the next verse simply and boldly states “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ,” truly reinforces the idea contained within the “eager to preach” statement. He was eager to preach because he was not ashamed of the gospel. I have to wonder, am I?
I don’t fancy myself a preacher, at least not in the traditionally understood definition of the term. But aren’t we all? If a preacher is someone who “announces the good news,” shouldn’t we all have that on our resumes?
I think maybe I need to go back to the beginning and truly define what the good news is. I was thinking about this the other day, about sharing the gospel with the lost and how that is traditionally done, widely recognized and understood. It made me think of the method of pointing out that without Jesus you’re going to hell. True. Absolute truth. We’re all sinners and fall short of the glory of God. Again, true. But when did we change our focus from the marvelous and matchless love of God to brandishing the club used to beat others over the head?
I’ve thought a lot about the early church, how quickly the good news spread and how many many lives were transformed by the power of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. Do you think Peter and John and Paul and the rest bludgeoned everyone with the gospel? I mean, I think they stated it plainly, that we are sinners in need of a Savior, and Jesus is that Savior. But then they went a lived out a life that was so vastly different from the culture around them, that the gospel they shared carried a lot of weight.
If I walk into a homeless shelter and start telling people how awful they are and they better repent or they’re going to hell, am I doing any good? Am I going to be heard? Is my “good news” actually good? But if I walk into a homeless shelter and actually see those humans as souls that Jesus loves and died to redeem, and love them by serving them, by providing for them whatever I can, by demonstrating the love that Christ has for them, will they hear the good news that I live out and want some of it for themselves?
Peter said in his letter that we should “always (be) ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” If I’m not demonstrating hope, if I’m not showing by my thoughts, words, and actions that I have been redeemed by the grace of God and that redemption is available to all who would choose to believe, why would anyone ask me about it?
I think too often I have labored under the misconception that to be eager and unashamed of the gospel, I must have a willingness to stand on a street corner and preach about hell. I must be willing to visit someone in their home (uninvited no less) and confront them about their sin and need for repentance. I find more joy and invigorating energy in sharing how good God is, how majestic and holy and marvelous and wonderful He is. If I appear to be angry, why would anyone believe what I say about God? And if they did believe, why would they want to follow Him too?
If I’ve eaten at a great new restaurant, I will probably tell people about it. I’ll probably be eager to tell people about it and encourage them to try it. If I work for the restaurant, it would be my job to get people to try it. But too often we find ourselves working for something we don’t believe in, and therefore we couldn’t care less if people tried it or not. Is that where you are in your walk with Christ?
I can say honestly that I’ve been there. I’ve been where it’s just something you do, something you check off the list, you say you believe so you’re labeled as “good.” God has graciously allowed me to encounter Him in a way that changed all of that. I want people to know Him as I know Him. I want people to encounter Him as I have encountered Him. I want people to experience the transformation that comes from soaking in His love. From truly believing that He died to pay for my sins so that I could have a relationship with Him. He didn’t just save me from something, He saved me for something.
Isn’t that what Paul discovered? Could that be why he was eager and unashamed? Have you experienced the bottomless reality of an actual relationship with the God of the universe? That startling truth that He desires intimacy and interaction with us, that He reaches for us, that He chases after us, that He, in all His marvelous glory, stoops down to us to reveal Himself to us. Wow.
When you get a glimpse of who He is, the fact that He reaches for you will blow your mind. And it will make you eager to bring others to that same realization.
I am eager and unashamed. I am a Jesus follower. It is not from anything I’ve done or could do in myself, not a boast or a proof of my worth, it is all because of who He is. Oh that I would be the arrow that points you to Christ.