Thursday, January 7, 2010

Philemon on "Why evangelize?"

[DISCLAIMER: According to my wise father, my exegesis here is totally wrong, and the "sharing" in question is about fellowship within the church... But I bet there are other passages around that talk about the blessings that come from evangelizing. Maybe I'll look for them someday... Anyway, I think it's reasonable for me to say that this is what God was saying to me through this passage on that particular day, even if it's not what Paul was really saying to Philemon and his church.]

Anyone who has spent a significant amount of time in church has been told, over and over again, about the importance of telling other people about God. Usually the reason comes across as something like:
  • We have a duty to save souls / change lives / help people
  • We have a duty to show people who God is
  • The Bible says to, so why bother thinking about the reason?
Ultimately, all the reasons I have in my head for why I should evangelize (church-speak that too often translates into "force yourself to talk about God to people who aren't really interested" instead of "live with God in a way that makes it natural for Him to come up in conversation") are about me either helping the other people, or fulfilling a "mission" / "call" / duty / job / obligation / burden.

But I was reading Philemon this morning, and when Paul says,
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that. . .
the reason he gives doesn't mention the people who will hear God's message, doesn't talk about a task assigned to Philemon and other Christians, doesn't bring up God's commands. Rather, the sentence continues,
so that you may have a full understanding of. . .
Of what? Of what we have to do to get to God? (since the best way to learn is to teach) Of how hard it must have been for Christ? (since no one wanted to hear his message either (not true, btw)) Of how messed up things are, out there in the world? Of how much the world needs us? (No: the world needs God, not us.)

None of those matches Paul's theology. Here's the whole sentence:
I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ.
Paul's reason for praying that Philemon and his church actively share their faith is for them to know all the good things God has already given them. That is, Paul is telling them to share the gospel for their own sake! So that they will really know the good things that they already have, in Christ. For them to receive understanding, not for them to give it.

Which makes a lot of sense in light of what I've been reading in John, where the verb "give" shows up everywhere, and the giver is always God. God gives "the right to become children of God," gives light, gives eternal life, gives "the bread of heaven," gives "living water," gives the Son, gives Himself.

So often I think I can give to God by doing things right. But God doesn't need me to give to Him. He wants to give to me. God is the Giver, and we are the humble receivers.

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