Is Every Christian Expected to Share the Gospel?

The question is not whether the church has been gifted with expert fishermen.  The question is whether each Christian is a fisher of men. 

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise. 

Proverbs 11:30 ESV
evangelism: kid fishing from cross

Our fruitfulness is said to be life-giving.  And the poetic parallel makes it explicit that evangelism is in view.  So, it’s wise to save souls. It’s heroic to save souls, and it’s loving.  But is it a command?  Is there an individual mandate to try? Indeed there is.  At the end of 1 Corinthians 10, Paul gives each and every Christian an explicit command.  It is global in scope.  It includes everything that we do; nothing is excluded (“whatever you do, do all”). The initial “whether you eat or drink” draws the preceding context to conclusion, which is about the use of our freedom.  Paul issues an explicit directive:  be like me, as I’m like Jesus – doing everything to the glory of God. 

So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God. Give no offense to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, that they may be saved.  Be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.

1 Cor 10:31–11:1 ESV

Paul goes on to explain what he means by “do everything to the glory of God.”  He has set for them an example (11:1).  Everything he does has a purpose, an aim.  He tries to please everyone in everything that he does—not to be popular—; he lays aside his own freedom (having been freed from selfish concerns, 10:33) to seek the advantage of many—namely, to seek their salvation.  Paul makes the purpose behind all of his actions explicit, and commends that same purpose to us for imitation.  Everything he does is in hopes of saving souls.  And so he says, “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ”— In the previous chapter, Paul has already told us what that looks like. He has set them an example.  This is how you should use the freedom that is yours in Christ Jesus: 

19   For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. 21 To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. 

1 Cor 9:19–21 ESV

He brings it home to each Christian individually in 1 Co 10:24.  “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” (1 Cor 10:24 ESV)  And if the identity of his neighbor should be called into question, one need simply look at Luke 10:29ff, where Jesus answered this very question.  

Paul says that, not only is this his pattern, but that he took this pattern from Christ.  And that is easily demonstrated: The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost. (Luke 19:10) And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:31f)

So, Yes, there is an expectation that every Christian will have a keen personal interest in extending the kingdom. We are commanded to imitate Paul—as he imitated Jesus—in governing our every action toward one goal:  the glory of God (through the salvation of sinners).  

The Purpose of the Church: evangelism

The church that Jesus established and is building has a purpose.  And it’s purpose is in harmony with its commission.  Luke 24:44ff describes the church in terms of what it does.  During the 40 days after his resurrection, Jesus occasionally appeared.  This passage records one of those appearances.  And in this passage, Jesus tells us what the entirety of the scriptures is about.  And it’s about three things:  the death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the proclamation of repentance for the forgiveness of sins in His name (which, of course, is the church’s commission).

44   Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” 45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, 46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, 47 and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” 

Luke 24:44–49 ESV

“Repentance for the forgiveness of sins shall be proclaimed in his name to all nations”—Note, however, that the apostles did not reach everywhere.  Japan, for instance, was evangelized by the church long after the apostles had gone the way of all the earth.  And we can see from the book of Acts that the church body has understood its task all along:  the gospel spread through the church “sharing the good news” (εὐαγγελίζω, “evangelizing”, which is done by all, as opposed to κηρύσσω, “preaching”, which is done by officers, Acts 8:4).  Apostles were sent to verify and to support (Acts 8:14ff).  In fact, when Paul launches on his second missionary journey, Luke tells us that “he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:41 ESV) While it is possible that Paul himself had planted these churches before Barnabas fetched him from his home in Tarsus to help in Antioch, it is equally probable that these were churches that were planted as people scattered. From the earliest days, the church body has embraced its evangelistic hope and effort.  And it is no wonder: Jesus was clear that the overall mission of the church is the making of disciples. 

18 And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”  

Matt 28:18–20 ESV

And while that passage commissions the church as a whole, Jesus himself directed us individually, to share the gospel—in the sermon on the mount: “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.”  (Matt 5:16 ESV)  What does it mean for them to “give glory to our Father”?  That’s an expression that is used explicitly of repentance, faith and worship (Josh 7:19; 1 Sam 6:5; 1 Chr 16:35; Isa. 24:15; Jer 13:16; Luke 4:6; John 9:24; Acts 12:23; Rom 4:20; Rev 11:13; 14:7; 16:9).  The light that shines is not the works we do. They see our works, undoubtedly. But the light itself, which lights our path and shines forth in those loving actions, is Christ in us, Wisdom from above, which is ours through faith in the good news. Only if this is explicit, will those who see our good works glorify God. Without the explicit gospel, who gets the praise for our good deeds?

As it is a wise endeavor, presumably every Christian will not only be eager to “capture souls”, but that he or she would pray to that end.  

“Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest.”  

Matt 9:37–38 ESV

While not everyone is called to serve as a full-time harvest-laborer, and so we ought to send and support kingdom workers, everyone actually does have a gift of evangelism, individually—in the sense that every believer has been given the gospel.  The gospel is a message, a saving message. You must not only know that message, but believe it to be saved. So, if you are saved, you definitely have all that is necessary gifts to save the souls of others (James 5:19-20) whether wandering sheep, or sheep who have yet to hear the Shepherd’s voice. The statement holds either way, “whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins. (James 5:20 ESV) You have a saving message. And that message was shared with you, given to you as a gift. That gift is “the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” (Rom 1:16–17 ESV)

There is little question that the Great Commission was given to the church as a whole, and not to individual believers.  Not all are called to teach or to preach or to baptize.  And yet, every believer is a servant of the King.  And the King has revealed his grand plan with its orders. Further, the King has equipped every believer with what is necessary for him or her to play this very significant part in His plan.  He has given you the good news by which you were saved.  And in so doing, he has given you the good news by which disciples might be made.

Our Motivation

But let us be moved to share the gospel by pity, love and power, not guilt: Jesus pitied us, and so we have pity on the lost.  He loved us, and so we love even our enemies. And the gospel of his resurrection power is not only the power for our salvation, it holds power for those we pity and love.  Guilt comes when sin meets obligation.  But we have been set free from sin, and every obligation has been met, and all guilt washed clean. So let us serve and share, not out of a sense of duty, let alone guilt. Let us serve as sons and daughters of the King, eager to see our beloved Lord reign in every heart, as he does in ours. We know Him to be worthy. We know him to be merciful and kind and powerful and faithful and true. And we know the message of the cross and empty tomb to be news worth sharing.

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and whoever captures souls is wise.  

Prov 11:30 ESV