Whenever we think of gifts, most think of certain talents and abilities they possess. Growing up and playing basketball at 6’4″, I was always looked upon as a gifted athlete. I’ve had friends that were gifted musicians. My mother was a gifted painter. My dad was a gifted speaker. Even in the realm of Christianity many are considered to be gifted with certain Godly abilities. In fact, over the past few years I have heard many in our former fellowship, and even some in our present fellowship, refer to evangelism as a “gift.” The implication is that if someone is not gifted in the area of evangelism, God does not expect him or her to share their faith, as long as they contribute in the other areas that they are “gifted” in. In order to determine whether this is true or not, we must find the answers to a few questions: 1) what role did “gifts” play in the first century church? 2) Is evangelism a gift? 3) What is the difference between a gift and a command?
In considering the question, “What role did ‘gifts’ play in the first century church?” We will have to look at a few passages. “Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith. If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach; if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.” It is evident that the first century church was filled with many types of people who had different gifts. Paul encouraged the church in Rome to allow those who had gifts, to use them to benefit the body of Christ. We find Paul stating the same thing to the church in Ephesus. In Ephesians 4:11-13, Paul states, “It was He who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” We know Paul also taught this in his letter to the Corinthian church (I Corinthians 12). In fact, Paul states in his letter to the Ephesians, that using their gifts for God in the church would allow the church to: 1) reach a unity in the faith, 2) become mature, 3) and attain the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. With all this in mind, gifts played a significant role in the first century church.
In considering our second question, “is evangelism a gift?” It would do us well to list the non-supernatural gifts that are listed in the scriptures: 1) Serving, 2) Teaching, 3) Encouraging, 4) Giving, 5) Leadership, 6) Showing mercy, 7) Evangelist, 8) Pastor, 9) Teacher, 10) Wisdom, 11) Knowledge. Interestingly, the role of an evangelist is mentioned as a gift, but evangelism never is. So what would we classify evangelism as? Matthew 28:18-20 states, “Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.'” From this passage we can conclude that evangelism is a command Jesus gave the eleven remaining apostles that they would in turn pass on to all those they converted. Therefore, one disciple makes another disciple, who makes another disciple, who makes another disciple, and so on. In answering our second question, evangelism is not a gift but rather a command of God!
Our third question “Is there a difference between a gift and a command?” is probably the most important question. There are some gifts that are not commands. Gifts, such as an evangelist, a pastor, and a teacher, are not commands; meaning that not all disciples are expected to fulfill them. However, gifts such as encouraging, giving, and showing mercy, are both gifts and commands. Could you imagine someone sharing that they were not giving to God because it was not there gift. We would be quick to show them passages such as II Corinthians 9 and Corinthians 16:1-2 that would contradict this line of thought. Therefore, there is a difference between a gift and a command. Although some gifts are also commands!
In understanding that evangelism was clearly a command of Jesus, I can’t help but to ask why some individuals as well as entire fellowships call it a gift and refuse to acknowledge it as a command of God. I think this is easily answered when we consider evangelism is perhaps the most time consuming, sacrificial, and heart breaking part of being a disciple. It is so much easier to take it out of discipleship than to obey it. For centuries, churches have tried to make Christianity easier in an attempt to make it widely accepted among non-Christians and more comfortable for its members. Rather than changing men’s lives to agree with the Bible, they change the Bible to agree with men’s lives. Classifying evangelism as a gift and not a command is an attempt to do just that. It is a way to justify disobedience to the last words of our resurrected Messiah, he command to take the gospel message to all nations. Church, let us never neglect our mission as disciples, but let us rather fulfill the command Jesus gave us, to take the gospel to all nations in our generation. Then and only then, will God add to our number and bless our fellowship with many souls being saved!