Tag Archives: Marks of the Messenger

The Gospel Messenger

Last time we looked at the Gospel, as summarized nicely in Greg Gilbert’s book What is the Gospel, but largely as expounded in Scripture.  We concluded that God, Man, Christ, Response was a helpful outline for discussing the Gospel message as defined by the Bible.  In this post, I want to look at the marks or characteristics of the Gospel messenger that Jesus provides in Matthew 10.  Before beginning, I’d like to point out a helpful book on this subject entitled Marks of the Messenger, which is one of the best books on the evangelist that I’ve read. 

If we are going to look at what Jesus had to say about the characteristics of His Gospel messengers, namely His apostles, we must first look at 3 assumptions for them, and likewise us.  The first assumption is that the Gospel messenger believes the Gospel.  This is beyond simply knowing facts about the Gospel, or Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, but extends much deeper to an actual acceptance of the Gospel facts and a reliance on the sufficiency of Christ’s righteousness and substitutionary atonement on behalf of the sinner.  It is literally placing one’s faith fully and totally in Jesus and relying on Him and Him alone for salvation from sin and the wrath of God. 

Two, the Gospel messenger must be a student of the Gospel.  What’s interesting, as we will see, in Matthew 10 Jesus makes the transition from referring to the twelve as disciples to apostles.  Disciple means learner or student, while apostle means a delegate or messenger sent forth.  If we followed this idea we would see that this chapter marks a transition from learning the Gospel at the side of Jesus to now going forward and proclaiming the Gospel.  Familiar to us is the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19 where Jesus instructs us to go forth and make disciples, or as we just defined, learners.  Of what?  Of Jesus and His Gospel, which is found in God’s Word.  Being a Christian is not a pass to stop learning, but instead should instill a desire and hunger to learn about God.

The third assumption we must make for the messenger of the Gospel is that they live in light of the Gospel.  Now, let me clarify here that I am not saying one is to “live the Gospel”.  The Gospel is a proclamation and is the good news.  It would be quite difficult to live that.  However, Christians are called to walk or live in light of what they believe, namely the Gospel.  This is the proverbial walk matching your talk.

With these three assumptions firmly grounded, let us look at the passage from Matthew 10.

1 And he called to him his twelve disciples and gave them authority over unclean spirits, to cast them out, and to heal every disease and every affliction. 2 The names of the twelve apostles are these: first, Simon, who is called Peter, and Andrew his brother; James the son of Zebedee, and John his brother; 3 Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James the son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; 4 Simon the Cananaean, and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

5 These twelve Jesus sent out, instructing them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles and enter no town of the Samaritans, 6 but go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. 7And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ 8 Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons. You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts, 10 no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food. 11And whatever town or village you enter, find out who is worthy in it and stay there until you depart. 12 As you enter the house, greet it. 13 And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. 14 And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. 15 Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.

16 “Behold, I am sending you out as sheep in the midst of wolves, so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. 17 Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, 18 and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles. 19 When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour. 20 For it is not you who speak, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. 21 Brother will deliver brother over to death, and the father his child, and children will rise against parents and have them put to death, 22 and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake.  But the one who endures to the end will be saved. 23 When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next, for truly, I say to you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.

24 “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master. 25It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master. If they have called the master of the house Beelzebul, how much more will they malign those of his household.

26 “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. 27 What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. 30 But even the hairs of your head are all numbered. 31Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. 32 So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, 33 but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.

34 “Do not think that I have come to bring peace to the earth.  I have not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. 36 And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household. 37 Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me. 38 And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. 39 Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

40 “Whoever receives you receives me, and whoever receives me receives him who sent me. 41 The one who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and the one who receives a righteous person because he is a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward. 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

Now there is a lot going on here, but I think it would be most helpful to summarize or list the characteristics that Jesus defines here for the Apostles, and subsequently us, in their corresponding verse(s).

  • Proclaim the Gospel (vs. 7) “And proclaim as you go, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’”
  • Compassion for people (vs. 8 ) “Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.”
  • Pure Motives. Not Gospel Peddlers. (vs. 8-9) You received without paying; give without pay. 9 Acquire no gold nor silver nor copper for your belts
  • Trust God (vs. 10) [Take] “no bag for your journey, nor two tunics nor sandals nor a staff, for the laborer deserves his food.”
  • Proclaimers not Convincers (vs. 14) “And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town.”
  • Be Wise (vs. 16) “so be wise as serpents”
  • Be Pure (vs. 16) “innocent as doves”
  • Be vigilant  (vs. 17-18) “Beware of men, for they will deliver you over to courts and flog you in their synagogues, and you will be dragged before governors and kings for my sake, to bear witness before them and the Gentiles.”
  • Anxiety Free (vs. 19) “When they deliver you over, do not be anxious how you are to speak or what you are to say, for what you are to say will be given to you in that hour.”
  • Persevere (vs. 22) “But the one who endures to the end will be saved.”
  • Gospel student (vs. 24-25) “A disciple is not above his teacher, nor a servant above his master.  It is enough for the disciple to be like his teacher, and the servant like his master”
  • Boldness (vs. 26) “So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known.”
  • Faithfulness to the Gospel (vs. 27) “What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops.”
  • Fear the Lord, not man (vs. 28) “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
  • Realize value/identity in Christ (vs. 29-31) “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.  But even the hairs of your head are all numbered.  Fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows.”
  • Confess Christ (vs. 32-33) “So everyone who acknowledges me before men, I also will acknowledge before my Father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, I also will deny before my Father who is in heaven.”
  • Steadfast (in the face of opposition, even from family/friends)  (vs.  35-37) “For I have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. And a person’s enemies will be those of his own household.  Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.”
  • Self-Denial (vs. 38-39) “And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”

So what’s a person to do with these qualities?  Memorize them?  Strive to attain them?  No, in actuality if we return our focus to the three assumptions that we defined at the beginning, Believe the Gospel, Study the Gospel, Live in light of the Gospel, then these characteristics will be ours.  Surely there will be stronger characteristics than others, and surely in all of this we must rely upon the strength of the Lord and pray to be fit messengers of His Word, but when we saturate ourselves in the Gospel all the characteristics we need to be faithful Gospel messengers will be pervasive in us.

Book Review: Marks of the Messenger

It’s been a pretty busy 2 weeks for me, so I haven’t been able to post with the normal regularity.  I did, however, want to post a brief review of a book I just finished up written by J. Mack Stiles entitled, Marks of the Messenger.  Most books on evangelism tend to either focus on the message or the methods that the evangelist must say or do.  These generally tend to reduce the Gospel message down to a tract-like message or emphasize pragmatic, results driven means of delivering that message, which Stiles says results in “an evangelism that is twisted and deformed.”  In his book, the focus rests squarely on the shoulders of the “messenger”.  Simply put, this is a much needed book.

The last 30-50 years have been highlighted in this country with a surge in emphasizing the Great Commission, particularly overseas.  While no doubt God has done many wondrous works in the sacrificial lives of missionaries in spreading the Gospel, there have also been many well-intentioned, though knowledge lacking, efforts that have presented an incomplete or incorrect Gospel.  In Romans 10:2, referring to his kinsmen of the flesh, Paul says they have “zeal for God, but not according to knowledge”.  This passage seems to best summarize many of the errant missionary efforts that have taken place.  I’ve often wrestled with the question myself, who should be a missionary?  Just anyone who “feels led”?  The young college student who barely has a grasp of the Gospel themselves?  Is anyone just to jump up one day and take off in any direction and wherever they end up is where God was “leading”?  These questions that I had are ones that get answered in this book.  In his first chapter, “Don’t Peddle the Gospel”, Stiles offers the following summary on this zealous approach by asking an important question, “So why have people jumped into action, in this case evangelistic action, before being people of faith?”  To which he offers, “Maybe it’s because they can.  We have not been watchful enough about the conditions of people’s hearts before we ask them to act, because with the right method or program, the condition of a person’s heart isn’t that important.  We have become pragmatists.”  Summarizing this “pragmatic evangelism” Stiles concludes that it counts, “converts, members, programs, but rarely counts faithfulness to the message or the faithfulness of the messenger.”

In his second chapter, “Students of the Message”, Stiles details the importance of Gospel study and understanding the message of evangelism.  This is where I think it’s important to make the distinction about who we send forth as missionaries and evangelists.  While it’s true, every Christian is to be a witness for Christ and share the Gospel, not everyone is adequately equipped with sufficient knowledge of the message they are charged with sharing and this is to their own detriment.  In this chapter we are encouraged to take the time to study and understand the Gospel message to avoid spreading a false Gospel. 

“Don’t assume the Gospel”.  That’s the subtitle to Chapter 3, “On your Guard” and it was probably one of the most helpful points for me in this book.  Stiles begins this chapter by recounting the story of Kevin Roose, a writer posing as a believer at Liberty University who participated in campus activities, Bible studies, prayer meetings, etc. all in research for his book detailing the lives of evangelicals.  In short, he played the part and talked the talk, but it was all an act in an effort to publish his book.  Roose’s story took a profound turn when he met an agnostic on campus and that student confessed that he was not a Christian and said that most people on campus just “assume you are Christian.”  To this Stiles says, assuming the Gospel is the first step in losing the Gospel and he outlines 4 helpful steps. 1) The Gospel is Accepted 2) The Gospel is Assumed 3) The Gospel is Confused 4) The Gospel is Lost.  Assuming is the first step in losing it.  Think about that.  Don’t assume because someone is sitting beside you in Church they are a Christian.  Don’t assume just because a person volunteers to run a Church program or is zealous about overseas missions that they are a believer.  Because if they aren’t, it leads to Gospel confusion, and the next step is the Gospel lost.  This is precisely what is happening overseas and is quite epidemic in our own country.  Depending on the poll you follow, upwards of 83% of Americans identify themselves as “Christian”.  83%!?!  If that were truly the case, wouldn’t we be the most God-fearing, God-honoring, God-loving country on the planet?  But this isn’t the case, as should be evident to anyone, America is on a moral decline.  Why?  Assuming the Gospel.  It’s assumed that 83% are Christians.  It’s assumed that the person next to you in Sunday service is truly a believer.  It’s time to stop assuming the Gospel and start proclaiming the Gospel.

J. Mack Stiles challenges his readers to walk the talk in chapter 4 and in chapter 5 he focuses on an oft-confused aspect of the Gospel, social change.  So many zealous evangelicals today confuse social change, social action, or social justice with the Gospel.  He rightly asserts the following, “For years Christians have separated social action and the gospel message.  Yet to separate the gospel message and social action is to assume that the gospel doesn’t produce social change.  But the gospel brings social change in and of itself.” (emphasis his)  This is where it seems so many “social justice Christians” go awry.  While it’s wrong to leave off the social aspect of Christianity, i.e. helping the poor, needy, orphans, and elderly, it’s equally wrong (arguably even more so!) to leave off the Gospel from social action.  Preaching the Gospel will bring about social change, but preaching social change is Gospel-less and therefore powerless.

In chapter 6 of this book, the author takes time to explain the nature of conversion and its impact in the life of the believer.  In other words, a change will be necessarily brought about by the Holy Spirit in the life of the believer and good spiritual fruit will be the evidence.  While not only describing conversion as a work of God in the hearts of hearers of the Gospel, Stiles points out those man-made methods which are so commonly used to “generate conversion”, apart from God’s work.  Chapter 7 is an important chapter for any faithful witness of the Gospel, namely the required boldness it takes.  J. Mack Stiles offers biblical encouragement for believers to share their faith, centered around Proverbs 29:25 “The fear of man lays a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is safe.”

In chapter 8, subtitled “Mistaking the World’s love for God’s Love”, Mr. Stiles offers a helpful discussion on God’s love.  Much like what we discussed here in Lady Gaga, Rob Bell, and Misunderstanding the Love of God, this chapter highlights the confusion that so many have concerning God’s love and offers the following helpful warning, “If we only speak of God’s love while forsaking God’s other attributes (such as holiness, righteousness, and justice), we are tailoring God to a popular image, an idol really, and not the God of the Bible.”

In bringing his book to a close, chapter 9 highlights the importance of the Church and the love that Christians are to show to one another.  Interestingly, this chapter included a list of “16 ways to demonstrate love and unity in the Church and in doing so become a healthy evangelist”.  Highlights from this list include the practice of church discipline, discipleship, respect and reverence for the church, prayer, and reading helpful books such as C.J. Mahaney’s Humility (which I have not read, so cannot recommend) and Mark Dever’s  9 Marks of a Healthy Church (which I plan to read and review here).  Stiles concludes his book with a few actions steps for being a healthy evangelist: 1. Body check, i.e. is anything holding you back, 2. Prayer for those who don’t know Christ 3. Plan, i.e. think through where you’ll be what your doing for witnessing opportunities 4. Think through issues 5. Prepare or practice the Gospel in a minute (God, Man, Christ, Response) 6. Get started 7. Gather, i.e. events, Bible study, prayer groups, etc. 8. Serve 9. Speak of Jesus 10. Pursue 11. Invite.

Marks of the Messenger is a short, well-written, and easy to understand book.  Yet it is profound and timely for a generation of Gospel assumers and Gospel confusers.  This is one of those books that should be required reading for all those in ministry, whether it be the Sunday School teacher, the open-air preacher, or the country church pastor.  You can purchase this book by following the Amazon link below or by using the Recommended Reading tab above.

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