12 Keys to Spiritual Maturity: An Evangelist’s Heart

Sermon by Derek Thomas on September 14, 2001

2 Corinthians 5:6

12 Keys to
Spiritual Maturity

2 Corinthians 5:6-21
An Evangelist’s Heart

Dr. Derek Thomas

Now turn with me, if you would, to the second epistle of
Paul, to the Corinthians in chapter 5. And we are going to pick up the reading
at verse 6 and read through to the end of the chapter. 2 Corinthians 5
beginning at verse 6–This is the word of God:

6Therefore, being always
of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent
from the Lord–7 for we walk by faith, not by sight– 8we
are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to
be at home with the Lord. 9Therefore we also have as our ambition,
whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. 10For we must
all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be
recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether
good or bad. 11Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we
persuade men, but we are made manifest to God; and I hope that we are made
manifest also in your consciences. 12We are not again commending
ourselves to you but are giving you an occasion to be proud of us, so that you
will have an answer for those who take pride in appearance and not in heart.
13For if we are beside ourselves, it is for God; if we are of
sound mind, it is for you. 14For the love of Christ controls us,
having concluded this, that one died for all, therefore all died; 15and
He died for all, so that they who live might no longer live for themselves, but
for Him who died and rose again on their behalf. 16Therefore from
now on we recognize no one according to the flesh; even though we have known
Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him in this way no longer.
17
Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old
things passed away; behold, new things have come. 18Now all these
things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the
ministry of reconciliation, 19namely, that God was in Christ
reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them,
and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. 20Therefore,
we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making an appeal through us;
we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. 21He made
Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that we might become the
righteousness of God in Him.

Thus far, God’s holy and inerrant word–May He add his
blessing to it. Amen.

Now if you’re joining with us
this evening as a visitor, you’ve come almost towards the end of a series that
began…I’ve forgotten when but maybe in the middle of May…but a series of twelve
sermons that I’ve called “Twelve Keys to Spiritual Maturity.” And over the
course of this summer we have ranged over many issues and topics and texts, and
it would, of course, be altogether amiss if we were to suggest that one of the
keys of spiritual growth wasn’t evangelism; because as many of you have learned
and known in your own lives, giving testimony to Jesus can be one of the most
growing experiences in our lives. Many of you have been away this summer on
mission trips, and we’ve heard from some of you and we have yet, perhaps, to
hear from a few of you. And those with whom I’ve conversed already this summer
have given testimony to this very thing: that the discipline of giving testimony
to Jesus Christ has proven to be one of the keys to spiritual health and
vitality and growth.

Paul uses here in 2 Corinthians 5
the metaphor of an ambassador. It is one of the ways in which the Apostle Paul
sees himself not only as an apostle but as a Christian, as a believer in Jesus
Christ. One of the ways that he encapsulates what that means is to say, ‘I am
an ambassador of Jesus Christ.’ An ambassador is an emissary, one who goes in
the place of a sovereign, in order to bring good news and to initiate peace.
You and I as believers in Jesus Christ are ambassadors of Christ, as though in
Christ’s stead we were begging the world to be reconciled to God. There is no
doubt that if we were to search the gospels that we would discover again that
our Lord Jesus Christ wants and desires His children to be spokesman on His
behalf. He wants us to be evangelists. And I think the thing that comes across
in this particular chapter in 2 Corinthians 5 for the Apostle Paul is the sense
of honor and a sense of privilege that God in His great mercy entrusts the
gospel into our hands and into our mouths and into our lips. And I think the
Apostle Paul as he does in these epistles remind us of the problems and the
difficulties and the hardships that the Christian life brings with it, wants us
also to appreciate that despite all of the difficulties, giving testimony to
Jesus is one of the things that actually exalts us and reminds us of the dignity
with which Christ has now endowed us.

And I want us to ask of this
passage this evening what the marks of bearing an evangelist’s heart are. Now,
there is more in this passage than I have time to deal with, and I am, in
examining these verses, going to be somewhat selective in order to answer that
particular question: What are the marks of an evangelist’s heart? And
as we examine these four marks that I want us to see, I want you to ask
yourself, do I have that mark? Does that mark shine forth from my heart this
evening?

I. The first mark of an
evangelist’s heart is to please Jesus Christ.
Now the first one that I
want us to consider is that an evangelist’s heart makes their goal pleasing
Jesus Christ. They make it their goal to please Jesus Christ. Now you’ll see
Paul alludes to that in verse 9, “Therefore we also have as our ambition,” our
goal, “whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him.” It was one of the
things that the Apostle Paul lived for. It was what circumscribed his entire
existence: that he wanted to please Jesus Christ; that he was, if you like, so
in love with Christ; that he was so enraptured by Christ that he saw it
as his goal and ambition–no matter where he was, no matter what he was doing–to
bring pleasure to Jesus Christ. You’ll notice that he says that in different
ways and in different words in the course of this chapter. He says again in
verse 15, “He died for all, that they who live should no longer live for
themselves, but for Him who died and rose again on their behalf.”

When Paul talks about the gospel,
when Paul talks about the work of Jesus Christ upon the Cross, Paul is at the
same time eager to ask the question, what does that mean for me? What are the
implications of that for my day-to-day living as a believer in Jesus Christ?
And the fact that Jesus gave His life for me means that I must in turn give my
life for Him, that I must live out my life to please Him. There’s a beautiful
illustration of that, isn’t there, in the Old Testament in Exodus chapter 21?
We’re coming to it shortly…the slave who had won his freedom. And there were
occasions in the Old Testament economy when slaves who had won their freedom did
not necessarily want that freedom, that they wanted to continue in the service
of their master. And you remember the ritual and the ceremony whereby the owner
of that slave would take him to the doorpost and bore a hole through his earlobe
and, as it were, nail him and fasten him to that house and to that service for
forevermore? And it’s as though Paul is saying, ‘That’s what has happened to us
in Jesus Christ. We have been nailed and fastened to Jesus Christ, so that no
matter what we do we want to please Him.’

John White, Christian
psychologist and therapist–better known perhaps in Great Britain than here–in
his book, The Cost of Commitment, writes about an American Marxist that
he once met in Mexico City. And this is what this man said, “There is one thing
about which I am completely in earnest–the communist cause. It is my life, my
business, my religion, my hobby, my sweetheart, my wife, my mistress, my meat
and drink. I work at it by day and dream of it by night. Its control over me
grows greater with the passage of time, therefore I cannot have a friend, a
lover, or even a conversation without relating them to this power that animates
and controls my life. I measure people, books and years and deeds according to
the way they affected the Communist cause and by their attitude to it. I have
already been in jail for my ideas and if need by I am ready to face death.”… All
for the communist cause. That’s a man…that’s a man whose one goal in life was
the cause of Karl Marx.

Our goal, our cause is Jesus
Christ.
The thing that we think about, the thing that motivates us, the
thing that drives us one from minute-to-minute is Christ and His love for us in
the gospel. Everyday we seek to please Him, not just in evangelism but in our
vocation, no matter what that vocation may be. Whether we are a housewife, or a
mother, or a student, or whether we’re retired, we want to please our Lord Jesus
Christ. William Tyndale said, “If we look externally there is difference,” he
said, “betwixt washing dishes and preaching the word of God. But as touching,
pleasing God, there is no difference at all.” Some of you tomorrow morning have
to go to your office. You have to go to school. You have to go to your earthly
bosses. And some of them are demanding and they’re always pointing out every
failure, even imaginary ones, and they never praise you for what you’ve done
well. And even to think of tomorrow in that office and that school and that
desk with all of its papers and those files brings a measure of
apprehension…even to think about it in these moments. But even there, my
friend, you can please Jesus Christ. You can bring glory to Him.

And Paul, although here in 2
Corinthians 5 he wants to talk about evangelism and he wants to talk about being
an ambassador of Jesus Christ, the motivation for being an ambassador (as it
is the motivation for being anything in the Christian life) is the desire to
please Jesus Christ
–that I’m so in love with Jesus that I want to please Him
no matter what I do.

Husbands, do you remember when
you fell in love with your wives? You remember that? Before you married
her…you know, when you were trying to woo her…all those flowers that you bought,
all those meals that you paid for, all those gifts that you sent to her, those
times when you forced yourself to be sweet and to smile and to say those
charming words that utter out of your mouth. And you were always on time and
you were early, and you were never late because you were driven by one
motivation, you wanted to please her. You wanted to please her. Well, that’s
the way it is with Jesus Christ. We are in love with Him and we want to please
Him in everything that we do. So that when we find ourselves sitting on
airplane and there’s somebody sitting next to us that we’ve never seen before
and an opportunity opens up to speak for Him, you want to please Him. You want
to say to this person, “Jesus is the only solution for the problem of humanity,”
and to beg and to woo that person into a relationship with Christ and into the
kingdom of God. So the man or woman who has an evangelist’s heart makes it
their aim to please Christ.

II. The second mark
(goal) of an evangelist’s heart
is to persuade others of Christ.
But, secondly, they make
it their task to persuade others of Christ. Look at what Paul says in verse 11,
“Knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men”… “Knowing the fear of the Lord,
we persuade men.” And the Lord there in verse 11…and the context is Jesus
Christ that Paul has spoken of back in verse 10, “We must all appear before the
judgment seat of Christ, that each one may be recompensed for his deeds…knowing
therefore the fear of the Lord.” Don’t you like the Authorized Version and its
bluntness: “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.”

Don’t be frightened, Christians.
Please don’t be frightened of using the word fear in relationship to
God. It’s the height of folly not to have reverential fear in the
presence of the majesty and the greatness of God. “Jesus, the name high over
all in heaven and earth or sky; angels and men before it fall, and devils fear
and fly,” Wesley said. Knowing the terror of the Lord, the Lord who sits on His
judgment seat in verse 10…it’s the highest court in the whole universe. The
highest court in this land is the Supreme Court but there is a higher court than
the Supreme Court: It is the court of Heaven; it is the judgment seat of
Christ. And how glorious the Judge is who is seated there! The Lamb of God is
turned into a lion and the sight of Him will strike terror into the hearts of
men and women who don’t know Him.

Do you remember when Joseph said
to his brothers, “I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into Egypt”? And do
you remember they were troubled by his presence? He was the second most
powerful man in all of Egypt and they feared him. They feared the consequences
of what they had done so many years before.

And so it will be before the
throne of Christ. Christ will come in judgment and say, ‘I am Jesus that you
have sinned against. I am Jesus whose laws you have broken, whose blood you
have despised. I am come to judge you.’ And what horror and amazement will
grip every sinner then. How they will be troubled by His presence then. But to
His people, to His people, to Christians, to believers, how comforting the sight
of this majestic Christ will be in all of His glory and splendor and majesty!
His first coming was in humility. was incognito: He was born in a stable in
Bethlehem. His second coming will be illustrious: He will appeal with the
outriders of archangels and the entourage of a vast number of angels. Christ
the Son of Righteousness shall shine in splendor above all the glory of the
Seraphim and the Cherubim and He will acknowledge His own by name. That’s the
sight. Christ will plead His own blood for the saints. ‘These persons I have
purchased,’ Jesus will say, ‘on Golgotha. I have won and bought their
redemption. Though their sins were as scarlet, they are as white as snow.
Their sins are covered by what what I’ve done. They are as righteous as I am,’
Jesus will say of them. “Come, ye blessed of my Father. Come and inherit the
kingdom that was prepared for you from before the foundation of the world.”
He’ll mention before men and angels all that you have done for Him. “I was in
hunger and You gave me meat. I was thirsty and You gave me drink.” And then He
will beckon them to Him. This glorious sight of the judgment seat of Christ
where Christ will own and gather His own to Himself and equally disown and cast
out those who do not believe in Him…And it’s that sight–it’s the terror
of that sight; it’s the fear of that sight; it’s the overwhelming spectacle of
that sight, my friends, that motivates the Apostle Paul to say, “I persuade
men.”

You know if you’re sitting next
to somebody and you don’t see them…as Paul says here, you don’t see them as the
world sees them. You don’t see them as important people. You don’t see them as
CEO’s or millionaires; you just see them as perishing sinners who don’t have
Christ. No matter what their earthly dignity may be, they don’t have Christ and
they’re going to hell. That’s what Paul is saying. That’s the
transformation that’s been brought into his life as a result of the gospel of
redeeming grace. He sees people differently now.
He sees them as those
whose true need is to embrace Christ and to embrace Him alone.

My friend, do you have that
particular burden in your heart? Is that what you see when you’re in the
office, when you’re talking to your neighbor, when you’re at a ballgame and
there are people around you who don’t know the Savior, who don’t love the
Savior? And Paul is saying, ‘I am motivated by the sight of the judgment seat
of Christ. I want to live my life so that my conscience is clear before that
throne. And knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men.’

I came across this little
quotation from Machen in a sermon on this particular text, “The motive of fear
is used in many places in the Bible. It is used in the Old Testament; it is
used in the New Testament. It is used with particular insistence in the
teaching of Jesus. I think it is one of the strangest of modern aberrations
when men say it is a degrading and sub-Christian thing to tell men to stand in
fear of God. Many passages in the Bible might be summarized by the word, ‘the
fear of God constrains us
.’” And that is an evangelical motif, my friend.
That is an evangelical motif because it is a motive that is aware of the
realities of death and judgment and a world to come.

III. The third mark of an
evangelist’s heart is that it derives its energy from Christ.
But then in the third
place, the man or woman who has an evangelist’s heart derives their energy from
Christ. Look at how he puts it in verse 14, “The love of Christ controls us.”
Actually, I think I prefer the translation, “The love of Christ constrains
us,” holds us. And it’s the word that’s used actually in the negative of the
Gerasene demoniac, you remember, who couldn’t be constrained by chains. They
couldn’t bind him; they couldn’t hold him together. It’s the kind of word that
you’d use if you were coming out of a football match…and I know that some of you
were there yesterday. I can look at you straight in the eye and you know
exactly what I’m talking about. And when you’re coming out of that stadium
where there’s been…I don’t know, 50,000 people or 60,000 or whatever it was…and
you’re coming, funneling through those exits. You can’t move to the left or
right. You’ve got to go with the flow because of all the pressure of people
around you. You’re constrained to go in one direction. And that’s what Paul is
saying here. He’s constrained to live out his life in one direction. If
you ask, if you ask what it is that gives Paul the energy and impetus to live
his life like this, it is the constraint of the love of Jesus. It is the
constraint of the love of Jesus.

I remember reading about the
former China Inland Mission missionary,
Allen Stips,
and talking of this verse and referring to the Yangtze River. The
Yangtze River is one of the longest rivers in Asia. Its origin is in Tibet and
it has carved out what’s called “the Three Gorges.” It’s one of the wonders of
the world. And the Qutang Gorge is famous for it’s magnificent precipices; for
the river is so constrained by the mighty cliffs that it can only surge and run,
as it were, in one direction. The cliffs have constrained that water to build
up that pressure. And we need that, don’t we, because we are prone to wander?
Isn’t that what the hymn writer says? “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it; prone
to leave the God I love. Take my heart, O take and seal it; seal it from Thy
courts above.” That’s the impetus. It’s the constraining power of the love of
Jesus.

IV. The fourth mark of an
evangelist’s heart is that its foundation is built on the person and work of
Jesus Christ.
But there’s a fourth
thing that I want to rush on to because this is perhaps the most important thing
of all. The fourth mark of an evangelist’s heart…and it directly comes from
that third mark of an evangelist whose heart is constrained by the love of
Jesus. The fourth mark is that they build their foundation on the person and
work of Jesus Christ.

You notice how Paul in this
beautiful passage towards the end of chapter 5 begins to expound upon what it is
that Jesus Christ has done for us? He says in verse 18, “All these things are
from God who reconciled us to Himself through Christ.” It’s one of the great
words, isn’t it, for the work that Jesus has done on our behalf? Paul uses
other words in other parts of the New Testament: justification, atonement…Here
it’s the word reconciliation. It’s the fact that sinners are in
hostility towards a holy and righteous God, and God in Jesus Christ has
reconciled them, has brought peace. We are ambassadors of Jesus Christ to
bring peace between warring factions, between the sinner and God, and it’s
through Christ as our substitute.
As he tells us in verse 19, “God was in
Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against
them.” Isn’t that a beautiful thing that God wouldn’t count your trespasses
against you?

Isn’t that a beautiful thing? The sins that you
have committed, the sins you committed in your youth, the sins that you’ve
committed in your mind, the filth that has passed through your mind, the words
that you’ve uttered, the motives that you’ve had, the ambitions that you’ve had,
the awful things you’ve said to people that you love–and God in His mercy and
grace doesn’t count that against us but, my friends. That isn’t the gospel.
That’s not the gospel. Good news as that is, that’s not the gospel.

The gospel is not that God
doesn’t count our sins against us; the gospel is that God counts our sins
against Jesus.
He counts our sins against His own Son. “He made Him to
be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be reckoned the righteousness of
God in Him.” It’s the great exchange. My sin laid upon Christ and Christ’s
righteousness laid upon me. My sin’s imputed to Christ so that God the Holy One
comes down in judgment upon Him, so that He cries, “My God, My God, why have You
forsaken Me?” And the answer that Jesus didn’t hear was that the reason God the
Father had forsaken His Son was because our sins were being reckoned to Him.
They were being judged in Him. The judgment of Hell itself was being meted out
upon God’s Son for us. And that’s the gospel that Paul says he builds his
foundation upon. That’s the love of God. That’s the measure of the love of
God, so that, “My richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my
pride. Love so amazing, so divine, demands my soul, my life, my all.”

And I want to say to you, my
friends…and I don’t want to be misunderstood by saying this, but I want to say
this to you…that the best program, the best program for evangelism is
motivated…is motivated and channeled and constrained by an overwhelming sense
that Jesus loves us and loves us so much that He was prepared to die for us.

It’s from that wellspring that the challenge and the desire and the motivation
to evangelism brings. My friends, if you’re finding it hard to evangelize, what
you need to do is sit down and ask yourself, “How much it is that you love
Jesus?” That’s what you need to do. You need to ask yourselves again, do I
really understand what Jesus has done for me? Do I really understand that Jesus
has delivered me from the judgment seat of Christ? Because it’s as we
understand that…it’s as we understand the depths to which the Father’s love
went, that He poured His unmitigated wrath upon His Son…it’s as we understand
that, that the motive and the constraint to tell others, “Be reconciled to God,”
comes. Paul can say in the course of this chapter, “From now on,” he says in
verse 16, “we recognize no man according to the flesh.” Something so life
transforming has taken place in the soul of the Apostle Paul that he can no
longer look at anyone without thinking in terms of where that soul is going to
spend eternity. “From now on…” And the consequence of what has happened in me
as a consequence of what I now understand of what Jesus has done…I don’t see
people in the same way that I used to see them.

And if that’s true of you
tonight, my friend…Maybe you’re here tonight and you’ve come…maybe you were
invited here, maybe you’re visiting, maybe you’re not a Christians, maybe you’re
not a believer, maybe you don’t understand what it is we’re talking about here.

I want you to understand one
thing before you leave tonight: that the main reason why we are here this
evening is because we love Jesus Christ and we love Jesus Christ because He
loves us. May God bless His word to us for His name’s sake. Amen.

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