One Reason You May Be Struggling with Evangelism

John MacArthur identifies a common reason why Christians struggle to share their faith: 

One reason some of us have difficulty proclaiming the gospel is that we don’t know many non-Christians. Our world has narrowed; the longer we’ve been Christians, the fewer non-Christians we know. Work hard to keep that from happening to you. 

John MacArthur, The Master’s Plan for the Church, 63


Examining Motives for Evangelism

Unfortunately, we have a nasty habit of taking a good thing and making it bad through evil motives. The perfect illustration of this is the Temple practices of Jesus’ day.  Temple worship and sacrifices were a good thing.  However, through selfish motives the leaders of Jesus’ day turned those “good things” into deplorable things. Or what about the Pharisee in Luk3 18:11 who prayed and thanked God that he was not like the tax collector.  He took a righteous act and turned it into sin because he was using his prayers to glorify himself not to glorify God. The challenge for us now, is how we avoid doing this same thing with evangelism.

There are all kinds of sinful motives for evangelism.

At one point in my life I had a Christian leader, who will remain nameless, provide us with a log book to record how many times everyone had shared the gospel with someone.  Without surprise it quickly became a competition for some individuals, and other individuals simply lied about how many people they had evangelized.  Why? Because they were motivated by pride. Pride is a wicked motivation.  When we evangelize out of pride we are no longer working to build God’s kingdom.  Instead, when we are motivated by pride, we are really working to build our own kingdom.  Really pride is as the heart of all sinful motives for evangelism, but there are several common manifestations of “evangelistic pride” that are quite common.

There is the “I’m going to grow my church through evangelism” form of evangelistic pride.  It is a good—make that great—thing to grow a church through evangelism. However, if you are sharing the gospel with someone PRIMARILY to fill seats in your building, then your motivations are driven by pride.

There is also the “I’m going to make you see how right I am” form of evangelistic pride.  We’ve all seen, and been guilty of this one before.  This is when evangelism is no longer communication with a view toward conversion.  Instead, it becomes communication with a view toward proving that you are right.  Do you see how the motive behind it makes all the difference?  In evangelism we are seeking to win people NOT arguments.  When we allow pride to sneak into our heart evangelism can quickly become nothing more than a opportunity for you to prove that not only are you right, but you are also a better person than the one you are evangelizing.  This certainly shouldn’t be the attitude of a steward who is taking care of something that was entrusted to him and it’s not the attitude of someone who understands grace.

Another common manifestation of evangelistic pride is the mentality that the “fruit of the Spirit is evangelism… just evangelism.”  This is when an individual allows his heart for evangelism and his giftedness in that area to become a source of pride.  No longer is evangelism a ministry that they excel in, instead it has become the reason why they are more serious Christians than most people—at least in their minds. If other church members are not “doing evangelism” in the same way and with the same frequency it must be because they are immature Christian.  There are several problems with this view of evangelism.

  • First, the bible never evaluates our spiritual growth based on how frequently we “do evangelism.” The bible simply commands that we do it.
  • Second, the bible clearly teaches that each believer is gifted in a different way.  This does not mean that someone with the gifts of service is off the hook with respect to evangelism. But it does mean that believers are going to live out this command in different ways according to their giftedness.
  • Third, Paul is very clear on what the fruit of the Spirit in one’s life looks like (Gal 5:22-23).  So it is not a matter of how often you evangelize or what method of evangelism you use.  The real question is, are you submitting to the Spirit as he sanctifies you? If so, then your faithfulness in evangelism will be part of that.

In the end, the real problem with this attitude of evangelism is that is has the wrong motivation, pride.

So what are the right motivations for evangelism?

To answer this question we need to look no further than Mark 12:30-31:

And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Here we see not only the right motivations behind evangelism, but also the right motivations behind all of life: Love God and Love others.  We should do the work of evangelism because we love God and because we love other people.

Pure Evangelism reveals a heart that loves God in several ways:

  • If you love God you will love His word (Ps 119:41-42)
  • If you love God you will obey His command to evangelize (1 John 5:3)
  • If you love God you will love God’s people, and want to see more of them (1 Thess 4:9)
  • If you love God you will love to tell the world about the glorious deeds God has done (Psalm 96:1-3).
  • If you love God you will love the glory He receives when a soul is saved (Lk 15:10)
  • And certainly we could think of more…

Pure Evangelism reveals a heart that loves others as well:

  • If you love others you will want Christian fellowship with them (1 Jn 1:3)
  • If you love others you will agonize over their salvation (Rom 9:1-3)
  • If you love others you will want to do good to them (Gal 6:10)
  • If you love others you will treat them as you treat yourselves. (Mark 12:31)
  • If you love others you will speak the truth to them. (Eph 4:15)

It is easy to be motivated by fear and not share the gospel with someone.  But, if we truly love someone we will share the gospel with them.


[this is an updated version of a post originally posted 02/29/12]

Piper on Gratitude as a Motivation for Obedience

Much is being made of the motivation for sanctification.  The way some people talk, you would think that gratitude was the only motivation for progress in sanctification. Thus, to talk about Christian duty or Christian ability is deemed “burdensome.” I have written elsewhere on some problems with this paradigm and received some negative feedback. One of the criticism that I received insinuated that my thoughts were radically divergent from Reformed thinking. My first thought was to reference the numerous quotes from Calvin in my post. However, I quickly remembered that many of the “resurgent” Calvinist (Re-Calvinist? I should start a conference with that title) have not bothered to read much of Calvin. So, for the benefit of my Re-Calvinists brothers (and that is what we are), let me quote from the ultimate Re-Calvinst authority, John Piper. Here is what he says:

Have you ever tried to find a Biblical text where gratitude or thankfulness is the explicit motive for obedience to God? Stories like the sinful woman (in Luke 7:36-50) and the unforgiving servant (in Matt. 18:23-35) come to mind, but neither speaks explicitly of gratitude as a motive.

Why is this explicit motive for obedience–which in contemporary Christianity is probably the most commonly used motive for obedience to God–(almost?) totally lacking in the Bible? Could it be that a gratitude ethic so easily slips over into a debtor’s ethic that God chose to protect His people form this deadly motivation by not including gratitude as an explicit motive for obedience?

Instead He lures us into obedience with irresistibly desirable promises of enablement (Jer 31:22; Ezek 36:27; Matt 19:26; Rom 6:14; 1 Cor 1:8-9; Gal 5:22; Phil 2:13; 4:13; 1 these 3:12; Heb 13:21) and divine reward (Luke 9:24; 10:28; 12:33; 16:9, 25; 10:35-36; Heb 11:24-26; 12:2; 13:5-6).

God takes pains to motivate us by reminding us that He is now and always will be working for those who follow Him in the obedience of faith. He never stops and waits for us to work for Him “out of gratitude.” He guards us from the mindset of a debtor by reminding us that all our Christian labor for Him is a gift from Him (Rom 11:35-36, 15:18) and therefore cannot be conceived as payment of a debt. In fact the astonishing thing is that every good deed we do in dependence on Him to “pay Him back” does just the opposite; it puts us ever deeper in debt to His grace.  “I labored eve more than all of them, yet not I, but the grace of God with me” (1 Cor 15:10 NASB). Let us teach people that is exactly where God wants us to be through all eternity, going ever deeper in debt to grace.

Should we stop preaching gratitude as a motivation? I leave that for you to answer. But if we go on urging people to obey “out of gratitude,” we should at least show them the lurking dangers, and describe how gratitude can motivate obedience without succumbing to a debtor’s mentality.  (Brothers, We are Not Professionals, 34-35, bold emphasis added)

Let me make 4 observations:

1. I think that Piper is overstating his case on gratitude as a motivator for obedience. Gratitude is a legitimate motivator.

2. I agree when Piper says that ability & reward are legitimate motivations in the Christian life.  Paul consistently provides the indicative before the imperatives not only to show us that it was done for us, but also to show us that it was done in us and we now have the ability to obey.

3. Piper’s warning should be at least considered by those promoting the so-called “free grace” paradigm of sanctification. If you are not careful, the very thing that you are guarding against now (i.e. the motivation of paying God back) may be the very place people go with your paradigm.

4. See, I’m not a legalizing neo-nomian… unless, of course, that’s what you consider Piper to be.


A Warning from Jesus about False Teachers

[audio of this message] [.pdf of text] In Mark 12:35-44 we receive a vital warning about the leaders that we allow to influence us. This warning, which calls us to beware, may be more important than ever. With the progress of technology it is possible for us to be influenced by more people than ever before. Like the invention of the printing press, the internet has made it possible to reach thousands upon thousands of people without even meeting them. This can be a good thing. For instance, technology has helped to make expository preaching and reformed theology more broadly accepted than ever before. Just this week I spoke with a pastor from Trinidad and Tobago who found the preaching of John MacArthur on the internet. As a result, he has been learning and growing in a way that he otherwise would not be able to. However, for every helpful influence broad-casted through technology, there are at least ten misleading voices to match it. Bookstores, radio stations, and religious television have all been overrun by false teachers and charlatans.
This brings us back to the warning of Mark 12:35-44, and makes the warning we find here as important as ever.

And as Jesus taught in the temple, he said, “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David? David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, ‘The Lord said to my Lord, Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’ David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly. And in his teaching he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the marketplaces and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:35-44, ESV)

This passage contains a warning about bad leaders, and it comes out of Jesus’ confrontation with the religious leaders. Actually, Jesus isn’t confronting them, He is dominating them! In the previous verses the religious leaders of Jesus’ day did everything they could to discredit Him. None of it worked. They gave it their best shot, but they were soundly defeated. They had no more challenges for Jesus:

After that no one dared to ask him any more questions. (Mark 12:34, ESV)

Thus, in verse 35 we find Jesus teaching in the Temple. He had started out in the Temple courts where He had cast out the money changers, and now, after defeating the leaders of the Temple in public debate, we find Him in the heart of the Temple teaching. As one commentator observes, “He didn’t quit the field . . . He takes it” (Edwards, 394). This is Jesus’ victory lap. He won the debate and He gets to give the closing address. In fact, the beginning of verse 35 could literally be translated, “Jesus responded with His teaching.” This warning is Jesus’ response to the false leaders who opposed Him. He won a fight He didn’t start, and now He is warning us about the ones who did start the fight. This warning is still important for us, because there are still opponents of Christ trying to discredit Him with false teaching. In Christ’s words we find instruction on how to be discerning with who we listen to. Specifically, we find three cautions about who we, as Christians, follow.

I. Beware of leaders who miss Christ (vv.35 -37)

Verses 35-37 warn us to beware of leaders who miss Christ. This is the last public exchange between Jesus and the religious leaders and now He is questioning them about the most important issue there is—do you understand Christ? Notice exactly what He says at the end of verse 35: “How can the scribes say that the Christ is the son of David?” (Mark 12:35b, ESV) Jesus is alluding to the fact that the scribes taught that the Messiah (Savior) would be a descendant of David. Jesus us not denying that their teaching is true. In fact, Romans 1:3 says,

. . . concerning his Son, who was descended from David according to the flesh . . .(Romans 1:3, ESV)

Matthew also links Christ back to David (Mt 1:6). There are numerous passages in both testaments that state that the Christ would be a descendant of David. Jesus is not challenging this. However, there is more that must be said about the Messiah; and there was certainly more than the scribes had been teaching. Jesus demonstrates this in verse 36:

David himself, in the Holy Spirit, declared, “The Lord said to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand, until I put your enemies under your feet.’” (Mark 12:36, ESV)

Jesus is quoting Psalm 110:1, which is a distinctly Messianic psalm that describes the

Messiah as

  Victorious (v. 1)   Ruling (v.2)   Beloved by His people (v.3)   Confirmed by YHWH (v.4a)   A priest (v. 4b)
  A judge (v. 5)
This Psalm has so much to say about the Messiah that it is the most quoted Psalm in the NT. But there is one particular point Jesus is focusing on in verse 37:

  • David himself calls him Lord. So how is he his son?” And the great throng heard him gladly.(Mark 12:37, ESV)
  • The scribes were missing that David calls the Messiah his Lord. “In ancient Israelite society fathers did not refer to their sons or even more distant descendants as ‘lords.’ Just the opposite was true” (Brooks, 201). And yet, David calls his descendant Lord and gives Him authority above even his own.

The scribes had no way to explain how the son of David could also be the Lord of David. To them, the Messiah was a great man, but that’s all. He was merely human, which is why the scribes had no answer for Jesus. It certainly was not a mistake on the part of David. Jesus explicitly reminds us that David wrote under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit (Jesus believes in the inerrancy of Scripture!). So what is the answer? The answer lies in the incarnation of Christ. To fulfill Psalm 110:1 the Messiah had to be a human descendant of David and equal with God. He had to be both God and Man. This is exactly what Jesus was.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth. (John 1:14, ESV)

Jesus is the God-Man who fulfills Psalm 110:1 and saves His people. Because He is God, he possesses the requisite righteousness we need for salvation. And, because He is man, He can represent us with that righteousness. This is the heart of the Gospel and it is necessary for truly understanding the work of Christ. But, the religious leaders totally missed it. They did not anticipate it even though it was in the OT, and they didn’t accept it when it happened even though Jesus did the works of God. These religious leaders missed Christ. Any leader who misses Christ—for any reason or in any way—should not be followed. We need leaders who can say with the apostle Paul, “be imitators of me as I am of Christ” (1 Cor 11:1). We need preachers and teachers who understand and proclaim Christ. Again, as Paul says,

For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received:that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures . . .(1 Corinthians 15:3-4, ESV)

Leaders who can say this are the ones you must find and follow. And beware of leaders who miss Christ, because they can never lead you to Christ.

II. Beware of leaders who promote themselves (vv.38-40)

Our second caution is found in verses 38-40 where we are warned to beware of leaders who promote themselves. Here Jesus follows up His criticism of the scribes teaching with a criticism of their character. These men were deficient in character, and that disqualifies a person from Christian leadership. And this was no small issue either; it was the entire direction of their lives. We were all created to promote God’s glory and in these verses it is clear that these men were living to promote only themselves.

A. Promoting their perception (v.38)

They were promoting a perception of themselves that was inflated. That is why they “liked to walk around in long robes.” These robes were formal attire that were for official events and banquets. But the scribes wore them in the marketplace. That would be like wearing a tuxedo to the grocery store. They did this to create a “larger-than-life” perception of who they were. This is a far cry from Colossians 3:12 which says,

Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience . . .(Colossians 3:12, ESV)

In addition to their clothing, they promoted this perception with “greetings in the marketplace.” They would walk around without greeting anyone else so that people would notice them and greet them. In other words, they had the social skills of a high school teenager. They wanted people to notice them and have to go out of their way to initiate conversation with them. Not only is this sophomoric, it is also unchristian. Seventy times in the NT the word for greet/greeting is used. Christians are commanded to greet one another. Consider 3 John 15:

Peace be to you. The friends greet you. Greet the friends, each by name. (3 John 15, ESV)

We should be eager to give others attention and greet them. But these scribes were not. Their dress and their social skills were totally self-promoting.

B. Promoting their prominence (v. 39)

Verse 39 makes is clear that they were also promoting their prominence. Jesus said they liked to

. . . have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts . . . (Mark 12:39, ESV)

In that culture where you sat was a big deal. Your place at the table was based on your prominence. For these men, their whole life was about improving their place at the table. Their world was totally self-centered and their goal was more prominence. For Christians, this should not be the case. The church should be a place of deference, not a platform for prominence. Here is how Jesus explains it in Luke 14:7-11:

Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher. ‘ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 14:7-11, ESV)

The church needs leaders they can invite to the good seats, not leaders clamoring for personal prominence.

C. Promoting their profit (v. 40a)

In addition to prominence, these religious leaders were also promoting their profit. Jesus alludes to this when He says that they are men . . . who devour widows’ houses. . . (Mark 12:40a, ESV) In some way, it had become a common practice for religious leaders to exploit widows for money. The people listening to Jesus knew what He was talking about, but we are not exactly sure how they did it. One commentator speculates,

Some may have ingratiated themselves to widows in hopes of being willed their houses, or they may have found technicalities in the law whereby they could lay claim to the houses of defenseless persons, such as widows. They may have ‘expected’ generous sums from credulous widows for praying for them (note the reference to prayer). The reference might not be to personal gain but to exactions forthe benefit of religious institutions” (Brooks, 202).

Whatever the exact circumstances, they were exploiting widows and God does not like it when people in power exploit widows (Dt 14:29; Ps 68:5; Isa 1:17). In the church we are called not only to selfless generosity, but also to care for those who are the weakest. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world. (James 1:27, ESV)
This is why the church must never be led by men interested in their own profit (Tit 1:7). The church should seek to financially bless those men who are the least interested in being financially blessed. This certainly wasn’t the case with the religious leaders of Jesus’ day.

D. Promoting their pretense (v.40b)

On top of everything else, these men were motivated by pretense rather than piety. Notice what Jesus says,

. . . and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation. (Mark 12:40b, ESV)

The problem is not with the length of their prayers—there are some long prayers in the Bible. Long prayers motivated by a heart for worship are appropriate. Long prayers in an effort to show people how spiritual you are, however, are condemned. Christians are called to serve as unto God, not to try to impress men.

Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men . . (Colossians 3:23,ESV)

Men motivated by a desire to impress or please men, cannot lead the church. They will inevitably be led by man’s opinions rather than God’s word, and they will be driven by the glory that comes from man rather than God’s glory. From what Jesus says here, these were clearly self-promoting leaders that we should beware of. And, really, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Matthew 23 records an even fuller list. It is no wonder Jesus said that “they will receive a greater condemnation.” Not only are these kinds of leaders responsible for their sinful self-promotion, they are also responsible for leading others into the same sin. As James 3:1 warns, they will be judged more strictly. Jesus has given us the standard for leadership and it is not self-promotion. It is self-sacrifice.

And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. (Mark 10:42-44, ESV)
No leader besides Christ can do this perfectly, but some will pursue it faithfully. In the church we must beware of the leaders who promote themselves, and promote only those leaders who deny themselves.

III. Beware of leaders who oppress their people (vv.41-44)

We find a third caution about who we should follow in verses 41-44. Here we see that we must beware of leaders who oppress their people. These verses are frequently interpreted as a passage about sacrificial giving, but that is incorrect. And if we take it that way then we will miss this warning. Jesus has just said that the leaders take advantage of the widows. And here, in the same context, what do we have? A widow with no money. This is an illustration of the religious leaders’ oppressive system, not sacrificial giving. Notice in verse 41 what happens as people were giving to the Temple:

And he sat down opposite the treasury and watched the people putting money into the offering box. Many rich people put in large sums. (Mark 12:41, ESV)

The whole thing was a show. The offering boxes were large boxes out in the open with trumpet-shaped metal openings at the top. They did not have paper money, so when you gave what happened? It made a ton of noise and everyone knew you gave. The people were following the leaders in their pretense. Remember, Jesus has already condemned the Temple of His day. What is going on here is not true worship.

And a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which make a penny. (Mark 12:42, ESV)

This widow put here money in, and it was not pennies—Abraham Lincoln had not even been born yet. They were coins from the era and they were worth about 1/64 of a days’ wage. So, if you worked as an hourly worker, it is what you would make in 7 1/2 minutes. Jesus sees the situation and comments to his disciples:

And he called his disciples to him and said to them, “Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:43-44, ESV)

Jesus called His disciples to Him because they needed to see this illustration of oppressive leadership first-hand. What the rich gave was nothing because they had remarkable amounts of wealth. In fact, the wealth of Jerusalem at this time was famous. On the other hand, this widow was noticeably poor—perhaps even still wearing her mourning clothes. What Jesus points out is that she gave all she had. She was totally destitute and when the leaders should have been caring for her, they were too busy making a show of their giving. Pay close attention: Jesus never commends the widow’s gift. He simply points out that it was quantitatively and comparatively more than what the rich gave, and that she had nothing else to live on. This is an example of the desperation and oppression that comes from evil leaders in a works-based religion. It is no different than the countless people scammed out of their money by TV preachers. It is a big show that benefits the leaders and oppresses the weak. Jesus will have none of it. He may not be commending this woman’s gift, but He is defending her from the evil leaders.


These warnings about the kind of leaders we follow have never been more important—I am convinced. The men Jesus warns of in this passage still exist today. They are still biblically ignorant, completely self-centered, and totally dangerous. Beware! They missed Christ and promoted themselves, and they did great damage to God’s people. Leaders like this will be judged. If you allow yourself to be influenced by them you will also be judged. Be cautious about who you download, tune into, or flip on. You will never find a perfect leader, but God has provided His church with trustworthy shepherds for His people. Find them, support them, follow them and pray for them.