by George R. Jaffray, Jr.
The limitations of personal evangelism have already been noted. Each Christian cannot meet the varied needs of all with whom he might come in contact, and a more complete proclamation is often needed than an individual can usually give. Furthermore, the limitations are inherent in the effort.
Christians never can as individuals overcome them.
On the other hand, a program of visitation without personal evangelism does great harm because it points people to the church instead of to Christ; and even if people are invited to learn about Christ, it is largely futile, because they cannot all be expected to come to learn.
Nevertheless, personal evangelism coupled with a systematic program of visitation is essential, in spite of its limitations, to fulfill the evangelistic mission of the church. Personal evangelism can reach people on the spot with the essentials of the message. Then, even if the people do not understand the message completely, the truth of the Word of God is available for the Holy Spirit to use in getting them to take another step to investigate further.
But though there is an apparent need for personal evangelism in a visitation program, there is a need for an all-out church commitment to it. Personal evangelism has been practiced for a long time, and vet there is faltering support for it. If it is the key to the churchís fulfillment of the Great Commission within its geographic locality, the question of why there is so much disenchantment with personal evangelism must be answered. This is serious, because if good reasons cannot be given for the failure of personal evangelism in the past, it is quite impossible to move Christians to engage in it. They are not willing to be a part of anything that they believe is a failure; they would be right to have the suspicion that something was wrong, even if they could nor put their finger on it.
THE FAILURE OF PERSONAL EVANGELISM
Personal evangelism as practiced in the past ought to be scored on many counts. In spite of its importance. the discussion of its practice has been left up to laymen, self-made evangelists, and teachers unqualified to deal with it in terms of Scripture or its system of doctrine. (As has been pointed out, those who have discussed it in some depth have been ignored, but in any case have not dealt with its practice). The failure may be traced to faulty content, wrong methods. improper training. conflicting tasks, and Christians being in a deep rut.
Faulty content. The first cause for the failure of personal evangelism is the faulty content of the message Christians are taught to present. The superficial results are a direct evidence of this: "nonstarter" Christians, who are "saved" but do not go to church or show an interest in spiritual things; fleshly church members, who also show little interest in spiritual things, but run the social life of a church and shrug off serious study of the bible by saying that they "are not the studious type"; and Christian workers who work, work, work in the church but do not have the slightest concern for their own spiritual welfare. These reactions of professing Christians can only come about as a result of a basic misunderstanding of the heart of the message. For this to happen, something must have been fundamentally wrong with what they sincerely received at their "conversion."
But even more disappointing to the Christians who present the faulty message is the apparent lack of response one way or the other by so many who listen to them. The message has been so shaded as to be palatable enough to be dramatized and sold to the public as entertainment. Techniques have been developed so that the presentation of this message hardly raises the slightest stir among many of the listeners. This is indicative that there is something wrong at the heart of the message. A message in which the heart of the Gospel is obscured can be nothing but a false Gospel. This is the prime reason for the failure of personal evangelism so often in the past.
In particular, a false Gospel is presented when non-Christians are led to think of God as tolerating and condoning their wickedness because they have a totally different idea of love in their minds than Christians do when they are told that "God loves them." The dangers of misconception are so great that this phrase ought to be avoided entirely. Non-Christians cannot be expected to make the jump from the common view of love to what is given in Scripture without full and clear instruction. It is also true that non-Christians will often look upon a "plan" for their lives in material terms, in contrast to the teaching of Scripture. It is deceit to say that God has a wonderful plan for them when an explanation of this is omitted; in fact, Godís "wonderful" plan for them may be hell, because in the case of some they will never receive the message!
It is a false Gospel to tell sinners that Christ died for all men when that merely confirms their misconception that God excuses sin and that they are all right in Godís eyes because Christ has taken care of their penalty. Lost people do not have the spiritual insight to realize that the Atonement of Christ applies to them only if they are going to come to repentance and faith in Christ. This is especially true if the message is falsified by presenting salvation only as a "full and wonderful life." Non-Christians will not see that failure to accept Christ will result in everlasting punishment for their sins when they are given the impression that Christ has taken care of their sins and if they do not receive him they will simply lose out on a "full and wonderful life." They may feel that since they are right in Godís sight and they are getting along fine as they are, they donít need extra "fullness" in their lives, so there is no reason why they should receive Christ. This is a common response, in fact, to this kind of presentation. After talking to people, they will often say, "Well, I just donít feel a need for that right now.
It is a false Gospel to present heaven as a free gift with no mention of Godís purpose for man during this life. When saving faith is presented as Ďtrusting in Jesus Christ alone for salvation," all that is presented to lost people is a fire-escape religion. Those two words "for salvationí are intended to get people to trust Christ in regard to eternal matters, to be sure. It is to direct their attention to trusting Christ for their souls, in contrast merely for some earthly thing. But by adding these words, the inevitable result for many people is for them to think that in trusting Christ for their eternal welfare there is no commitment to trust Him any further. They are led to believe that they are eternally secure when they have trusted Christ in religious matters, which may or may not even include concern for their corrupt inner condition, let alone any thought of knowing or following Christ!
It is a marvel of Godís mercy and overruling power that many are truly brought to Christ when the Gospel is falsified in these ways. How patient God is with erring Christians! Without His intervention in a special way to overcome the force of the errors proclaimed, He would not use anyone. It shows He is still sovereign in bringing men to Christ. Yet, the inevitable result of these errors is leanness and a spiritual emptiness in the souls of His children. There may be a certain human satisfaction in seeing responses to the message, but there must be spiritual heartache concerning much of the fruit. How much better to bring into the world Godís new-born children than religious children of the devil!
But the fact that there are results from the work of Christians presenting a false message can never justify the wrong that is done. It can never be said that it is better to present a false Gospel than not to present any at all. Correction of one wrong by substituting another does not make things right. The end does not justify the means. Yet this is the cry today! Christians wake up! Reject the wrong correction of past mistakes and substitute Godís right ones! That is what the Lord wants you to do.
The effect of faulty content in the materials and instruction available for personal evangelism is a dampening of the spirits of Christians who through years of acquaintance with the words of God in Scripture have sensed that something is wrong with it. They do not know exactly what is wrong, and they do not have the ability or desire to challenge their pastors concerning it. The result is complete discouragement and a feeling of helplessness to serve God through personal evangelism. They have too much regard for the Lord Jesus Christ to engage in something that they sense would greatly dishonor Him. Let Christians set aside faulty materials on evangelism and go back to their Bibles to get the message straight. Let them not be content until they see how every major teaching of Scripture is related to Godís message in evangelism.
Undoubtedly some may criticize the suggestion that emotions should not be aroused. After all, arenít Christians to deal with people as a whole, and not just their intellects? With this everyone must agree. However, the Christianís approach to unconverted people must be through the content of the message. The emotions come into the picture in relation to the process of delivering the message to them. The emotions are the primary avenue that the natural resistance of man will act on to disrupt this. Nevertheless, Christians should be on guard to avoid a cold or negative approach to people.
Negativism must not be confused with the negative aspect of the content of the message, however. Christians must be faithful to the message of Scripture. But in being faithful they must learn to express the love of Christ genuinely, and this means that their method of personal evangelism must allow this to come through to the person to whom they speak.
Christians are witnesses, it is true, but that does not make them qualified in personal evangelism. There is sometimes a callousness on the part of Christian leaders that is astounding. They blindly jump to the conclusion that because they may have found it easy to talk to other people that every Christian should find this just as easy. Many of these "leaders" appear to be brash, egotistical individuals, who need to puff themselves up by degrading others and pointing out their own meager superiority in some respect. Being glib and dominating, they have a natural tendency to become "leaders." Even when there are no individuals who advocate the trial and error approach, there may be a false encouragement in individual soul-winning. The emphasis on individual activity is prominent, however, when these people are present.
An emphasis on individual soul-winning almost always leads to the development of a personality cult. When no training is provided and Christians are expected to do personal evangelism spontaneously, certain personality types who can perform according to the expectation are elevated above the others as being more "dedicated" and looked up to. If they are older they may be given status as "pillars of the church." If younger, as a "choice" young person. If they have any stability at all, they become the leaders. But these individuals are more prone to competing to see who can win the most "souls," and who can win the prominent people in their area. Each "soul" becomes another feather in the cap of the "soul-winner." Further, this kind of person is oriented toward "results," and has no use for much patient care in following up his "converts." Thus, those involved do set up a cult. This has given the term "soul-winning" such a bad connotation that many refuse even to talk about it today.
Sensitive Christians recognize the sham for what it is. Their problem is that they have nothing to put in its place, and so are left without any means to serve their Lord as far as personal evangelism is concerned. And it grieves them to see what is being done, but they are helpless. They can say nothing. How can they give a Scriptural refutation? They ought rightly to be able to speak out, but they know that no one would listen and that they would be charged with hypocrisy and being traitors to the cause of Christ. Never mind that they are speaking with Scriptural authority: they have no right to say anything unless they have something better and are "effective soul-winners" themselves (i. e., they must participate in the sham before they can speak!). Under these conditions it is impossible for anything but deep discouragement to settle upon a church and its spiritual life to decline further and further.
Much of the technique of personal evangelism has grown up from the published tracts and pamphlets of the free-lance soul-winners. Because nothing else practical has been available many devout Christians and pastors have drifted into using and promoting it. Most churches have recognized the need for some kind of training, but there seemed to be no opportunity to develop and publish anything better. The theological schools and publishers must take their share of the blame for this, but the fact is that no one has taken the lead. In the churches, unfortunately, the instruction is so superficial as to be almost useless. The books used, such as R. A. Torreyís How to Bring Men to Christ, were developed for the inquiry rooms of the revival campaigns of the last century, and they are almost completely unsuitable for the instruction of Christians in personal evangelism. And the assumptions in them were based on the evangelistic theories of Charles G. Finney, who believed that the evangelist and counselor had the power to persuade people to become Christians and could argue them out of their excuses by using the Word of God. All one had to do was have the right illustrations to stir the emotions concerning the love of God and know the proof-texts so as to allow Godís Word to do its work of answering the objections ("It will not return void"). However, the approaches of the revivalist and the free-lance soul-winners are incompatible, and both are faulty and superficial in important respects. But more important, as far as the Christian is concerned, they could not be taught through a combination of textbooks and lectures, the method of instruction which was invariably used. An activity involving personal interaction cannot be taught through such an impersonal method, in which the learner is so passive.
The average Christian has a deep sense of the inadequacies in his personality for this task that he is to do. His problem is not that he cannot rely on God. His problem is that he must do two things at once: deliver the message in a genuine, warm way, and suppress his own personal idiosyncrasies. The average Christian has trouble with both. Some people are "conversationalists," but he is not. Knowing doctrine is not the same as being able to communicate it. He blunders around. He cannot put its content into the super-simple outline that is given to him. The Gospel is not as easy to present as ABC ó All have sinned; Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ; Confess Him before men. The simple steps that are given him leave room for all kinds of difficulties when put into practice. Thus, the effect of the instruction that the Christian gets is the same as if he had no instruction at all. When he is sent out, he is essentially in the same position that he would be in if he were sent out to learn by trial and error, and he reacts in the same way.
But when a Christian has gone through a course of instruction in personal evangelism, he is supposedly "trained." Now he is pushed and harassed into doing the impossible. He knows that he does not know the message well enough to present it properly in a way glorifying to God, assurances from the pulpit notwithstanding. It is his deepest desire to be used by God in the salvation of lost people, but after his "training" he is still helpless. On top of this he is tortured by sermons from his pastor on personal evangelism, and he is chided for not doing what he so desperately desired to do! Nevertheless the Christianís prime task is to reach others for Christ. Let him study the message of the Bible deeply with this in mind, and ignore what he knows does not come from the Spirit of God.
Consider first the busy church schedule. Though a meeting may not be regularly scheduled for every night of the week there may, nevertheless, be a meeting of some sort each and every night. Many of these meetings are of a type that every Christian is encouraged to attend. In addition to the regular prayer meeting, visitation night, and home Bible studies, there are weekly meetings for choir practice, sewing circles, and church baseball or bowling leagues. Then there are conferences, rallies, and special series of meetings: Bible conferences, missionary conferences, evangelistic crusades, and special series on marriage and the christian home, the generation gap, or the Christian life, by some well-known speaker. Then there are missionary fellowship meetings, menís meetings, and teacherís meetings. There are work-nights: clean-up, painting, repair, etc. Rounds of weddings, showers, and funerals must not be overlooked, and social activities for every Sunday School class, all-church fellowship dinners, church picnics, and father-son and mother-daughter banquets. But there are also obligations to outside Christian organizations: rescue mission work (programs, counselings, mending and distributing clothes), services in hospitals and homes, Christian business menís associations, a Christian golf association, youth clubs, coffee-houses, prison work, Bible distribution work, etc. Each year there are national and regional meetings and rallies of churches, missionary societies, and menís fellowships. Within the church there are special drives for Sunday School, a community religious census, a building program, etc. There may even be fund-raising bazaars and bake sales. There are also special programs: plays for Christmas and Easter, cantatas, special services on New Years, etc.
In addition to the meetings and burdens placed on the regular church member, there are special burdens placed on the church leaders and those who have been enlisted to help them. For the church as a whole there are board meetings and committee meetings (church expansion, buildings and equipment, finance, Christian education, membership, pulpit supply, missions, evangelism, publicity, etc.) and planning meetings for various projects. Of course, there are preparations necessary for these meetings. Then too, some have the responsibility of visiting the poor and needy. Others must visit the sick. Still others must take responsibility for the youth program in all of its phases. People are needed as chaperones on outings and retreats, to cook, to transport to and from activities, etc. Then, Sunday School teachers and others are expected to contact missing Sunday School members and counsel those with special needs. This does not even include scout troops and young peopleís activity groups (cadets, brigade, pioneering, etc.) for which many may spend hours in preparation of crafts, etc.
These are just responsibilities and meetings connected with the church or related organizations. And remember, most of these activities came about directly or indirectly in an effort to reach more people for Christ. Very few were started for any other purpose. Vast amounts of time, effort, and finances are spent on things that bring minimal results in terms of what they were intended to produce. But in addition, there are community, school, home, and job responsibilities. There are civic meetings, the need for Christian influence in politics, benevolent drives, etc. There are school activities that young people and parents must attend: basketball, football, recitals or concerts, plays, PTA, etc. Then there are job-related responsibilities: overtime, training meetings, night school, union meetings, office parties, etc. For the children there is homework, clubs, school practices, etc. And on top of all of this there is the home: gardening, repairing the automobile, taking care of appliances, shopping, etc. There ought to be some family recreation and hobbies too, ó and time to take care of oneís personal needs! And, of course, Sunday School teachers (and students!) should study their lessons, and individuals should find time for serious study of the Bible.
The result of this is that something has to give. The programs and meetings collapse or are not attended, or else Christians are exhausted and neglect their spiritual life, have no home life, and are out of touch with the world. They have a church that panders to the fleshly, glorifying the church rather than Christ, and are completely without influence in stopping the moral degeneration of a materialistic society. The church program itself effectively keeps Christians from being spiritually minded and definitely keeps them from involvement in personal evangelism.
The only possible remedy is to reorder church priorities completely and give up precious projects that were started at great sacrifice and are maintained through great effort. Let Christians boycott and refuse to serve in church programs that donít get the job done. Only true Christians can put pressure on their churches to reorder their priorities and do the necessary streamlining. Let Christians stop being used by the fleshly to keep wrong programs going; the fleshly donít do their share anyway.
Others say that when a person first becomes a Christian he is carnal but then later comes to an experience with Christ in which he fully surrenders to him and becomes a spiritual Christian. According to this view there is a two-tier Christianity, such as was described earlier. A person may become a Christian and be accepted by God even though he has never recognized that Christ is the Lord of his life. But the Gospel gives no option concerning devotion to Christ. He is either lord of all, or else He is not lord at all.
Others, on the other hand, speak as if there were no such thing as a carnal Christian after conversion. Carnality, such as is indicated in I Corinthians, would be treated as clear evidence that conversion had not taken place. But the passage makes it clear that carnality is typical of those who are called "babes in Christ" (I Cor. 3:1), and it is possible for Christians who ought to be grown nevertheless to be unskillful in the word of righteousness and be "a babe" (Heb. 5:13).
It must be concluded that a person can become a Christian, that a distinct change has taken place in his life, and yet he may not have grown greatly and is afflicted with carnality. In certain instances the power of Christ may come upon him, but this is temporary and not the predominant feature of his life. To be sure, the remedy is confession of sin and turning in faith to God, walking in the Spirit (Gal. 5:25) and growing in grace by means of the Word of God. However, in recognizing this the truths of a full commitment to Christ and a changed life must be zealously maintained.
Because of carnality, which is fundamentally a lack of growth in the Christian life, there is a lack of power. It is the function of the Holy Spirit to provide power, by overruling the carnality in a Christianís life. This is why it is important to walk in the Spirit. If a Christian does not walk in the Spirit there will be a spiritual stalemate; he cannot do the things that he would (Gal. 5:17).
A word must be added here concerning the interpretation of Gal. 5:17. This verse indicates that there is a struggle going on to dominate the person. The flesh desires to dominate the person and this is against the Spirit who desires to dominate against the flesh. Now there are two basic interpretations concerning the inability to do what one desires, mentioned in the last part of the verse. The first is that a Christian is kept from practicing evil desires, and the second is that a Christian is kept from performing the good things that he would like to do. There are two reasons why the first interpretation is not likely. For one thing, in the original language the word "desires" ("would ") refers to a choice and intention of the will according to some purpose, rather than a desire by impulse or natural inclination. So the desire is not the lust of the flesh, but that which a Christian can properly desire to do. Then, too, this interpretation assumes, if it admits the above point, that it is possible for a Christian to purposefully intend to indulge in the flesh. But this is contrary to the teaching of the Lord Jesus Christ that the heart is unmixed, that it is either good or evil (Luke 6:45), which is repeated by James (James 3:11-12). who says that a fountain or spring cannot at the same place give forth both salt water and fresh. From this it must be concluded that the inner motives and desires of a Christian are good, that he has a good heart and that any sin that overtakes him has its source in the flesh and not in the new creation (I John 3:9). This is an important doctrine with far-reaching implications, but it shows here that a Christian cannot have a purposeful desire to follow the flesh.
The second interpretation, that the Christian is kept from the good that he desires to do, has more to commend it. In the first place, the things which the Christian "would" do is harmonious with this, as was just mentioned. And this corresponds to the thinking in Romans 7, where the Apostle Paul delights in the law of God and desires to do good, but is prevented. In the second place, the context is in harmony with this interpretation. The following verse states, "But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law." Then the passage lists the works of the flesh and the fruit of the Spirit, followed by this comment: "against such there is no law." The thought here is as follows: The law was intended to restrain those who are led by the flesh, but no law is needed to restrain those led by the Spirit, who produce the fruit of the Spirit. Being led by the Spirit, however, is in contrast to what is mentioned in verse 17. So the thought there must be that those Christians who are trying to grow in the Christian life by means of the law, as discussed in the previous chapters of Galatians, are kept from doing the things that they would. This teaches, then, that there is a stalemate when Christians use fleshly means to attain spiritual goals.
Of course, the Holy Spirit will not function to overrule carnality in a Christianís life if He is grieved or quenched. It is possible to grieve the Holy Spirit through sin (Eph. 4:30), and it is possible to quench the Holy Spirit (I Thess. 5:19) through lack of faith (Rom. 14:23). Thus, it may be seen, that there is a connection between serving Christ by faith, and power from the Holy Spirit to serve. A lack of service, due to a lack of faith, will result in a lack of power to serve. And, of course, a lack of power to serve will result in a lack of service. And behind all this, a lack of growth will mean a limited and weak faith with a consequent lack of power and limited ability to serve. It must be remembered also that growth in the Christian life does not come only through hearing, but through experience in using the word of righteousness through conscious obedience to it (see again Heb. 5:13). Obviously, a carnal Christian, who has not grown in the use of the Word of God and does not have the power of the Holy Spirit in his life, cannot testify to others concerning his faith. If he remains in this condition for very long, he will inevitably become a defeated Christian. And personal evangelism is impossible for a defeated Christian.
Thus, it becomes clear that there must be a priority of devotion and discipleship. Devotion must involve a confession of sin, with consequent cleansing by God through His Word, and the expression of faith to God in prayer and works. And discipleship must involve practical, obedient service, as well as intellectual study. Only then will it be possible for the Holy Spirit to produce the growth that is necessary for a life of power and witnessing. Let Christians turn again in devotion to Christ and renew themselves in discipleship to do just those things that can be of spiritual profit, building tip Christians to stand for the Lord.
These have been powerful reasons for the failure of personal evangelism. It is one of the purposes of this book, to demonstrate that although personal evangelism has failed miserably in the past and that the causes of failure are deeply rooted in the very lives of Christians and the churches, such failure is not inevitable, personal evangelism is nevertheless essential, and it is a key part of Godís revealed will in fulfilling the Great Commission of the church. Because personal evangelism is a part of Godís plan for the church, Christians have every right to expect His blessing upon it.
THE MOTIVES FOR PERSONAL EVANGELISM
There are a number of motives for personal evangelism in Scripture. These motives show that every Christian ought to become involved. By his very nature a Christian desires to know the purpose and will of God. And the expressed will of God is the redemption of people from every tongue, and tribe, and nation. Throughout Scripture Godís plan of redemption is central in importance. History itself is directed by God toward the fulfillment of His redemptive purpose. And Christians can catch a glimpse of the eternal counsel of God in New Testament expressions showing the purpose of Christís death, determined before the foundation of the world, and Godís love in sending His eternal and only-begotten Son into the world. The Christianís attitude ought to be one of conforming himself to the mind of God and Christ (II Cor. 10:5). He ought to learn to pray, as is taught him in the discipleís prayer (Matt. 6:9-15), that the will of God be done. He should desire to follow Godís thoughts after Him, and to walk even as Christ walked (I John 2:6), seeking the lost (Luke 19:10).
Another reason for Christians to be involved in personal evangelism is their position in God and Christ. The priesthood of all believers (I Pet. 2:9) indicates a service to God in relation to the unbelieving world. The expression "royal priesthood" properly identifies Christians as being a part of a kingdom subject to Christ, whose every activity is a religious service to glorify God. This may be seen by its connection with the expression "chosen generation," "holy nation," and "people for a possession." But in addition to their service to God, there is an outward aspect of their service in relation to the unbelieving world. They are chosen, holy, and a priesthood so that they "may show forth the praises of Him who called them out of darkness into His marvelous light." They are "strangers and pilgrims" (vs. 11) for a purpose ó so that the Gentiles may glorify God (vs. 12), and to give an answer to every one who asks a reason for the hope that is in them (3:15). Since each believer is a priest in this kingdom of priests, each one has a part in this witness to the world. The reason that they are a holy nation is that they are all baptized into one body by the Holy Spirit ( Cor. 12:13), but the Holy Spirit was given, not only that they might witness with power, but also that they might pronounce remission and retention of sins (John 20:22-23). Thus, all who are members of a local body of Christ, ought to give forth the message as priests in the world.
Another motive for personal evangelism is the promise of Christ, that he gave when he said, "He who believes on me, the works that I do, he shall do also; and greater than these he shall do, because I go to My Father" (John 14:12). It may be asked what the "greater works" refer to. It certainly cannot refer to signs greater than what the Lord Himself performed during His ministry on the earth. Though the apostles performed miracles as great as Jesus performed, yet it cannot be said that they were "greater." The promise, however, is made in connection with going to His Father, and the reason for this is that these works were to be performed because of the Holy Spirit being given to them, which was mainly for the purpose of bearing witness to Christ. (Acts 1:8; 4:31). During Jesusí ministry, few were made disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ, but in the early church thousands turned to Him. This is the only way in which it may be said that the apostles performed "greater works" than Christ. Thus, the promise of greater works refers to the results of evangelism.
Now it must be observed that the Lord Jesus did not restrict the promise of greater works to the apostles, the officers of the church, or some group within the church that has a special gift for evangelism. The reference in His promise is to "all who believe." This is of the greatest significance. Many today want to restrict the work of personal evangelism to a group within the church who in contrast to others are thought to be chosen by God to do the work of evangelism. This is done because there is a misunderstanding of the office of evangelist, elsewhere in Scripture. But this promise of Christ contradicts such a thought. The Lord Jesus not only gives no support to such an idea, but says the opposite. All believers have the promise that they will do greater works than Christ, that they will be fruitful in evangelism. And if each believer individually has this promise, it must refer to involvement in personal evangelism or the equivalent, and not some subsidiary role.
Another promise of Christ that has similar significance to the promise of greater works is a promise concerning fruitfulness. His words are these: "You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit and that your fruit should remain." (John 15:16). This is closely associated with the promise above, following it in the same discourse of Christ. It is essential here to understand the identity of the fruit.
Since there is considerable misunderstanding of the import of this promise, it is necessary to examine it with care. Some have translated it to read "I have chosen you and planted you, that you should continue on and produce fruit." This would compare the disciples to vines set in the Lordís vineyard, and "going" would refer to gradual progress in the growth of the vines, resulting in the fruit of the Christian life, preeminently expressed as love (vs. 12; see Gal. 5:22-23). The words translated "ordained" and "go" must be examined to determine the merits of this interpretation. The word "ordained" (ethehka) literally means "placed" or "set." In the classical Greek it is used in the ordinary sense of placing something in a particular location.
It is also used in many other ways: "to determine" something, "settle," "lay downíí law, ĎĎassigníí to a person a place, "establish.íí or ĎĎinstituteíí, to "vote"; "to lay to oneís account," "to deposit in a bank," hence, "to hold, reckon, esteem," and "to give" a name to a person; "to arrange," "bring into a certain state," "make something of someone," e. g., "adopt." also "to cause something or "bring" something to pass, or "to cause" a person to become something; also it means "to place" something in oneís mind, especially anger against another person. New Testament usage has added to these "to make up" oneís mind, "to put" in place a foundation; also, "to set down" from a thingís place, "remove"; and "to lay down" oneís life. It is necessary to exhibit this long, technical list of renderings to show how very unlikely it is that the Lord here meant "planted." It may be that in later Byzantine Greek the word came to mean "to put down a plant in the ground," so that Christians in the church later took it this way, but this should not be the normal understanding from the varied historical usage of the word, which emphasized the idea of "setting in place in a determined way." Since there is no definite reason for choosing the translation "planted," from its usage and background, this translation should not be considered at all unless there is an overriding reason in the context for doing so. However, the context opposes this. Rather than representing the apostles as individual vines, the parable of the vine and branches stresses the intimate union of the disciples and Christ through the picture of a single vine. The disciples are branches abiding in Christ, the true vine. Finally, the idea of a predetermined purpose ("ordain") is consistent and parallel with Christís "choosing" of the disciples. It could be expressed by saying that He chose them and "raised them up" for the purpose of going and bringing forth fruit.
The second term that must be examined carefully in order to understand the identity of the fruit in Christís promise is the one translated "go" (hypagehte, hypagoh). Here again it is necessary to give the technical details to show how very unlikely it is that the Lord intended anything other than for the disciples to go out with the message of the Gospel. In the classical Greek the word literally meant "to lead under," i. e., "to bring into bondage" or "under" oneís power. It also meant "to bring" before a judge, "to accuse,"; "to (gradually) lead a person on" in a bad sense through some stratagem; "to go away secretly," "withdraw," retreat slowly" (in the case of an army); or "to go on slowly" with difficulty. The word was also used in the literal sense of "draw or remove from underneath" something, as in the case of undermining a mound of earth. New Testament usage added to this the broad idea of "to go away," and then simply go," especially in the sense of going away from anotherís presence, it meant "leave," "depart," and even to depart in the sense of "to die." Also, in one construction, it meant "to go" in a certain direction. The negative ideas of bondage, withdrawing, and removal predominated in occurrences of this word. If the Lordís words were intended to convey the idea of continual progress or positive development, some overriding reason for it must be established from the context. There is nothing in the con text to do this, however. On the other hand, the common usage of "going away" is completely understandable. The Lord Jesusí purpose for the disciples is elsewhere clearly defined for them to be witnesses to Himself throughout the whole world. He raised them up so that they might go away into the world to proclaim the message of salvation. The fruit, then, must be what is brought forth] by their going away into the world. Here, then, is another promise that the apostleís evangelistic efforts will result in conversions. Previously, Jesus promised that they would have greater effect than He had. Here, He promises that there will be solid results. Those who are reached will be truly converted; the fruit will remain.
Now it must be asked whether the promise refers to more than the personal success of the apostles or not. Does it apply to all Christians, to the church as a whole, or only to the apostles? The answer to this question is found in the connection of this promise with the parable of the vine and the branches. The reference to fruit in the promise shows that Jesus is reflecting back to the fruit bearing mentioned in the parable. There is in addition another connection. In the promise, the purpose of Christís choosing them is fruit bearing; in the parable, discipleship is fulfilled in fruit bearing (vs. 8). In other words, the purpose is the same in both places.
In the parable, however, Jesus, though He is speaking only to the eleven, speaks to them as disciples. The bearing of "much fruit" (vs. 8) is a matter of discipleship rather than apostleship. In addition, He is describing a general principle of union with Himself, a principle that must be true in its application to everyone. In fact, Jesus made this clear when He spoke in the most general terms, indicating that "anyone" who does not abide in Him is to be thrown out, like a withered branch that is thrown into the fire and burned (vs. 6). When there is a vital relationship to Christ, there is a pruning, a cleansing process to make the person more fruitful; but when there is no vital relationship to produce fruit one will be taken away, though the person may profess Christ and be connected with the church. It follows from this that since fruit bearing is the mark of discipleship, personal evangelism is implied in it.
The conclusion that discipleship implies personal evangelism is confirmed by a further examination of the Great Commission as expressed in Matt. 28:19-20. There, the Lord gave the eleven the command to make disciples, baptizing them and teaching them to observe all things "whatsoever I have commanded you." But the Great Commission itself is one of the things that the Lord commanded them. So the command to make disciples is one of the things that their disciples are to be taught to observe!
The significance of the teaching of the Lord Jesus concerning fruit bearing must be brought out in the strongest possible way. The fruit that is to be borne m a Christianís life is to be others, converts, who become disciples themselves because the Christian has gone forth with the message. Jesus says that all who are vitally connected with Him will ó when grown as a mature branch, of course ó bear some fruit. Those who are not vitally connected with Him are destined to be cast into the fire. The Lordís message to Christians is that when they go out to reach others they abide in Him, because without abiding in Him they can do nothing. But it must be made clear that if one is not fruitful, which means that he does not go out so that he reaches others, he is not a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ and is not vitally connected to Him. Thus, every Christian. by his very nature, must be and is involved personally in one way or another in the task of evangelism, or else he is not a Christian! And since the fruit in his individual life represents individual converts, in most cases the activity by which they will be borne by him as fruit will be personal evangelism.
It is now clear why there is such frustration among Christians when churches have blocked their way to being what they essentially are. It is the churchesí responsibility to train Christians and send them out, but they have not done this. Christians have been kept from growing into mature Christians, but when they have grown, they have been hindered from being as fruitful as they ought to be. How patient is the husbandman of the vine! May Christians pray that He may prune them, regardless of the painfulness of it, that they may be more fruitful.