I do not think that success should be a metric of whether we are able to bully someone into professing a few statements of faith, and so the passage that I will be exegeting in regards to this work which Christ commanded us to perform before he left work shall be to do with the Church.
1 Corinthians 3:5-9
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you believed, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. He who plants and he who waters are one, and each will receive his wages according to his labor. For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building.
I have chosen this passage first of all because it points to the one who is truly at work in the believer, if we are to claim conversion, or acceptance of Christ as a measure of success in Evangelism, then it is God and not us who is successful, so then if we are to charge ourselves with failure at converting someone does not our foot tarry over the abyss of calling God a failure? This is monstrous and our thoughts should not turn to even the mere thought of such. What do I propose instead as the metric by which we are to judge our success? In his earlier discussion of this subject I think the Apostle Paul gives us an answer; “Christ did not send me to baptize but to preach the gospel, and not with words of eloquent wisdom, lest the cross of Christ be emptied of its power.” ((1 Cor 1:17)) and “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified.” ((1 Cor 2:2)) I think if anything is to define success for us in the ministry of evangelism it is to be whether we preached Jesus Christ and him crucified it is this matter which as Paul says is the power of God ((1 Cor 1:18)) so our metric for evangelism should be us clearly presenting to the lost Christ. If we fail at this then we have failed at evangelism and no amount of bullying will put in the man’s heart the pressing need for Christ. ((As an aside I must point out that regardless of our own failing at evangelism God will continue to use us, and an in depth look at this is coming))
So what then is Apollos? What is Paul? The apostle is ever so pained to point out that both himself and his fellow apostle Apollos are merely human, they are fallen and cannot live up to the standards of God. Yet as he goes on to say they are servants through whom you believed, it is a joy to join with our heavenly master in talking about his graciousness in his mercy upon his people. What greater joy could there be but to arrive at the end and be greeted by Him saying; well done good and faithful servant ((Matt 25:21, 23)) So I truly think that we must be both servants and heralds for our master.
This is the work of God that we are joining in, he who gave his only Son, ((Jhn 3:16)) calls us to join with him, God goes before us ((Deut 31:8)) and he is already at work in the hearts of his people. He has his chosen ones, whom he will bring unto repentance, ((Rom 8:28-30)) but as the Apostle Paul says how can they believe in him whom they have never heard of? How are they to hear if there is no one preaching? And how is anyone to preach without being sent? ((Rom 10:14-15)) So it is clear while God will save whom he wills he compels us and uses us as his tools in order that the Gospel concerning Christ go to the ends of the earth, the Lord has assigned to each their job, and to each he has given a ministry, this is the work of God in the justification and sanctification of the believer, that we participate in the Church and so grow it both numerically (that is evangelism) and to grow it into Christ. (that is discipleship)
God gave the growth, ultimately we must recognise that this is God’s work, it is for his Glory that we are sent out into the world to proclaim the Gospel, we do not do this in some feeble attempt to save sinners from the Lake of Fire, but rather to call to man’s attention the Glory and Holiness of God. For it is in that realisation of the Glory and Holiness of God that sinners who are being moved on by the Holy Spirit are convicted of their sinfulness and their failing at their true purpose (that is to bring Glory to God) It is in that moment that men realise their need for a saviour and it is only at that moment that we can present Christ and him Crucified to any effect. But what if the Holy Spirit is not moving on that sinner and convicting him of his sin? We still present Christ and him Crucified because that is what we are told to do, the sinner will undoubtedly stumble and think us mad, but this is ever been the charge against the Church on these matters. So I feel I must adjure you to dwell upon the words of Paul; we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. ((1 Cor 1:23-24)) reminding us again that what we preach is Christ and him Crucified.
So great is Paul’s admonition to us that God gave the growth that this concept is repeated again, this time to accompany neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything we should keep this in mind, we are but the messenger and our message is Christ plainly so, we do not need to wrap him up as if he is desirable, God will do that if he is so inclined, for Isaiah said of old concerning Christ; he was despised, and we esteemed him not. ((Is 53:5)) No, if there be any dressing up of the story we are in danger of sharing a false Christ with our audience and a false Christ is no Christ at all. We present God in his holiness and man in his fallen state, yes. We present Christ; emmanuel and curse for us. We present Christ now King and present again that man is fallen. The Holy Spirit will quicken man to respond, so we need not be discouraged if he does not, for after all we are not seeking to please man, but God. It is God that will be glorified whether he brings men back to himself or not. As Christ said to Peter concerning the Disciple Whom He Loved, what is that to you? You follow me! ((Jhn 21:22)) We have our charge it is to glorify God, we have our method, it is to preach to the world Christ and him Crucified, what is it to us if there seems to be no fruit from our preaching? We follow Christ!