A Burden for Souls
“. . . I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed, separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren.”
– Romans 9:2,3
Why is there so little evangelistic zeal in today’s Reformed and Evangelical church? We love to teach our great theology, especially the Westminster Confession of Faith. We love to preach well researched, exegetical, theologically orthodox sermons to our people, and they love to hear them. Some in the church are willing to receive some evangelism training, and may even attend a Sunday School class or a Wednesday night training session on how to share the gospel. But after all of this is said and done it rarely amounts to anything more than a certificate on our wall or a pin for our lapel. Why is that?
Though most of us will never live up to the zeal and action of the following saints, nonetheless, as Paul tells the Philippians, we are to join in following his example. We can and should be motivated by these great men and women. With that in mind, what separates us from men like George Whitefield who, in thirty-five years of ministry preached over thirty thousand sermons, preaching more hours in a week than he slept, traveled thirteen times across the Atlanta Ocean, and suffered ridicule, scorn, rejection, death threats, and dodged dead cats, rocks, and dung while preaching? What separates us from men like David Brainerd who in only five years of ministry, lived an isolated and lonely life in the Eighteenth Century American wilderness, rode fifteen thousand miles on horseback, going without food, suffering the ravages of Tuberculosis, pouring out his heart daily for the dear heathen Indians to whom he was bringing the gospel, having died at the age of twenty-nine? What distinguishes us from John Paton who left Scotland, sailing to the New Hebrides with his young wife who died quickly from a tropical disease, followed by the death of their infant son, living amongst a savage, cannibalistic tribal people who formerly killed and ate any white man who set foot on their island? How are we different from William Carey who left England for India in 1793, suffering the insanity of his wife and then her death, the death of one of their infant children, the theft of all his money in the first year of his time in India, forcing Carey to do menial labor for a season to provide for his family, and yet translating the Bible into over twenty-five Indian languages, having never once returned to his native soil, serving for forty-one years? And how are we different from a woman like Mary Slessor, the red haired, blue eyed dynamo from Scotland who served the Efik people of Nigeria, rescuing hundreds of twins left to die or to be eaten by wild animals because the people believed twins were from the devil, who went far and wide in the Calabar making Christ known, suffering untold number of bouts with malaria, with it finally taking her life at age sixty-six? And how are we different from Elisabeth Elliot who moved into the Auca village with her infant daughter after her husband had been martyred by them?
What caused the Apostle Paul, after laying down eight chapters of monumental theology on the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ in Romans 1 through 8, to say, “I am telling the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience testifies with me in the Holy Spirit, that I have great sorrow and unceasing grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed (the Greek word is anathema), separated from Christ for the sake of my brethren, my kinsman according to the flesh,” (Romans 9:1-3). Paul is writing with great emotion, pouring out his heart to the Romans, declaring that he is very willing to suffer judgment, condemnation, and hell if only his brethren, the Jews, would run to Christ and be saved. Why does Paul say this? Because he has a passion for souls. He knows that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness. He knows that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, that our only hope is to be justified as a gift by the grace of God in Christ who is a propitiation for our sins.
Okay, but lot’s of Christian people can say they glory in the cross of Christ to which the world is crucified to them and them to the world? But again, what is it that moved Whitefield, Brainerd, Paton, Carey, Slessor, Eliot, and Paul to suffer untold hardship, rejection, persecution, and death for the sake of lost souls? They understood the one absolute, non-negotiable item any lover of lost souls must have, and that is found in John 12:23-26. In this particular exchange between Philip and some Greeks who wanted to see Jesus, our Lord responded by saying, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. He who loves his life loses it, and he who hates his life in this world will keep it to life eternal. If anyone serves Me, he must follow Me; and where I am, there My servant will be also; if anyone serves Me, the Father will honor him.”
The parable is easily understood. We see it all the time. When a farmer places a grain of wheat into the ground and covers it with soil, that seed dies, but it soon springs back to life again, grows, and bears fruit. As long as the grain of wheat stays in a bag on a shelf, nothing will happen. The grain must die, and only then can new life come, bringing forth much fruit.
So, my friends the one thing necessary for Christians today is to die. What does it mean to die to yourself? You do the exact opposite of the world. It says, “Love your life.” Jesus says, “Hate your life.” The world says, “Serve yourself.” Jesus says, “Serve Me.” A wife dies to herself to care for her aging husband with dementia. A young mother dies to her dreams of a continued professional career when her new born has birth defects which will require her daily supervision for the rest of her child’s long life. A new Christian must die to the ridicule, rejection, and mockery of his friends when he speaks to them of his new found faith. A teen-ager growing up with a verbally and physically abusive alcoholic father dies to himself every time he takes the drunken blows of his father meant for his mother.
So, when you die nothing else can tempt you. A dead man is not tempted by a provocative young woman. A dead man is not seduced by internet porn. A dead man is not moved to lie or defend himself against outrageous and scandalous lies from his enemies. A dead man will not take drugs. He will not lie or steal.
Education, knowing our theology, enjoying excellent sermons will never move you from the classroom or sanctuary into the streets of your city. You must die, my friend. You must die to your personal ambitions, dreams, and desires. As Jim Elliot said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep, to gain what he cannot lose.”
Al Baker is an Evangelistic Revival Preacher with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org