Here’s the next part of our “Evangelism Reader’s Digest” series from the book “Evangelism As Exiles,” by Elliot Clark. Clark is a graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, served as a missionary in Asia, and writes for groups like The Gospel Coalition and 9Marks.
We readily remove extended biblical exposition and stories to distill the chapter into a couple of thought-provoking ideas to digest in 5-10 minutes. And we recognize that readers may not agree with everything the author says, but believe there is much to learn from discussions in other circles.
The author’s main thesis is to consider how to live when we are the exiles in the world. He orients this chapter in our future hope:
“Christian, you know God loves you and has sent his Son to save you from your sin. You also likely know your great purpose in life is to glorify God for that salvation. But did you know God’s grand salvation plan is to glorify you? This is what Paul calls our “hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). Peter concludes his letter by reminding his readers that they have been called to eternal, undiminishing glory (1 Pet. 5:10). One day, at the proper time, God will exalt us along with Christ (5:6). When we face relational suffering and social exile, this hope-filled eternal outlook is what we most need. That hope, as our son expressed it, is a hope of heaven. Yet it’s so much more. Peter wanted us to know that even though we face shame and scandal in this world, God’s plan is to grace us with his honor (2:7). Shame silences our witness. So, you might be wondering, what does all this have to do with evangelism? How does a hope of future honor and glory change the way we preach the gospel?”
“So, you might be wondering, what does all this have to do with evangelism? How does a hope of future honor and glory change the way we preach the gospel? We need to hear and believe the promise of our future exaltation in order to overcome the threat of shame and disgrace that would silence our witness. The dominant reason for our lack of evangelism in America isn’t the fear of death. We aren’t in danger of being imprisoned or tortured. Rather, we’re just beginning to face, like the recipients of 1 Peter, soft persecution. We face being ignored or excluded. We face ridicule or reviling. If we open our mouths with the gospel, we run the risk of others thinking we’re closed-minded or unloving. And, at least in my own life, the mere potential for such shame, the possibility of being made an outsider, hinders me from practicing bold evangelism. The reality is, feelings of shame and abandonment are among the most difficult for those facing exile. It may not be overt persecution that crushes your spirit or tamps down your witness; it can simply be the shame of having those closest to you consider you to be foolish, ignorant, arrogant, misguided, or a prude. Or it can be the threat of isolation, of being perpetually uninvited, unrecognized, or unwanted. Shame and the fear of exclusion combine like nothing else to quench our spirit for evangelism.”
“But from the perspective of 1 Peter, the antidote to a silencing shame is the hope of glory, the hope that earthly isolation and humiliation are only temporary. God, who made the world and everything in it, will one day include us in his kingdom and exalt us with the King, giving us both honor and also a home. We desperately need this future hope if we want the courage to do evangelism as exiles. Yet all around us today Christians seem to be losing hope. We may not think we’ve lost it, but so often we convey an attitude of fear or frustration about changes in our society or laws. We make desperate attempts to forestall what seems to be the inevitable decline of the church in our Western society. During all of this, the world is watching our tweets and Facebook posts. They hear us grumble when we’ve lost the latest battle in the culture wars. They listen when our leaders lobby for what is rightfully ours, and they see us grabbing for power and recognition, for glory and honor in this life.”
But our future hope also impacts the here and now…
“But hope for the Christian isn’t just confidence in a certain, glorious future. It’s hope in a present providence. It’s hope that God’s plans can’t be thwarted by local authorities or irate mobs, by unfriendly bosses or unbelieving husbands, by Supreme Court rulings or the next election. The Christian hope is that God’s purposes are so unassailable that a great thunderstorm of events can’t drive them off course. Even when we’re wave-tossed and lost at sea, Jesus remains the captain of the ship and the commander of the storm. What might surprise us when we read Peter’s letter is that he doesn’t cast blame for his readers’ exile entirely on society. He could’ve easily portrayed their situation and struggle as an “us vs. them” battle. Instead, Peter repeatedly suggests that God himself was behind their suffering. The rulers over them were sent by God (2:14). God is the one who gave slaves their masters, so they should, like Jesus, be mindful of God when submitting to authorities (2:19). In their suffering, they should humble themselves under God’s mighty hand (5:6), because they were suffering according to God’s will (4:19). Again, this point gets back to the pattern of Jesus’s own life. He entrusted himself to the Father amid suffering. Jesus, whose future was foreknown and planned by the Father, had to hope in his Father’s good purposes—not just for the future joy set before him, but trusting God’s perfect judgment and providence when experiencing temporary trials. But what does hope in God’s present providence have to do with evangelism? As we’ve already seen, hope leads us to speak. Hope in future glory fills our hearts with joy and animates our witness.”
It’s that kind of hope that’s incomprehensible to Communist jailers; it’s the kind of inexplicable hope that marked Negro slaves and even overcoming hindrances to evangelism like shame and exclusion. But hope in God’s active providence in our present circumstances also loosens our lips to preach the gospel. Why? Because we recognize that God has put us where we are “for such a time as this.”
Question for Thought:
What are 3 things in your life right now that make you feel like an “exile” in this world and how could they be used to spur on your own evangelism?