Larry E. Wilson
“Jesus died for sinners. Can’t we live for them?” Charles Spurgeon asks this incisive question in the December 7 meditation of his well-known Morning and Evening. Spurgeon’s devotional writings, especially when rephrased into modern English, often give me the pastoral encouragement and challenge that I need to hear. This meditation’s striking call to rescue the perishing is no exception. Here is my paraphrase of it:
“I try to find common ground with everyone, doing everything I can to save some.” (1 Corinthians 9:22 NLT)
The Apostle Paul’s great aim wasn’t just to instruct. It wasn’t just to improve. It was to save. Anything short of this would have disappointed him. He wanted to see people renewed in heart, forgiven, sanctified—in short, saved. Have we aimed our Christian ministries at anything less than this? Then let’s amend our ways. What good will it be at the great Last Day to have instructed and moralized people if they appear before their Judge unsaved? Our clothes will be red with blood if we’ve sought inferior objects through life (see Jer. 2:34; Ezek. 33:1–6)—if we’ve forgotten that, above all else, people need to be saved.
Paul knew the ruin of the human condition by nature. So he didn’t try to educate them. He tried to save them. He saw people sinking into hell. So he didn’t talk about refining them. He talked of saving them from the wrath to come. To bring about their salvation, he gave himself up with tireless zeal to spreading the gospel. He devoted himself to warning and beseeching people to be reconciled to God (see 2 Cor. 5:18–21). His prayers were persistent. His labors were ongoing. To save souls was his consuming passion, his ambition, his calling.
He became a servant to all people. He toiled for them. He felt a woe within if he did not preach the gospel (see 1 Cor. 9:16). He laid aside his own tastes to prevent prejudice. He subordinated his own will in indifferent things. If only people would receive the gospel, he raised no questions about worship preferences. The gospel was the overriding business with him. If he might save some, he’d be content. That was the crown he strove for. That was reward enough for all his labors and self-denials.
Dear reader, do you and I live to win souls at this outstanding pace? Does the same all-absorbing desire grip us? If not, why not? Jesus died for sinners. Can’t we live for them? Where’s our compassion? Where’s our love to Christ if we don’t seek his honor in the salvation of sinners? Oh, that our Lord would saturate us through and through with an undying zeal for the souls of our fellow humans!
What if our Lord does grant our prayer and saturate us through and through with an undying zeal for the souls of our fellow humans? What if we do commit ourselves to rescue the perishing? What would that look like?
First, devoting ourselves to rescue the perishing would not mean that most of us step out of our ordinary callings and stations in life. The Lord himself providentially puts us in them. He gives us abilities, interests, and opportunities. He orders our circumstances. And the Lord himself providentially works through us in those circumstances. He himself serves the needs of his creatures through our service. Too many modern believers think that we must withdraw from ordinary life and do extraordinary things if we’re to evangelize. But when the fact that God intentionally calls and places us right where we are grips our hearts, we’ll instead work heartily at whatever we do, as for the Lord (see Col. 3:23).
This is why, second, devoting ourselves to rescue the perishing would mean that we let our lights shine in the midst of ordinary life. Actually, walking with and living for the Lord in our ordinary callings and stations is a key aspect of our Christian witness. Without consistent Christian living, even the most eloquent articulation of the gospel comes across like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal (1 Cor. 13:1). Alas, gongs and cymbals seem to be the norm in our day! In contrast, consistent Christian living in everyday life bolsters and reinforces our gospel message (1 Pet. 2:12). We do need to speak up to make Jesus known. When we do it in the context of consistent Christian living, it will come across with power. Our neighbors will see our good works and give glory to our heavenly Father (see Matt. 5:16).
Third, devoting ourselves to rescue the perishing would also mean that we let our lights shine together in vital church life so that we’re like “a city set on a hill” that “cannot be hidden” (see Matt. 5:14). We shine like this as we truly devote ourselves to assembling together in God’s gracious presence each Lord’s Day to renew covenant with God and one another (see Heb. 10:19–25). We shine like this as we truly devote ourselves together to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayers (see Acts 2:42). We shine like this as we tangibly love each other, steadfastly obeying the “one another” commands in the New Testament. We shine like this as we work together to tangibly love our neighbors, serving them and showing hospitable Christian community to them. (For a resource on loving neighbors, see The Gospel Comes with a House Key by Rosaria Butterfield, published by Crossway Books in 2018.) We also shine like this as we work together to fulfill the Great Commission—spreading the gospel, making disciples, and planting churches that will then spread the gospel and make disciples.
As members of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church (OPC), of course, we work together with the denomination as a whole to spread the gospel and make disciples. The OPC’s ministry, called Worldwide Outreach, is three-pronged: church planting, sending out foreign missionaries, and providing biblical resources and training.
Through its Committee on Home Missions and Church Extension, the OPC seeks to assist presbyteries in planting churches that will preach Christ and show love. Through its Committee on Foreign Missions, the OPC seeks to participate in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Through its Committee on Christian Education, the OPC seeks to provide information, resources, and training to strengthen the body to rescue the perishing.
In the pages of this issue, you can find a “map” of each committee’s staff, missionaries, and ministry interns. These are designed to connect you to the labors of these denominational workers. The maps might fit well in your Sunday school room, above your church coffee counter, or on your fridge at home!
Each year, the OPC sets aside the month of November to stir up our prayer and financial support for its mission to rescue the perishing. We call this our “Thank Offering.” (For more details on the Thank Offering, see page 6.)
The funds collected during the Thank Offering are dedicated to supporting Worldwide Outreach. Our generous giving to the Thank Offering helps to maintain these ministries and to expand them. Isn’t this something we want to do? As Pastor Spurgeon challenges us,
Where’s our compassion? Where’s our love to Christ if we don’t seek his honor in the salvation of sinners? Oh, that our Lord would saturate us through and through with an undying zeal for the souls of our fellow humans!
Let’s devote ourselves to serving together to rescue the perishing. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, emphasis added).
The author is a retired minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. New Horizons, November 2019.