Written by Brett Hickey
The Super Bowl is an amazing phenomenon, isn’t it? In the NFL, some players weigh over four hundred pounds while others have world class speed. Each player dons a 21st century suit of armor. Select players are particularly gifted at throwing a pigskin projectile long distances with great accuracy and short distances with a soft touch. Some larger athletes try to flatten the quarterback as the largest players attempt to protect the quarterback. It’s all about scoring touchdowns and winning.
Sounds like a primitive activity geared to a select audience, yet the most watched primetime telecasts in each of the past ten years have been Super Bowls – one hundred million people stop everything to watch the big game. No wonder a thirty second commercial during the Super Bowl cost $3 million this year.
Vince Lombardi said, “Winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing.” Everyone wants his team to win the big game and a big chunk of Americans want a piece of the action. According to Christiansen Capital Advisors, an internet gambling tracker, more than $500 million will be wagered on the Super Bowl online and $97 million in Nevada. And that’s just the legal gambling.
People like to win, but do not display wisdom in their quest for victory. Half of Americans have played a state lottery according to a January 2008 Gallup poll. Meanwhile, the odds of winning the Mega Millions lottery are one in 175 million and the odds of winning the big lottery in Italy are 1 in 600 million. When you consider that the odds of being struck by lightning in your lifetime are 1 in 5,000, it puts in perspective how foolish it is to play the lottery.
WAYS WE CAN WIN SOULS
In contrast to all this worldly nonsense, Solomon tells us in Proverbs 11:30, that “he that winneth souls is wise.” The Christian prefers to be a super soul winner over being a Super Bowl winner. What I love about soul winning is that every Christian who wants to play can play. In fact, the Scriptures teach that everyone who strives to wins souls is a winner. The prophet says in Isaiah 55:11, “So shall My word be that goes forth from My mouth; It shall not return to Me void, But it shall accomplish what I please, And it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it.”
We do not merit special praise when we allow God to use us in winning souls any more than a microphone receives accolades when a vocalist records a hit song. We’re just the conduit, the mouthpiece for the gospel. Soul winners should say, as Jesus puts it in Luke 17:10, “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.” The apostle Paul uses an agricultural analogy to make the same point in 1 Corinthians 3:6-7, “I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the increase. So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase.”
It should be a comfort to know that we are not judged by how many respond to our efforts at soul winning; rather, we are judged by whether or not we do our part to pass along the good news. When Paul wrote in I Corinthians 1:17, “For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel,” he was not suggesting that baptism was unimportant, but that our priority, our primary purpose is to present the good news to the lost. When we plant or water, the gospel seed will germinate when it finds good soil. Then God, who empowers the gospel to penetrate the human heart, will give the increase. Men turn from their sin and submit to baptism to save their soul.
You can be a super soul winner just by seizing opportunities to share the good news with the lost. One teenager was able to get a number of friends from school to visit church services. When another Christian asked him what the secret was, he replied matter-of-factly, “I just asked them.” Sometimes it could be that simple. In an article entitled, “Getting to Know the Unchurched,” LifeWay Christian Resources CEO, Thom Rainer, reported that “a 2007 survey found that 82 percent of un-churched people are receptive to attending church if invited and escorted by a friend, but that only 21 percent of church-going Christians invited someone to church in 2006.”
There are many ways, though, that we can get Jesus and the gospel out of our church buildings. Many can use most or even all of the following approaches:
1) invite them to a gospel meeting or other church service
2) ask them to study the Bible with you
3) ask them to study with someone that is more knowledgeable
4) refer them to a radio or television program in our area
5) direct them to a website that teaches the gospel
6) hand them an article, tract, journal or church paper where they can learn about the truth
7) take a Bible to work and read it during your lunch break
More recently, souls have been won to Christ through social networking sites like Facebook and by handing out gospel CD’s and DVD’s. We can even talk to strangers about Jesus and the word of God. Think about Jesus’ visit with the woman at the well in John 4. Sometimes we underestimate how many people are concerned about their soul. At least two preachers I know have set up Bible studies at a garage sale. One of these garage sale contacts obeyed the gospel.
When the members of a cult knocked on a Christian’s door, the Christian told them that he already had the truth and was not interested. One of the men responded, “If you have the truth, why aren’t you at our door?” A congregation in Alabama attempts to knock 10,000 doors a year. They have had a baptism a week for the last forty years (Christian Chronicle, January, 2008).
These are just a few ways you can be a super soul winner. When you are tempted to doubt that the Lord can use you, think back to Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
OBSTACLES TO SOUL WINNING
The New Testament gives numerous Scriptures to motivate us to be super soul winners. Let’s notice five of the most common obstacles to soul winning and the wisdom given for overcoming them. Consider identifying which of these challenge you the most and memorize one of the relevant scriptures to keep yourself motivated to persevere in spreading the gospel.
WHAT DO I SAY?
The eloquently canned presentation is not only unnecessary; it can be a barrier. More important is the love of Christ in your heart that shows in your eyes and is heard in your voice. There are many right approaches. It really depends on the person and the situation, but I like how one soul winner says, “Do you believe a closer relationship with Jesus would make you happier?” If he senses some interest, he continues with, “Do you find parts of the Bible hard to understand?” When the answer is, “Yes,” he asks for a study.
Complacency has always been an enemy of the Kingdom. The prophet cries out in Amos 6:1, “Woe to you who are at ease in Zion…” Jesus communicated the urgency of enlisting a great army of soul winners in Luke 10:2: “The harvest truly is great, but the laborers are few; therefore pray the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest.” The greatest work any of us will ever do and the greatest joy we will ever experience is to rip a lost soul out of Satan’s clutches and to help usher him into the Kingdom of God’s dear son.
We know that Jesus said in Luke 19:10, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” We also know we must “follow His steps” (I Peter 2:21) if the lost are to have any hope. Stop and think of the fate of those around us who do not hear and obey the gospel. Paul describes this vividly in 2 Corinthians 4:3, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to those who are lost, whose minds the god of this age has blinded…”
Distractions often lead to complacency. Generally, Christians are concerned about the lost, but we can become so preoccupied with other activities and interests that we lose focus. Among the most common distractions are work, education, recreation, television, internet, cell phones and the like. All of these are fine taken in moderation. Even devout Christians can become so absorbed with personal study, sermon preparation and otherwise noble church business that we do not devote ample time to personal evangelism.
The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 helps us prioritize evangelism and overcome distractions. The rich man had everything he needed – he thought. He wore the finest clothes and ate the best food. All of his neighbors envied him, but he made one serious miscalculation. He died and failed to prepare for the next life. When he realized his torment was inescapable, he became concerned about his family. He pleaded with Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his family, but to no avail. It was too late.
When we remind ourselves of the horrors of hell, the separation from God and everything good, it has a way of sharpening our vision. We don’t want anyone to be thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:12-15), especially friends, family and other associates. We have no problem assenting to the words of Jude 22-23, “And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
This spirit seemed to dominate nearly all first century Christians. We find in Acts 8:1, after persecution arose, that the Jerusalem Christians “were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles.” What was orchestrated to stomp out Christianity actually fed the fires of evangelistic fervor. While the apostles stayed in Jerusalem, we learn in verse four that those “who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word.” No wonder the church flourished in that age. Their collective eye was single.
Preachers must remain focused, but not preachers alone. A preacher, now deceased, was asked to go door knocking. The preacher told the other brother that this was his job. Was he right? In Romans 1015, Paul highlights the great work of preaching of the gospel “And how shall they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the gospel of peace…” The term “evangelist,” Vine says simply, “denotes a preacher of the gospel.” We value the preacher for the work he does, but we learn that, to a lesser extent, spreading the gospel and sowing the seed of the kingdom is a work in which everyone can and should be involved.
Amidst his description of the Christian armor in Ephesians 6, Paul uses language similar in Romans 10 to express the responsibility of ALL Christians to talk to the lost. He writes in verse fifteen, “having your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace…” This idea is clearly validated in I Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be ready always to give an answer to every man who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear…”
One of our greatest obstacles in speaking up for the Master is fear – fear of ridicule, rejection and controversy. The devil capitalizes on the truth verbalized by Edmund Burke that “all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” Satan seeks to paralyze us through fear. A number of Scriptures show the wisdom of confronting and overcoming this obstacle to soul winning.
The apostle Paul challenges us to follow his example of being unashamed in spreading the good news in Romans 1:16, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek.” He makes essentially the same point in 2 Timothy 1:7-8, “For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind. Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord…”
Jesus addresses the same issue in one of His most penetrating messages in Mark 8:38, “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed when He comes in the glory of His Father with the holy angels.”
If asked, the people Paul wrote to and Jesus spoke to would insist that they were not ashamed of the gospel, but they needed the reminder, as do we, that our behavior can look like we are ashamed. Understand that to be ashamed means to be “Reluctant through fear of humiliation” or to be “unwilling or restrained because of fear of shame, ridicule, or disapproval.”
There is a fine line between looking for favorable circumstances to bring up the gospel and just being afraid of what men will say and think. Alexander Maclaren writes on Mark 8:38 in his Expositions of Holy Scripture, “One great hindrance to out-and-out discipleship is fear of what the world will say. Hence come compromise and weak compliance on the part of disciples too timid to stand alone, or too sensitive to face a sarcasm and a smile. A wholesome contempt for the world’s cackle is needed for following Christ.”
Paul insists in Colossians 4:5 that we must “Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time.” At least five names a day appear in our obituary column in our local newspaper. That’s 150 people a month and 1,800 a year that are passing from here to eternity. Some watching today will likely pass from this world by next Sunday. There’s no time for fear.
Christians should be characterized by boldness instead. Paul contrasts the two in Philippians 1:20, saying “in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness…Christ will be magnified…” Boldness is the opposite of being ashamed. Thayer says that boldness indicates “freedom in speaking, unreservedness in speech; free and fearless confidence, cheerful courage…” After telling the Christians at Ephesus to get their armor on, Paul asks them in Ephesians 6:19-20 to “…pray…for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel…” What a great prayer request!
Finally, the greatest threat to successful soul winning is the temptation to give up after repeated rejections. So often it seems like no one wants to listen. Those who do listen are often unwilling to give up their immoral lifestyle or reluctant to abandon religious error. We must NOT give up. No place in the New Testament gives us greater courage to persevere in personal evangelism than does Galatians 6:9, “And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart.” That is not a maybe – that’s a guarantee. Believe it! If we keep on planting the gospel seed, we will eventually reap the harvest.
STRIVE FOR THE PRIZE
While thirty-two football teams start playing in September, only one team brings home the Lombardi Trophy – the prize for winning the Super Bowl. The seven pound, sterling silver, football-shaped trophy is valued at $25,000. The winning team also receives 150 diamond-studded gold rings courtesy of the NFL to distribute to players, coaches and staff.
The prize for the super soul winner, however, is far greater. Instead of a ring or trophy, each soul winner gets a crown. Paul writes in I Corinthians 9:25 “And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.” Paul later speaks of “the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me.” In I Peter 5:4, the Holy Spirit says we “will receive the crown of glory that does not fade away” and finally, Jesus told the church at Ephesus in Revelation 2:10, “Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life.” The greatest beauty of all is that everyone we bring to Christ can win a crown as well. Strive for the prize!
What kind of prize are you striving for? Are you striving for something meaningful, something that will last forever or something fleeting, something insignificant? You can’t win the ultimate prize that God has in store for you if you do not believe in Christ and turn your life over to him. Won’t you confess the name of Christ and be baptized for the remission of sins. You can’t afford to lose your soul. You can’t afford to lose the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit.