“I’m more comfortable speaking the gospel to insiders rather than outsiders.”
Maybe you think that you’re not the kind of person to speak the gospel to outsiders because you’re more comfortable speaking to insiders. But gospel-speech doesn’t work that way. The gospel, by its very nature, breaks through distinctions between ‘insiders’ and ‘outsiders’. And so does gospel speech.
This is a staggering truth. Even the great apostle Peter had problems grasping its implications. Peter, like Paul, was Jewish; that means he had the great privilege of growing up knowing God’s law. The law revealed God’s will to his people. The job of lawkeepers was to honour God by obeying him and to remain pure by avoiding evil influences. So they did what was right, and avoided the ‘sinners’ all around them, who threatened to corrupt them and move them away from pure devotion to God. Classic lawkeepers, therefore, made a big deal out of the distinction between ‘insiders’ (lawkeepers) and ‘outsiders’ (sinners). Peter had previously come to know and trust Jesus, and had stopped insisting on this distinction. But later, he reverted to his former way of life because he was afraid of other classic law-keepers:
For before certain men came from James, he [Peter] was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. (Galatians 2:12)
The probem with Peter’s behaviour wasn’t simply that it was cowardly, exclusivist, elitist, racist, or anything-in-particular-ist. The problem went much deeper. When Peter separated from outsiders so publically, he undermined the truth of the gospel itself (Gal 2:14). The gospel declares that everybody, whether insider or outsider, has the same problem and needs exactly the same solution. We’re all sinners, and we all need to be justified by God through trusting in Jesus. Whether we’re an insider or an outsider, whatever our history or status or reputation, makes no difference. When the gospel is spoken and believed, lawkeepers are shown to be sinners, and ‘sinners’ are given access to salvation through trusting Christ Jesus (Gal 2:15-17). At its core, the gospel says the same thing to the people sitting in your church as it does to the people walking down your street.
Of course, there will be differences about the way we speak the gospel to different people. When we speak the gospel to outsiders, it’s usually harder. It takes longer to speak with outsiders, because they don’t have our shared experiences which make communication easy and efficient. We have to try to avoid or explain jargon that only makes sense to insiders; we need to be more aware of the possibility of being misunderstood. More significantly, the risks of rejection are much higher when we speak the gospel to outsiders. They don’t necessarily agree with us, and they might be very upset. Speaking the gospel to outsiders isn’t necessarily going to be comfortable. But our comfort isn’t a factor, according to the Bible. In fact, the places where the Bible talks most explicitly about speaking up for Jesus are places where opposition is clearly in view (e.g. Phil 1:27-30; Col 4:2-6; 1 Pet 3:14-16). Speaking the gospel to outsiders is more important than our individual comfort levels.
The gospel is the great equaliser; it breaks down distinctions between insiders and outsiders. The gospel message is ultimately the same for everybody. If you can speak the gospel to insiders, you can speak the gospel to outsiders too.
This is the seventh post in a series about gospel speech. In the next post,
we’ll think about a final objection: “I can’t do what they’re doing.”
Comments at The Briefing.