A Marriage Made in Heaven – Evangelism and Social Action: a Bible Study

In one of the Sherlock Holmes stories, a police detective has been asking Holmes for his help in investigating a crime scene. \”Is there any other point to which you wish to draw my attention?\” he asks. Holmes replies, \”To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time.\” \”The dog did nothing in the night time,\” replies the baffled detective. \”That was the curious incident,\” replies Holmes. The significance of the dog\’s silence, it turns out, is that the burglary was committed by someone whom the dog recognised. Silence is always significant, especially when one might have expected something different.

While the Synoptic Gospels use words relating to evangelism up to twenty times each, John\’s Gospel has just such a significant silence on the topic of evangelism. Why might this be? In John, the absence of any reference to evangelism seems to be made up for by his interest in the idea of sending. Whereas Mark uses the word \”send\” roughly ten times, Matthew twenty times, and Luke thirty times, John refers to \”sending\” no less than sixty times. The plot thickens!

 Most of the uses of the word \”sent\” (forty out of the sixty) are in phrases like \”the Father who sent me.\” For John, it appears that Jesus can hardly think of the Father without thinking of his mission. He is deeply aware that he comes to this world as a missionary from the Father.

Father  ->  Son

What then is the \”primal missionary\”, as Martin Hengel calls him, \”sent\” to do? Classic theology would say \”to die for our sins,\” or \”to show us a truly human life.\” John\’s answer, however, embraces all such answers: \”I have come to do the will of him who sent me\”  (6:38), says Jesus.

Father  ->  Son -> Will of God

And what then, we may well ask, is this will of the Father? In a phrase, it is simply to give life, that \”eternal life\” which is defined later as knowing both Father and Son (17:3).  \”This is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. This is indeed the will of the Father, that all who see the Son may believe in him and have eternal life\” (6:39-40).

Father ->  Son ->  Will of God  ->  Life

But how is it that Jesus brings life? The answer seems to be two-fold. He does it by speaking the words of the Father, and by doing the will of the Father. \”Whatever I say is just what the Father has told me to say,\” he tells the disciples. (12:49). And as he is about to heal the man born blind, he explains, \”We must do the works of his who sent me.\” (9:4).


                                                                                       -> Words of God

Father  ->  Son -> Will of God -> Life

                                                                                       -> Works of God


As Jesus does the Father\’s will by speaking the Father\’s words and doing the Father\’s works, an amazing thing happens: God is visible in him. \”Whoever sees me sees him who sent me\” (12:45). A human being without sin, fully in the image and likeness of God, fully obeying the Father\’s will, makes the character of God visible to the world.

                                                                                       -> Words of God

Father  ->  Son -> Will of God -> Life                                                               -> God visible

                                                                                       ->Works of God


So far, so good. But then, at the end of the Gospel, Jesus turns around and says to the disciples, \”As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you\” (20:21). The content of \”as . . . so\” is clear from what has gone before. The disciples are sent under precisely the same conditions as Jesus. They too are sent to do the will of the Father by words and works. And, as they do so, God will be visible in them too. John Robinson once called Jesus \” a window into God at work.\” Now Jesus commissions us to become a million windows into God at work.

                                                                                       -> Words of God

Father  ->  Son -> DISCIPLES -> Will of God -> Life                                                               -> God visible

                                                                                       ->Works of God


Is this possible? We are not left to struggle with this intimidating calling alone. Jesus provides the resources to make it possible. There is one more indispensable step in the sending: \”The Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you everything\” (14:25); \”When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father . . . he will testify on my behalf.\”



                                                                                       -> Words of God

Father  ->  Son -> SPIRIT -> DISCIPLES -> Will of God -> Life                                                               -> God visible

                                                                                       ->Works of God



Almost a century ago, a split emerged in the church between those who emphasised the priority of the  ministry of evangelism but had no time for social concern; and those who had a low opinion of evangelism and majored on social action as the most authentic expression of their faith. In the ministry of Jesus, those two aspects went together hand in hand, the actions lending credibility to the words, the words interpreting the significance of the actions. The church that follows Jesus today will find ways to imitate his example. This edition of good idea! offers three ways in which Christians are seeking to follow their Lord.