Biblical Studies

Evangelizing Under God’s Sovereignty

The Corinthians

Paul sent a lot of letters to the Corinthians. Four letters, in fact.

  • 1 Corinthians 5.7 speaks of the first letter.
  • 1 Corinthians is the second letter.
  • 2 Corinthians 2.3-4 speaks of a severe letter (#3)
  • 2 Corinthians would be the fourth letter.

Why spend so much time on the Corinthians, especially with the Severe Letter and 2 Corinthians? Once the Corinthians rejected Paul, why did he give them another chance with the Severe Letter? And why did he give them yet another chance with 2 Corinthians? Some repented (2.9; 7.7-11, 14), but there were still others who had not yet repented (2.6, a “majority” suggests a “minority” who still had not repented; cf. 6.1, 14-16a; 10.10; 12.19-21; 13.5, 7, 9). Why did Paul spend the time giving them so many chances?

In Acts 18, Luke tells us of Paul’s missionary ventures in the city of Corinth. Paul receives encouragement from the Lord in a vision in 18.9-11,

And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.

Paul did not leave, but he stayed there for one and a half years because God told him that he had many in the city who were his people. There were Corinthians who did not yet know Christ, and Paul was going to have to put in the time and effort to teach and love them. And because of God’s promise, Paul spent 1.5 years with the Corinthians. He wrote four letters seeking to teach them about the crucified and resurrected Christ.

Because of God’s promise, Paul evangelized. God’s promises don’t mean that we can be lazy. We will have to work. But knowing who God is gives us confidence that our work won’t be in vain. His word will take effect. People will either accept this fragrance of life, or they will reject this fragrance of death (2 Cor 2.15-16).

If God is Sovereign, Why Evangelize?

Here is a list of missionaries who had the same “God-is-sovereign-so-we-should-go-out-to-the-nations” thinking as Paul (Rom 15.24). This list of missionaries is taken pretty much directly from Scott Christensen’s book What About Free Will? While this list my no means “proves” Compatibilism to be true, it goes against the idea that God’s sovereignty negates evangelism. Instead, it should propel evangelism. 

Missionaries and God’s Sovereignty

This perspective drove many of the most important pioneers in modern missions, many (not all) of whom were Calvinists. Notable are men such as

John Eliot (1604–90) was the first missionary to American Indians during the colonial era.

David Brainerd (1718–47) later became a missionary to the Delaware Indians in New Jersey. (105-106)

Adoniram Judson (1788–1850) served as a missionary to Burma for forty years and was among the first missionaries in North America to travel overseas.

Robert Morrison (1782–1834) was the first Protestant missionary to China and translated the first Bible into the Chinese language.

Charles Simeon (1759–1836) was a British pastor well known for his expository preaching. His heart for missions led him to found the Church Missionary Society that has sent more than nine thousand missionaries around the world.

Henry Martyn (1781–1812) was one of these missionaries. He was indefatigable in his short life of thirty-one years. When Martyn arrived in Calcutta in 1806, he said, “Now let me burn out for God!” He did so gloriously.

David Livingstone (1813– 73) was a national hero in Victorian England. The famous medical missionary to Africa was also an explorer who was searching for the origins of the Nile River.

John G. Paton (1824–1907) brought the gospel to the cannibalistic tribes among the New Hebrides islands of the South Pacific. He faced constant threats of death, and some feared that he would be eaten. But Paton responded, “If I can but live and die serving and honoring the Lord Jesus, it will make no difference to me whether I am eaten by Cannibals or by worms.” 

Samuel Zwemer (1867–1952) was called “the apostle to Islam” and is the most effective missionary to Muslims to date. Although these men believed that God elects to salvation, they were not ignorant of the means he uses to accomplish his saving goals. (106)


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