We live in a time of widespread evil. The morality of the world has fallen far from God's standard. Procedures such as abortion, euthanasia, and gender reassignment surgery have become widely accepted and championed. Satanic deception is rampant, with even the church caught up in this worldwide moral change. Paul brings a great exhortation to the Ephesians that should resonate with us today:
Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:15 – 16)
The days we live in are especially evil and our lives are brief and fleeting (Jm. 4:13 – 15; Ps. 39:4 – 6). We don't have much time to complete our ministry on earth, so we should have a sense of urgency about the Lord's work. This urgency needs to be coupled with wisdom so we can make the best use of the time we have. As evil grows stronger, our resolve needs to grow stronger.
In such an evil world, Christians can become disheartened about the work they do for the Lord. If the world is so evil, how can our work ever make a difference? We need to remind ourselves of God's sovereignty and control over everything. Even though the world is so evil, the work we do for the Lord is not in vain, and he will use us to fulfill his purposes. God has everything under his control, no matter how out of control the world may seem. There are three keys that can help us be effective in our ministry in this evil world. They are: understanding God's will, being filled with the Holy Spirit, and recognising that our labour is not in vain.
Understanding God's will
Before we can even carry out the Lord's work, we need to know what that work involves! Christians need a clear mission we can focus on because the world is ambiguous and deceptive. Many churches today have lost the true gospel and consequently, it is hard to pin down what they are trying to achieve. They may say they want to bring people to salvation, but in reality, their mission is to fill empty seats.
Paul says after his words on these evil days that we should “not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is” (Eph. 5:17). A foolish Christian would jump into ministry with no clear definition of what God's will is for our ministry. We need to exercise wisdom and discern God's will before beginning his work.
There are two crucial aspects of God's will we need to understand. These are that God wills people to be saved and sanctified. Paul writes to Timothy:
This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. (1 Timothy 2:3 – 4)
God wants people to be saved, and he has chosen specific people out of all humanity to be his saved elect (Eph. 1:3 – 6; Acts 13:48; Rom. 8:29 – 30; 9:22 – 24). His will is that those he has chosen will be saved for all eternity. As this is the will of God, our mission should be to evangelise the world! The great commission that Jesus gave is our mission to unbelievers:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18 – 20)
Our mission to the world is not bringing unbelievers into the church and keeping them unbelievers. The mission of Christianity is making disciples of all nations. And the only way people will become disciples is if they are saved through hearing the gospel. How can someone repent of their sin if they are never told they have sinned against God? How can someone trust in Jesus as their saviour if they don't know they need saving?
Many churches have made it their mission to fill pews, resulting in churches full of unbelievers. The true gospel is not popular and will offend people, but it is the only way someone can be saved. We need to stop caring about our popularity and other people's comfort, and start caring about the eternal state of their souls. It is better we are hated by someone in this life and they find salvation than if we are loved by them and they end up in hell.
The will of God for believers is that they be sanctified. As Paul says to the Thessalonians:
For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honor, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God; that no one transgress and wrong his brother in this matter, because the Lord is an avenger in all these things, as we told you beforehand and solemnly warned you. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness. (1 Thessalonians 4:3 – 7)
God doesn't want his church to remain sinful and wicked. He wants Christians to grow in holiness so we can glorify him more. If the church is not set apart as Holy, then how will the world know where we stand on moral issues? Some churches affirm and champion obvious sin to not offend unbelievers. But then how could those unbelievers ever be saved?
If the church turns its back on the Bible and affirms homosexuality, transgenderism, abortion, and any other sin as not sin, then the gospel of Jesus Christ will be lost. When the church teaches that the sin of unbelievers is totally fine, those people will never see a need to change. Why would they repent of something they have been told is not a sin? If the way they live their life is fine, why trust in Jesus as their saviour?
Contrast is the mother of clarity. When the church lives a radically different way than the world, the gospel shines even brighter in the darkness. We will offend people and unbelievers will hate us for preaching the truth of God. But this truth will set some people free, and it is for those whom God wants to save we should preach the truth. God's will is to save unbelievers and sanctify his church. These two calls make up the core mission of the Christian church. If we are to have an effective ministry in these evil days, we need to evangelise the lost and exhort believers to greater holiness.
Be filled with the Holy Spirit
As Christians, we have a mission that is difficult and painful. It's not easy to preach repentance of sin to unbelievers. And it can be difficult encouraging Christians to give up their sin and pursue greater holiness for the glory of God. This is why we need the Holy Spirit to empower us in our ministry. Without the Holy Spirit working in our lives, we can never hope to have an effective ministry.
Paul continues his words to the Ephesians with this command:
And do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery, but be filled with the Spirit. (Ephesians 5:18)
Paul is not talking about being baptised in the Holy Spirit. Christians are baptised in the Holy Spirit at the moment of justification, and this is a one-time event (1 Cor. 12:13; Rom. 8:9; Eph. 1:11 – 14). If all Christians are indwelt by the Holy Spirit from the moment they are justified, then what is Paul talking about?
Paul begins his command to be filled with the Spirit by telling the Ephesians to not get drunk with wine. When a person is drunk, they are under the control and influence of alcohol. They have given up control of themselves to the drink, and end up doing and saying unholy things. In contrast, if we are filled with the Spirit, then we are under the control and influence of the Holy Spirit. In this case, we end up doing and saying things that are holy and pleasing to God.
This filling of the Holy Spirit is a daily experience where we give control of our lives over to God. The Lord wants us to submit every part of ourselves and our lives to him. As we do this, we are sanctified and live in greater holiness. We also see greater effectiveness in ministry as we are doing more of what God wants. A person who is not submitting to the Holy Spirit will be going every which way trying to figure out why their ministry is not effective. We need to come back to this important principle: only by the power of the Holy Spirit who indwells us will we ever see effective ministry in our lives.
It is crucial to understand God's will to know the mission he has given us. But simply knowing God's will is not enough for effective ministry. We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit to make this knowledge a reality. God is the one who calls us, gives us our mission, and empowers us to fulfill his purposes.
Our labour is not in vain
Knowing the will of God and the reality of being filled with the Holy Spirit is great! But even with this knowledge, we can still find it hard to face the evil days in which we live. Sometimes ministry can feel like an uphill battle that isn't going anywhere. But we need to remember that just because we can't see any results doesn't mean our ministry is ineffective. Paul exhorts the Corinthians with an amazing statement about our labour in the Lord:
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:58)
These words come at the end of an incredible chapter on the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the future resurrection of believers. This hope of resurrection and eternal glory with God makes the hard work of this life meaningful. We aren't evangelising the world and exhorting believers to greater holiness for nothing. The work we do for the Lord in this life matters. Our labour is not in vain because it is the mission God has given to his church and it leads to eternal glory.
We want to bring as many people as we can into the body of Christ so they can share in eternal glory with us. This hope of resurrection and eternity with the Lord should drive us to preach the gospel to those around us. How can we sit back and let unbelievers continue in their sin when we have such a great hope in Jesus Christ! We need to share this hope with the world. We need to tell them about the reality of sin and God's wrath. Sitting back and watching the world pass by is not what God desires a Christian to do with their life.
When we face persecution and suffering for the ministry we do, we need to be steadfast and immovable. No matter what comes against us, we should always be “abounding in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58). Evangelism and sanctification are not optional for a Christian. We can't do the Lord's work only when it is convenient for us. Every day is a day to do the Lord's work.
Let's not labour for the Lord only when it suits us. Let's not dishonour God by caring more about our popularity than the true gospel of Jesus Christ. Our mission to reach this world and be sanctified is of the greatest importance. We are talking about the eternal state of the souls of men and woman. It's not about this life, it's about the life to come. Sadly, people have turned aside to follow teachings that suit their lifestyle:
I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:1 – 5)
We live in a time when people don't want to hear sound teaching. They want to hear from people who will validate their sinful lifestyles. The gospel, by its very nature, convicts people of their sin, causing great discomfort. But the purpose of this is to bring sinners to repentance so they can find salvation in Jesus Christ. How can we preach a superficial, watered-down, sugar-coated gospel that leads people straight to hell? Do we really care more about our comfort than other people's eternal state?
Suffering will come because “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim. 3:12). And yet, we are so scared of being hated by the world! Unbelievers hated, mocked, scorned, and crucified Jesus. Why should we expect anything less? We carry the same message he did, so we will face great resistance from the world.
But our labour is not in vain because we are doing the work of God in the power of the Holy Spirit. He who is in us is greater than he who is in the world (1 Jn. 4:4). Though we may be persecuted by pagans, our message distorted by false teachers, and our lives sacrificed for the Lord, greater than all evil is God. The Lord will fulfill his purposes, no matter how hard the world tries to stop him.
These evil days we live in can be daunting to face. But no matter how evil the world becomes, God will always be saving people from their sin. God never stops working and never stops saving, regardless of the state of the world. We should never stop labouring for the Lord because he will use every faithful Christian's ministry for good. Our work may never be as big or far-reaching as we would like, but it will have an impact on this world. God will not let any Christian who preaches the true gospel of Jesus Christ to be ineffective. Even if this means that Christian only leads one person to Jesus Christ in their lifetime, it will be worth it. Don't stop working for the Lord because the days are evil, work harder, knowing your labour is not in vain.