“Then the master said to the servant, ‘Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” – Luke 14:23
The land is littered with small, poorly attended, floundering churches. If you speak to the pastors and congregants of such churches and ask them whether or not they want their church filled with people they will nearly always say they do. They hold prayer meetings and implement new programs in the church. But the houses of God remain empty. The pastor and the people begin to wonder what is wrong. The enemy takes advantage of these barren circumstances to weave doubt into their thoughts. “Is God real? Why doesn’t He answer our prayers? What’s wrong? Is it really important to have a BIG church? Isn’t it carnal to want MORE people?” And so the pastor and the sheep continue in their solitary sound spiritual sleep. We need to WAKE UP!
We in the church often feel hemmed in on all sides with an enemy fast approaching. We’re paralyzed with fear about what might lay outside. Or maybe worse, perhaps we just aren’t interested in serving. “The lazy man says, ’There is a lion in the outside! I shall be slain in the streets!’” (Proverbs 22:13; 26:13). What’s the remedy? Recently our church did a week of Vacation Bible School outreach. I was called upon to play the role of Moses. What a blast ministering to the children! One of the lessons dealt with Moses leading God’s people across the Red Sea. They had impassable mountains on both sides of them, an entire Red Sea in front of them and the mightiest military force of their day in hot bloodthirsty pursuit behind them. What did they do? At first they did what came natural to them; they complained. Moses calmed the people and went to the LORD. What was the word from the LORD to Moses? “Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward” (Exodus 14:15). I believe that is the same word from God to the church today. There’s a time to pray. And there’s a time to go. “Why do you cry to Me? . . . go forward!”
It’s not a question of having a BIG church. It’s about the churches we do have being “filled.” Jesus, in a parable said, “Go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled” (Luke 14:23; 14:15-24). That means, “That [Jesus] house may be filled.” “THAT MY HOUSE MAY BE FILLED.” It’s Jesus’ house and He wants it filled. It’s not our house. The church is not a resort; it’s a place of revival. We shouldn’t be reclining. We should be repenting. It’s not an option. It’s a command. Jesus wants His house filled. We must obey and cooperate with Jesus in every way that His will be done.
There might be extenuating circumstances for some churches not being filled. I will leave that to pastors and their congregations to determine between them and the Lord. I don’t mean to lay a guilt trip on anyone. We do live in dark sinful times. People are running hell bent away from God. The world is addicted to pleasure and recreation. There certainly are many snares to choke off gospel seeds planted. “The prince of the power of the air” is working in the “sons of disobedience” (Eph. 2:2). But still, if Jesus wants His house filled, shouldn’t empty churches be the exception and not the rule? At the very least we must be faithful to go. “So then neither he who plants is anything, nor he who waters, but God who gives the increase” (1 Corinthians 3:7). The growth is in His hands.
We can get comfortable in our churches. We make friends and church becomes a family. There’s nothing wrong with that. In fact that is a good thing. But that good thing becomes bad when our church “family” becomes a comfortable little group closed to “outsiders.” Church was never meant to be a private little club. The Lord Jesus has never rescinded His commission to “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 things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). If Jesus promises to be with us when we “go,” will He stay with us if we only “stay,” or if we refuse to “go”? Is the reason why so many churches are powerless, empty, and dying because there is no going out anymore? Have we been lulled into being de-commissioned from the Great Commission?
Jesus said, “Count the cost” (Luke 14:28). Jesus never promised comfort. Jesus promised a “Comforter” or “Helper,” the Holy Spirit who would always be with us (John 14:16, 16:7). The Comforter teaches us (John 14:26), makes Jesus personally known to us (John 15:26), and empowers us to witness for Jesus (Acts 1:4-5, 8). But this empowerment is expressly designed for us to go first to our Jerusalem or our own neighborhood, next to Judea and Samaria” or our region, nation or adjourning nations, and finally “to the end of the earth” or beyond and as far as God would call us to go.
Could it be possible that the church is so comfortable that it really doesn’t need the Comforter? This is a distinct possibility. What is the remedy? The remedy is doing what is uncomfortable to so much of the church. The remedy is to “go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in.” I believe the enemy instills fear in our hearts about going out. We get tight and timid with the thought of interacting with strangers. I’m right there with you in that. I admit it’s not something that comes natural to most of us; including me. And I’m not by any means claiming to have a handle on going out. But the fact remains Jesus commands us to go!
We often associate the Great Commission with missionaries serving in faraway desolate areas. But Jesus’ command to go and make disciples starts in our families, churches, neighborhood; the immediate areas of our lives. If you haven’t gone to those immediately around you, if you haven’t shared the gospel with them, if you aren’t able to share the gospel with them, what makes you think you will be able to share the gospel elsewhere? Remember, you are where you are because God put you there. It was His sovereign determination to place you in your family and area of the world to serve Him. That should be our primary focus. If God wants us to go elsewhere He will call us and make our election to that mission sure. Don’t go beyond your initial calling place unless God calls you to go elsewhere.
Sometimes we use Jesus’ commission to go as a reason to flee uncomfortable or what we see as a mundane placement. The flesh is susceptible to the allure of adventure. Jesus’ Great Commission is not a great escape! The Great Commission is not the means to fulfill a lust for travel. When Jesus calls us He puts a burden in the heart for people and sends us out on a mission. And if He is calling He will provide the means to go. Where God guides God provides. The person God calls will not have to resort to begging, extortion or manipulation. Beware of this. When Jesus calls a person to go He will often provide the means to go through a job. There’s nothing wrong with work. Jesus frequently uses a job or career skill to bring His ambassadors into contact with those He wants to be reached.
Jesus may put it on the heart of people to support one called to a distant land. But He doesn’t want those who go to become a burden to the church or those they serve. More frequently He will provide a means of work to help with the assimilation process in the distant land and to begin the process of establishing contacts to whom the gospel will be shared. Paul, Priscilla and Aquila were tentmakers who worked to support themselves in ministry (Acts 18:1-3). Paul went out of his way to never be a burden to those he served (1 Corinthians 9). If you go, be ready and willing to work and to be used however Jesus wants to use you. Part of the commission of Jesus is to set the example of service and industry. Jesus came to serve, not to be served (Mark 10:45). Go and be ready to work.
Fear is probably the major reason we don’t “go out” as the Lord commands us. But why are we fearful? We might also ask “why are people bigoted or prejudiced?” We can ask, “Why do people hate and paint people as sinister?” What is at the root of fear, bigotry, and hatred? Ignorance! People tend to fear uncertainty and what they do not know. It’s much easier to hate and be bigoted against those you do not know. What’s the remedy? “Go out!” and get to know people.
This works both ways. People in church fear and are prejudiced against unbelievers because they have isolated themselves from them. Unbelievers can rest in their labels and stereotypes of Christians as long as they don’t’ know them. The world looks at the isolated self-removed church and says, “Those Christians don’t care about us. They just stay to themselves in their pretty little churches. You can have them. I don’t need them.” The enemy is playing both sides against one another. He is the great deceiver. He is a liar and a murderer. He wants the fighting. He wants the murder. And as long as we stay apart he will have a field day.
Let me share an example. There is a local park in our neighborhood. We got permission to go into the park and have a Hope Festival. We set up tables to do crafts with children. We set up one of those inflatable water slides. We had some contemporary live music and had the musicians share their testimony. We barbequed and offered free food for all. We gave out tracts and introduced ourselves to those who attended. In fact everything we offered was offered free. Offering things for “free” testifies to sincere genuine care and love to those who receive it. “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10:8). We went door to door distributing fliers and telling people what we were doing and invited them to come. We just made the presence of Jesus known. We represented Him to the lost world.
We literally went out into the highways and hedges and invited people to come join us. And you know what, they came! It was a great time of getting to know people in the community. Was our church filled with newcomers and seekers the next Sunday? No. But we were obedient to the Jesus’ commission to go and we believe He will honor that. You know what else? It really wasn’t that scary. It was fun! We had a really good time. Yes it was work. Yes it required effort and expense. But we presented the hope of Jesus to those who don’t go to church or know Him. I can’t help but believe Jesus will honor and use that for His glory. Praise Him!
Another example of outreach is the practice of public baptisms. Some baptisms are performed for family and friends in backyard pools or a church baptismal. But what purpose does a baptism serve? A baptism is an outward sign of an inward reality. It is a holy object lesson or illustration to the world of salvation of the one being baptized. Baptism pictures and promotes that the gospel of Jesus Christ is available to others too. Because of the witnessing purpose I encourage the practice of public baptisms at the beach or other in public setting. That guarantees that those who need to be reached with the gospel will be able to see and perhaps inquire about the baptism providing an opportunity for the gospel to be shared.
There are numerous other ways to go out into the highways and hedges to minister the gospel to people and invite them to come to the Lord’s house. Be creative. Be alert. Be courageous. Be faithful. Be persistent and persevering. Be loving and compassionate. But go out.
Who needs to “go out”? The church, all Christians are called by Jesus to go out. And as we go out we are on a mission to “go out into the highways and hedges, and compel them to come in, that my house may be filled.” To compel doesn’t mean to drag against one’s will but to use every means necessary to induce people to hear and respond and to come to the Father’s house. The Father uses us to woo the lost to His heart (John 6:44).
How do we compel the lost to come? “For the love of Christ compels us, because we judge thus: that if one died for all, then all died; and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). The “love of Christ” is the compelling force to go out. There are myriad situations to encounter when we go out. There are cross-cultural, cross-generational, and diverse situations. Don’t let that deter you. The gospel offered in love, true Spirit Authored love can reach any person in any situation. The bottom line is if the love of Christ is compelling us, we will “live no longer for” ourselves, “but for Him who died for” us. In other words, if the love of Christ compels us, we will leave our comfortable church setting and go out!
Where do we get such love? “. . . . The love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us” (Romans 5:5b). If we claim to have the Holy Spirit within us, then we will have God’s love in us. Love is the identifying attribute of Jesus disciples (John 13:35). Without love we aren’t really God’s people (1 John 3:13-15). And if we have God’s love in us, we will have God’s love for the lost. With the compelling love of God in us, “we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” (2 Corinthians 5:20). The loving gospel message we as God’s ambassadors carry to the lost is “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
Jesus commands us to “go.” Will you answer that call? Pray about it. If you go to the Lord and ask Him to show you how and where to go, He will show you. The Comforter will lead us. All you and I and the church have to do is to be willing to go. Take a step of faith. Go! Jesus wants His house filled.