A man must not choose his neighbour;
he must take the neighbour that God sends him.
— George MacDonald (Unspoken Sermons)
Good salespeople know their products.
In order to sell real estate, you have to have a good understanding of the value of comparable properties. To sell cars, you need to understand all the features of the vehicle, along with which packages include what features. It’s easy to spot an uninformed salesperson. They’re the ones who compulsively check their product sheet only to offer the response, “I’ll have to check with my manager and get back to you.”
Ezekiel has already been invited to dine on God’s word. Now he is told to go and share it. The order of these two events are critical. We have been given the same mission as Ezekiel—to go and to speak about God to others. Do we follow the same steps as Ezekiel? Do we devour God’s word before sharing it?
In Evangelism 101, people are taught to memorize key scripture along with specific questions. The questions are used to draw the mark to consider her destiny. This approach will work with some people; it will not fool everyone. A discerning person can tell when a sales pitch is scripted—even if the salesperson uses a flow chart to guide his responses. (The analogy from the retail world is crude, yet apt.) If we want to obey God’s commission and tell people about him, we first need to feast on his word.
God tells Ezekiel to “receive in your heart and hear with your ears” (3:10, NRSV) all the words he has to say. Only then can he go to his people.
. . .
For some of us, devouring God’s word before speaking it isn’t difficult: the challenge lies in another area. For every uninformed zealot who preaches without understanding, there are dozens of over-informed and gluttonous Christians who feast without sharing.
At the risk of sounding crude (yet again), many of us are spiritually constipated. We eat and meditate on good food, but never let it flow out from us. OK, that analogy breaks down pretty quick. Let’s move on.
. . .
Ezekiel was specifically instructed to go to his own people: “you are not sent to a people of obscure speech and difficult language, but to the house of Israel” (3:5, NRSV).
This instruction is not a prohibition against foreign missionary work. Jonah was called to the Assyrians. Paul was called to the Greeks. Jesus’ disciples (and by extension, you and I) were called to all the world.
The principle here is this: it is easier to communicate with people that share similarities. Who is your neighbour? She is the person God has shaped your life to encounter. Influence your community of friends and family. If you’re in the music world, share with musicians. If you’re in the sports world, share with athletes. We don’t have to wait for an overseas trip to be effective. We are called to be faithful where we are.
Ezekiel was given no promise that it would be easy to confront his people—quite the opposite: “the house of Israel will not listen to you, for they are not willing to listen to me; because all the house of Israel have a hard forehead and a stubborn heart” (3:7, NRSV). Even so, the foreseen response of Ezekiel’s own people didn’t mitigate his responsibility.
In the same way, it doesn’t matter how we think people will respond to God’s message: it’s ours to deliver.
The entire book of Ezekiel follows this two-step process:
- Ezekiel devours God’s word.
- Ezekiel shares that word with his people.
Which step are you on? Do you need to take time to feast on God’s word, or are you already stuffed and need to share with others? What should your next step be?
. . .
Lord, help us to be obedient to you. If we need to feast, then give us the patience and wisdom to genuinely hear your word. If we need to share, then grant us the courage and boldness to do so. In Jesus’ name, Amen.