Evangelizing the Jewish People:
The first aspect of the Church’s responsibility is in the realm of evangelism: the Church is responsible to proclaim the gospel to the Jew first.
1. The Principle of Evangelism – Romans 1:16
For I am not ashamed of the gospel: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believes; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
This verse gives the principle of evangelism: whenever the gospel goes out, in whatever means it goes out, it is to go out to the Jew first. There is only one verb that controls the last two clauses, the verb is. It is in the Greek present tense, which emphasizes continuous action. This means that the gospel is continuously God’s power to save, and so it is continuously to the Jew first. If one tries to reinterpret this verse, like so many have, as simply to mean that “the gospel was to the Jew first, but it is no longer,” the verse would then have to mean that “the gospel used to be God’s power to save, but it is no longer.” If the gospel is always God’s power to save, then it is always to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.
2. The Principle Applies to All
This principle applies regardless of the method of evangelism, whether it is person to person, door to door, radio, TV, mass evangelism, whatever. This principle applies regardless of specific individual calling. It applies to both active evangelism, when one is doing the work of an evangelist, and to passive evangelism, when one is supporting those who are doing the work of evangelism. Either way, the gospel is to the Jew first.
Some have said, “It is one thing for missionaries of Ariel Ministries to follow this principle, because they are doing the work of full time Jewish evangelism, but does this principle really apply to someone who was called to go elsewhere; such as China, Japan, the American Indian, Taiwan, Africa, Australia, New Zealand? Does it really apply in these cases?”
Paul answers this very issue in Romans 11:13-14:
But I speak to you that are Gentiles. Inasmuch then as I am an apostle of Gentiles, I glorify my ministry; if by any means I may provoke to jealousy them that are my flesh, and may save some of them.
Here, Paul points to himself as one who was not called to go to Jews. His calling was to be the apostle of the Gentiles, while Peter was the apostle of the Jews. And yet, while Paul’s calling was to be to the Gentiles, he never forgot the principle of Romans 1:16. Everywhere he went, he went to the Jew first.
3. The Principle at Work
Paul’s actions in the Book of Acts shows this very principle at work, beginning in Acts 13:2-3:
And as they ministered to the Lord, and fasted, the Holy Spirit said, Separate me Barnabas and Saul for the work whereunto I have called them. Then, when they had fasted and prayed and laid their hands on them, they sent them away.
It was in Acts 9 that Paul received his commission to be the apostle of the Gentiles, but only as of chapter 13 is he sent out by the Chuch of Antioch to do just that. Now the apostle of the Gentiles goes out to the Gentiles, but his procedure is always to the Jew first.
Act 13:5 states: And when they were at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews.
Verse 14 states: But they, passing through from Perga, came to Antioch of Pisidia; and they went into the synagogue on the sabbath day, and sat down.
Acts 14:1: And it came to pass in Iconium that they entered together into the synagogue of the Jews, and so spoke that a great multitude both of Jews and of Greeks believed.
Acts 16:12-13a: and from thence to Philippi, which is a city of Macedonia, the first of the district, a Roman colony: and we were in this city tarrying certain days. And on the sabbath day we went forth without the gate by a river side, where we supposed there was a place of prayer.
Because this was a Sabbath prayer meeting, it means that it was a Jewish prayer meeting. Paul came to Philippi, but the Jewish community in Philippi was too small to have a synagogue, and he could not go immediately to the synagogue to proclaim the gospel. When there were not enough Jews in a community to finance a synagogue, the Jewish rule was that they were to have their prayer meeting on the Sabbath by a body of water. Paul waited until the Sabbath day, went to a place where he knew the Jews would gather, and fulfilled the commission to proclaim the gospel to the Jew first.
Another instance of showing the principle of Romans 1:16 at work is found in Acts 17:1-2: Now when they had passed through Amphipolis and Apollonia, they came to Thessalonica, where was a synagogue of the Jews: and Paul, as his custom was, went in unto them, and for three sabbath days reasoned with them from the Scriptures.
Again in Acts 17:10: And the brethren immediately sent away Paul and Silas by night unto Beroea: who when they were come thither went into the synagogue of the Jews.
And in Acts 17:16-17a: Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he beheld the city full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with Jews and the devout persons.
When Paul came into Athens and saw the city given over to idolatry, his spirit was provoked to preach to those who worshipped the idols. However, it was not the Jews who worshipped these idols, because, by then, idolatry had ceased to be a Jewish problem. It was the Gentiles of Athens who worshipped these idols, and he was provoked to preach to these Gentiles. But the principle of Romans 1:16 had to stand, so he went to the synagogue first in verse 17, and then he went on to the Gentile Greeks in verse 18.
Acts 18:1, 4 states: After these things he departed from Athens, and came to Corinth … And he reasoned in the synagogue every sabbath, and persuaded Jews and Greeks.
Verse 19 states: And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there: but he himself entered into the synagogue, and reasoned with the Jews.
Acts 19:1, 8 states: And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper country came to Ephesus … And he entered into the synagogue, and spoke boldly for the space of three months, reasoning and persuading as to the things concerning the kingdom of God.
Finally, in Acts 28:17: And it came to pass, that after three days he called together those that were the chief of the Jews.
Because Paul was a prisoner when he came to Rome, he could not go to the synagogue. So to fulfill Romans 1:16, he called the Jewish people to himself in order to proclaim the gospel to the Jew first.
Romans 1:16 is the principle; Romans 11:13-14 teaches that the principle applies to all; and the Book of Acts shows the principle and action at work. The gospel is always to go to the Jew first, both in active evangelism, when one is doing the work of an evangelist as these Acts passages show, but also in passive evangelism, when one is supporting those who are doing the work of evangelism.