By definition, “fallout” can refer to the bad results of poor decisions or the adverse side effects of an unfortunate situation. According to Merriam-Webster, the first definition is the “radioactive particles falling through the atmosphere as a result of a nuclear explosion.” Wow! That definition makes the title of this week’s post a tad bit dramatic and sensational.
We only use the term in this sense –there is always a ripple effect when the Gospel is believed and obeyed. 2 Timothy 2:2 shows that the fallout of one generation’s learning and instruction should or will result in the next generation doing the same thing. Christians will only find Christ from the fallout effect of evangelism (John 6:45-46; Acts 8:30-31; Romans 10:14-17).
The fallout impact of one conversion is clearly seen in the purpose and contents of Paul’s letter to Philemon. Philemon was a church leader and slave owner in the city of Colossae. Piecing together the clues we find in the letter, it would appear that Philemon’s slaved, Onesimus had run away to Rome and defrauded his master in the process. While in Rome, Onesimus met Paul and was converted to Christ. Upon sending Onesimus back to Philemon, Paul also sent a letter vouching for this slave’s conversion and character while also urging for Philemon to treat him as a brother and friend. In the course of Paul’s pleading with Philemon on behalf of Onesimus, we get a clear picture of what the fallout of evangelism can and will be.
First, when the gospel is believed and obeyed, opportunities are created to utilize life’s greatest motivation (Philemon 9). In what I consider to be the heart of the letter, Paul begs his friend to receive his new brother back and to forgive his past mistakes. Paul does not, however, give an apostolic command that forces such action. Rather he appeals to Philemon based on love; love for God, love for the gospel, love for the church, love for Paul, and love for the saved –love for Philemon. There is no great motivation (1 Corinthians 13:1-3, 13). Evangelism creates a place for me to exercise the love for Christ and to show love for Christ.
Second, when souls are saved, I get to celebrate the reclamation of what had been discarded and discounted (Philemon 10-11). Who doesn’t love a great comeback story? Like Roy Hobb’s dramatic home run (see the movie The Natural for full details) or Tiger’s epic win at the 2019 Master’s, we like to celebrate the one rising from the ashes and reclaiming what is rightfully theirs. In a less scripted sense, salvation is that story. The gospel takes the discarded and gives him a place. It takes the cast down and set him on his feet. It takes the useless and makes him useful once again.
Third, when evangelism efforts are successful trust and confidence are forged in God’s plan and in God’s people (Philemon 15–22). There is so much packed into these verses. Paul suggests that God’s providence might have been at work in this story (vv. 15-16). Paul argues for a level playing field in the church by suggesting that he and Onesimus should be treated the same (v. 17). Paul offers to settle any outstanding debts that this new convert might owe (vv. 18-19). Finally, Paul is sure Philemon will be more than willing to do what is being asked of him (vv. 20-22). All of this because one man –one single, solitary man –was converted to Christ.
What a story! What a fallout! Friends, evangelism will truly change the world, but it will change you and me, too.