One afternoon a pastor overheard a conversation between two people in a hotel lobby. Actually, it wasn't a conversation. It was a monologue. Two women were seated on a sofa by the front desk. The one doing all the talking was telling the one doing all the listening how wonderful it is to be a Christian. The listener looked extremely uncomfortable, and the talker appeared to be oblivious. A man standing next to the pastor at the counter also noticed the women. He said to the pastor, "Somebody ought to complain to the management. That religious fanatic cornered me in the bookstore yesterday for half-an-hour." The pastor didn't know what to say. This lady was trying to share good news with others, and she seemed to be making only enemies.
Do you know anybody like that lady? I do. When I got out of the military, I worked at N.A.R.F. for several years. At N.A.R.F. I met two men, Jack and Charlie, who were very zealous in their faith. Zealous to the point that most of the people who worked with them, couldn't stand them. Two things in particular that they did that were bothersome were; they would write biblical messages (evangelistic type) on the bathroom stalls. They also would go out on the dock at lunch, where many people ate their lunch, and read their bibles out loud, very loudly. I don't know if they won any converts, but I do know that they made a lot of people mad.
On the other extreme, I heard of a man who, in sharing his testimony, told of his search for meaning in life, how he pursued money, alcohol, success, promiscuity, and every vice imaginable until he finally found the Lord. He then said, "What's incredible is that I lived next door to a preacher for years, and he never made an effort to lead me to Christ, or even talk to me."
When it comes to sharing our faith, we have to be careful how we communicate with the world. On one hand, we can't afford to be pushy and obnoxious. On the other hand, we don't want to seem apathetic. Where is the balance?
Today we're going to look at a story of how one man shared his faith with another. This story serves as an example for us to follow in sharing our faith with others.
Acts 8:26-31 (NKJV) Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip, saying, "Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza." This is desert. 27 So he arose and went. And behold, a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, and had come to Jerusalem to worship, 28 was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet. 29 Then the Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot." 30 So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.
There are three principles about witnessing that we can learn from this passage of scripture. The first is, in order to share our faith effectively, we must:
This story begins with an angel telling Philip to go down a desert road that goes from Jerusalem to Gaza.. I've never had an angel tell me what to do -- except for the one I married. And I don't know anyone else to whom an angel has spoken. The period of the Acts was one of supernatural manifestations. Philip left the revival that was going on at Samaria, and went down to a desert road. On the road, Philip saw an Ethiopian eunuch who had been in Jerusalem to worship. He was now sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah. The Holy Spirit said to Philip, "Go near and overtake this chariot." Philip went up to him and began talking to him, and eventually led him to faith in Christ. The principle that we should learn from this is that if we are willing to be obedient and share our faith, the Holy Spirit will lead us to people who are ready to hear our message; just like he did with Philip.
Does the Spirit talk to us today? Yes, through His Word. What do I mean by that? Look at:
Ephesians 5:17-20 (NKJV) Therefore do not be unwise, but understand what the will of the Lord is. 18 And do not be drunk with wine, in which is dissipation; but be filled with the Spirit, 19 speaking to one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody in your heart to the Lord, 20 giving thanks always for all things to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ,
This passage tells us to be "controlled by the Spirit." Compare this passage with:
Colossians 3:16-17 (NKJV) Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord. 17 And whatever you do in word or deed, do all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.
We see from comparing the two passages that being "controlled by the Spirit" and "letting the word of Christ dwell in us" have the same results. I believe that the Spirit controls us, thus leads us, through an understanding of His word. Am I trying to depreciate the leading of the Holy Spirit? NO! What I am trying to do is to emphasize the importance of God's Word in the Spirit's leading.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NKJV) All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work.
The Scripture thoroughly equips us for every good work. I think that knowing Scripture is putting ourselves under the control and leading of the Lord.
Let me say a word here about God's guidance: God supernaturally guided Philip to set aside his Samaritan ministry for a time and to go to this remote place so as to bring about the conversion of one man. This supernatural guidance was necessary because Philip would have never chosen to do this on his own, and rightly so. But in many (I would say most) cases, God guides and uses men and women, who act on their own judgment. God used Philip, who fled from Jerusalem to avoid the persecution of Saul, to reach the city of Samara.
Acts 8:3-5 (NKJV) As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison. 4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them.
It may not seem like a very pious kind of guidance, this flight from persecution, but God succeeded in putting Phillip right where He wanted him. Why is it that we want God's particular direction, but we turn up our nose at His providential guidance? I think it is because we deem direct guidance to be more spiritual than indirect guidance. And this, in my opinion, is why we so often try to sanction our own decisions with the phrase "God led me to." Such terminology reflects the conviction that God is directly guiding us. What is so striking, as one searches the pages of the New Testament, is the glaring absence of such expressions. Please notice carefully the reasons the apostles gave for their decisions:
Acts 15:25 (NKJV) it seemed good to us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men to you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul,
Why did the church council send out Paul, Barnabas, Judas and Silas to Antioch? It seemed good to them to do it.
Philippians 2:25-26 (NKJV) Yet I considered it necessary to send to you Epaphroditus, my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need; 26 since he was longing for you all, and was distressed because you had heard that he was sick.
Why did Paul send Epaphroditus back to Philippi? He thought it was necessary.
1 Thessalonians 3:1-2 (NKJV) Therefore, when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone, 2 and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer in the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith,
Why did Paul and Silas send Timothy to Thessalonica? They thought it was the best course of action. In each of these cases, they made decisions based on what they thought was best and not on direct guidance from the Lord.
Let us be assured that God does guide. A God who is sovereign, who is completely in control, does not have to tell every Christian every step they are to take. And this is why we must walk by faith, and not by sight. Faith acts, based upon biblical principles, trusting that God is guiding. Faith does not presume to demand that God must give us verbal instructions from an angel or His Spirit, so that we can be sure He is with us. Much that is done in the name of faith is really its opposite -- unbelief. Faith trusts God when we have not seen (an angel or a vision), and when we do not need to. Let us be men and women of faith.
We are not to wait for an "impression" or "leading" before we share our faith. We are to share our faith because the Lord has told us to. I have found that when I am willing, and looking for an opportunity to share my faith, I usually find one. The church, the bride of Christ, is to be involved in taking the water of life to the world.
Revelation 22:17 (NKJV) And the Spirit and the bride say, "Come!" And let him who hears say, "Come!" And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely.
This is a call to salvation! The church, the bride of Christ, is to be calling men to salvation, to drink the water of life.
John 4:13-14 (NKJV) Jesus answered and said to her, "Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 "but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life."
The Ethiopian was thirsty, he was open to the things of God-- he was what many today would call a "seeker." He was obviously a searching man. He had come to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. He was looking for something. He was interested in things of a spiritual nature, but he didn't know Christ. In verse 27, we learn this man had tasted success, prestige, power, and wealth, but there was still something missing from his life. So, he went to the temple to worship, he read from the scriptures, and he searched for the truth. At that right time, God sent Philip across his path.
This whole situation is a tremendous manifestation of the preparation and timing of the Lord. Notice the precise timing. Philip was walking along the road, the road he had been commanded to take, and there was nothing in sight. A chariot comes over the hill and passes him by. At the precise moment the man in the chariot passes the evangelist, he happens to be reading aloud, and it just happens to be the right passage of Scripture, the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah, the great passage that predicts the coming of the Messiah, the suffering Savior. What magnificent timing!
There are many people in this world who are like this Ethiopian; they are looking for spiritual fulfillment, and we have what they are looking for. If we are willing to be obedient, God will lead us to them, or them to us.
When he does, we need to be sensitive to the person's condition as we share our faith. Notice how Philip approached the Ethiopian. He asked him a simple, non-threatening question: "Do you understand what you are reading?" Then, Philip let the Ethiopian talk. More importantly, he listened to the Ethiopian's response. Philip understood that sharing your faith is not confrontation, it's communication. We don't need to shout. We don't need to do all the talking. Sharing your faith involves give and take communication between two people.
Also, Philip answered the Ethiopian's questions. There are evangelism courses which teach NOT to answer questions. We were told, "Lost people will try to get you off the subject by asking questions. Don't answer them. Just say, I'll get to that in a minute; and go on with your presentation." How do you think that kind of sidestepping makes people feel? It makes them feel their questions are unimportant, and like the person doing the talking was more interested in getting through his spiel than addressing their concerns, and as if they were listening to a memorized sales pitch, not a heart-felt testimony.
We need to remember: we don't have a message to sell, we don't have a message to yell, we have a message to tell. We don't have to force it on anyone against their will. Witnessing is not like putting square pegs into round holes, trying to force something to happen that wasn't meant to happen. If we are willing to be obedient to the Lord in the area of evangelism , he will lead us to those who are ready to listen. Secondly, in order to share our faith effectively, we must:
Acts 8:30-35 (NKJV) So Philip ran to him, and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, "Do you understand what you are reading?" 31 And he said, "How can I, unless someone guides me?" And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 The place in the Scripture which he read was this: "He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; And as a lamb before its shearer is silent, So He opened not His mouth. 33 In His humiliation His justice was taken away, And who will declare His generation? For His life is taken from the earth." 34 So the eunuch answered Philip and said, "I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this, of himself or of some other man?" 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him.
What a marvelous place from which to preach the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ -- that his coming has solved the problem of man's guilt, man's sin -- it was laid on him. How this man must have rejoiced to have heard the story of Jesus, and of how this passage was fulfilled in him! Peter, using this same passage in Isaiah, proclaimed Christ's substitutionary death.
1 Peter 2:22-24 (NKJV) "Who committed no sin, Nor was deceit found in His mouth"; 23 who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously; 24 who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness; by whose stripes you were healed.
The apostle's message was Christ crucified.
1 Corinthians 1:21-23 (NKJV) For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. 22 For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; 23 but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness,
This is where the church has dropped the ball. We talk a lot these days about family values, taking a stand against abortion, voting the Republican ticket, boycotting Disney, and on and on; to the extent that we haven't clearly proclaimed the message that the church has been given to proclaim:
1 Timothy 1:15 (NKJV) This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.
A pastor from Texas tells a story about an evangelist he invited years ago to lead his church in revival. For the first three nights, the evangelist preached hard-hitting messages about the evils of communism. Each night when the invitation was given, no one came forward. Finally, the evangelist said, "I don't understand why people aren't responding to the invitation." The pastor said, "What do you expect them to do? Come down and join the FBI?"
Jesus is the focus of our message, not social issues. If we closed down every abortion clinic and adult book store in the country, the world would still be going to hell in a hand basket. The only way to make a difference that lasts forever is to proclaim the life-changing message of Christ crucified for our sins. That is our mission.
Does this mean Christians should ignore political and social issues? Of course not. We have a right, even a responsibility, to speak up and take part. But we must remember our mission is spiritual, not political. Our mission is to introduce people to Christ. We don't do that through hostile confrontation, but through loving communication. Thirdly, in order to effectively share our faith, we must:
Acts 8:36-37 (NKJV) Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" 37 Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God."
The Ethiopian made the decision. Philip didn't push him into it. In fact, Philip qualified the decision: he said, in effect, "There's no point in doing this unless you're serious about putting your faith in Christ." The Ethiopian assured Philip that he was serious. Baptism is an outward sign of an inward faith. This Ethiopian wanted to express his faith in Christ.
The principle we learn from this is that we must respect the fact that the individual must decide to trust Christ. As much as we may want to, we cannot make that decision for them. We can't smooth talk them into it, or bully them into it, or soft-sell them, or hard-sell them into it. Once we tell them the good news, we must leave the ball in their court and let them decide for themselves.
A Minister of Evangelism in a large church was responsible for visiting people in their home, persuading them to make a profession of faith, and getting them to sign a commitment card saying they would come to church the following Sunday. One evening, the minister of evangelism took an evangelism trainee with him. They went to visit a prospect. The pastor gave his presentation, the man made a profession and signed the card. After they left, the young trainee said, "That was amazing the way you led that man through the entire process. It was like he didn't even have a choice in the matter!" Those words haunted the pastor for a long time. He had to face the fact that it wasn't the gospel he was presenting to his prospects; it was a slick sales pitch designed to get them to sign a card and come to church. He knew that he wasn't really making a difference in people's lives. In fact, many of his "converts" never once came to church after making a profession of faith. He realized he was cheating people by not giving them a chance to respond for themselves.
We often present the gospel like John was presented his company pension plan. Everybody but John had signed up for a new company pension plan that required a small employee contribution. The company paid all the rest. Unfortunately, 100 percent employee participation was needed; otherwise the plan was off. John's boss and his fellow workers pleaded with him again and again, but to no avail. John said that the plan would never pay off. Finally, the company president called John into his inner office. The president said, "John, here's a copy of the new pension plan and here's a pen. Sign the papers now, or you're fired." John signed the papers immediately. The president asked, "Would you mind telling me why you didn't sign earlier?" John answered, "Nobody explained it to me so clearly before."
We cannot force people into trusting Christ. We have to let them make that decision themselves. What we can do is share with others what Jesus has done for us, and let them know how they, too, can have a relationship with him. If we give others a chance to respond to the gospel, and not just a slick sales pitch, they will experience the life-changing power of Jesus first hand.
We've got a story to tell the world. It's a message that truly can make a difference in people's lives, a difference that will last forever. For this reason, we must be careful in how we share our message. If we come across like religious bullies, we may drive people away and they'll never hear what we have to say. But if we don't take the initiative to tell others, how else will they hear the gospel? The only way we can achieve the right balance is to be obedient to share the gospel with those who are open, to focus on telling others about Jesus, and then let them respond. This is how Philip shared his faith with the Ethiopian. Philip teaches us that sharing our faith is not confrontation, it's communication. It's connecting with another person so that we can help them see their need to trust Christ.