By Pastor Glenn Pease
James McGinley had a woman come forward in one of his meetings, and he took her into the counseling room and shared the Gospel with her, and then he prayed. She then asked him what he thought about a Protestant marrying a Catholic. He said it can often be very difficult for both, and he asked her why she asked him that. She told him that her boyfriend was out in the audience, and that she wanted to leave her husband and two children to marry him, but thought she should get converted first. She wanted Christ to okay her sinful decision, and put His stamp of approval on it, so she would be off the hook. She did not want freedom from her sin, but freedom from the guilt of it.
People want Jesus to save them from the consequences of their sin, but they do not want to be His disciples. They are not looking for a commitment, but just an easy way out. Almost everybody in evangelism can tell stories of people who come forward to be delivered from the messes their sins have created, but who have no intent on becoming followers of Christ. They don't want in on anything, they just want out of something that is a problem. They are like fish who want the bait, but when they see they are hooked and being taken out of their environment, they resist like mad. If they can dive into the reeds and create a slack in the line so they can snap it, they can escape, and that is what they do. They want what they can get out of Christ, but they don't want to be taken captive by Christ.
Fishing is full of problems because the fish have a different agenda than the fishermen, and so it is with fishing for men. We need to face this reality up front, for those who go with the illusion that fish love to be taken out of the water and into the boat will soon be disillusioned by discovering that sinners often fight to stay in the kingdom of darkness, and resist coming into the kingdom of light. The Christian has to recognize that evangelism has many of the same problems as fishing, and you need to know, not only a lot about bait, but about how to be patient, and how to let the hooked fish run and feel free at times, and other times to keep the tension on. Fishing for men is sometimes as easy as catching fish, and sometimes it is as hard, and we have to be prepared to deal with the problems.
If Jesus would have wanted us to think it was a snap to make disciples, He would not have made it a point to call attention to the problems of evangelism. Problems are a part of life, and there is no escape, even when you are doing what most pleases God. This whole account in John 4 is problem oriented. Jesus was at the well in Samaria because of a problem. He had to get out of Judea because of the opposition of the Pharisees. If He had no problems, He probably would not have there in the first place. But Jesus never let a problem blind Him to opportunity. He never would have been in the world if it was not for a problem, that men are lost without a Savior.
I. The first problem of evangelism is that we let problems blind us to opportunity.
Most of us go through life thinking that problems are obstacles to our being a witness for Christ. The fact is, most people only come to Christ because of some problem. Problems are what open people up to hear the good news. They only feel the need of it when they have a problem. You problems should make you sensitive to the problems of others. Every interruption and foul up in our life's plan should open your eyes to see it as an opportunity to touch another life.
Jesus was being rejected by the leaders of Israel, and now He sees a woman at the well at noon, and He know she is a woman who has suffered much rejection. He has the same problem she has. He has been rejected by the people that should love Him, and she has been rejected by five husbands. A common problem has brought these two together. If Jesus would not have been rejected He would not be in Samaria at this point, and if she had not been rejected by her husbands, she would never have been here at noon. She would have come with the other women in the cool of the day.
Problems are not always barriers to evangelism, but are often the reason there is an opportunity for evangelism. We need to stop seeing problems as only problems, and see them as opportunities. The early Christians did this, there is a fascinating parallel to John 4 in Acts 8. There was great persecution in Jerusalem, and many of the Christians had to flee. Acts 8:1 says the Apostles stayed in Jerusalem, but the lay people scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Verse 4 says they preached the Word wherever they went, and then it tells of how Philip went to Samaria and had a great ministry. It is almost a rerun of John 4. The problems of Christians led to great blessing and evangelism for the people in Samaria.
The lesson is clear. People with an eye for evangelism do not see problems in their lives, or the lives of others, as obstacles, but as opportunities. We need to see every problem as a door of opportunity to touch some life that we could never touch had the problem not taken us in a new direction that led us to cross their path. Jim Spady, a missionary in Nigaria, was interrupted one day by shouts that an elephant was coming. It was rare in those parts, and so everybody, including the police, were running to see. It was learned that the beast had escaped from a reserve area the day before. And it
had killed a man. The police began to fire and it ran at them, and Jim found himself up a tree with many others. The police lined up and fired together, and the elephant dropped. One of the policeman was injured in this dangerous situation, and was taken to the hospital.
The missionary visited him, gave him a New Testament, and to make a long story short, this Muslim policeman came to Christ.
Had this problem, that brought them together, ever happen, there's not likely any way he would have witnessed to this man. The problem, however, provided a way by which they could share, and because he used the problem to this end, he won a man to Christ. So it was with the woman at the well, and so it is with millions who come into the kingdom of God because of Christians who see problems as opportunities, rather than obstacles. Man an injured Christian has ended up in the hospital where they witnessed to others, and turned mutual tragedy into mutual triumph.
If you have got a problem, be aware of the people it may bring you into contact with, and be alert to how your problem may be the providence of God in opening up a door of opportunity to witness. If you see the problems of others, do not only sympathize, but look for a chance to evangelize. This does not mean you pounce on others when they are down, and force yourself on them. It means you graciously open the door to help them see their greatest need is Christ. Every problem in life can be a fragment of the will of God, and a light beckoning us to go in a certain direction, and find in it an opportunity to touch some life for Christ.
II. The second problem in evangelism is blindness of the prospects for evangelism.
People can die of thirst with the water of life at their finger tips. Jesus said to the Samaria woman in verse 10, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is who asks you for a drink, you would have asked Him and He would have given you living water." Jesus is saying, everything you have ever searched for is yours for the asking, but in your ignorance, you blindly walk right pass the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. The providence of God has presented you with the winning ticket to the greatest prize ever given-eternal life. But you are so hung up on this Jew-Samaritan prejudice, you are letting it slip through your fingers.
She didn't know she was conversing with the Messiah, and people just do not realize that when they hear the Gospel they are being offered the greatest opportunity of their life. Fortunately, Jesus did not just say, you are right lady, I as a Jew should not be asking a Samaritan for a drink, and then just let her go away. The story would be one of the great tragedy of the New Testament, just like that of the rich young ruler, had that been the case. Jesus does not let her go, but keeps the conversation going until the light breaks through her darkness. If people are blind to the value of what can be theirs in Christ, you have to be persistent in your presentation if you expect to see them enlightened.
If you are going to let the blindness, the stubbornness, and the prejudice of the sinner cause you to give up, you will not pursue many people for very long. Your chances of being an effective fisher of men will be about as slim as your chance of catching fish by their leaping into your boat. It is because sinners are blind to the wealth you offer them, that you need to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves. Because of the problem of blindness, and all sorts of negative feelings on the part of the lost, the Christlike witness needs to develop tact. Tact is the discernment of what is appropriate to do so say in dealing with others. It is the ability to be delicate and sympathetic, even in difficult situations, so as not to give offense.
No where do we see Jesus as the Master of tact more effective than here in John 4. He knew this woman's past, and her present violation of the law of God. He could have taken a totally different approach to her. He could have said, don't you dare question my asking you for a drink, and pretend that you are somehow bound by such drivel as the prejudice between Jew and Samaritan. You care nothing for the law of God, and you defy it by your life style, which deserves more severe judgment than the isolation you receive from your community. You deserve the flames of hell where there will be no well, and not a drop of water to cool the tongue of the likes of you.
This approach would not be theologically incorrect, but by no stretch of the imagination would it be good news. We need to constantly remind ourselves of the distinction between the Gospel and judgment. The Gospel is good news, and judgment is the result of rejecting the good news. Too often Christians what to get right to part 2, and skip past the good news, and just pronounce judgment on the sinner. This was not the approach of Jesus. He offered the sinner good news first, and only after the light was rejected, did He warn of judgment. Judgment is not the Gospel.
This woman had already been through much judgment, as she had likely been through 5 divorces. She had been proclaimed an unfit wife, and suffered, who knows how much, public condemnation. A person like her would be very sensitive to criticism. Jesus knew that, and so He is extremely tactful with her. This is a key element in overcoming the problem of the blindness of the sinner in evangelism. Jesus approaches her in a spirit of need and humility, and not a spirit of superiority. In human warfare you want your opponent to think you are stronger than they are, and so you make a show of force to impress them with your superiority. In spiritual warfare, where you are trying to invade the kingdom of darkness and set its captives free, you reverse that psychology. You come in weakness and try to make your opponent feel superior, or at least, equal to you.
You do not intimidate, but you eliminate any reason for provoking their defenses. You do not want their guard to go up, but to come down, and the only way to do this is to approach them without an air of superiority, but one of humility. Jesus said, I need your help to get a drink. He did not say I am the Messiah woman, get me a drink! He put her in control by asking her to help Him. She could respond to His need, or reject it. She was not threatened by Jesus, for she was in a position to threaten Him, and say get your own drink.
So often we are afraid to witness because we feel we have to be superior to those we witness to. In reality, we will be effective only when we make them feel equal to us, or even superior. This is a New Testament principle. Listen to Paul in Phil. 2:3, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves." Anybody can do this if they will, but we tend to be too proud to do it. But in the context, Paul says Jesus is the best example of this, and we see it here in John 4. J. C. Macaulay in his book Personal Evangelism wrote, "We must rid our minds of any sense of superiority. If that exists, it cannot be hidden, and we are defeated before we begin. No man is going to accept our superiority, not even the derelict on skid row."
He tells of Evangeline Booth, of Salvation Army Fame. She always looked for something in others she could affirm, even if it was only that they were superior to her in their knowledge of sin. That is why she won so many to Christ. We tend to think we have to impress the sinner with how great we are, when in reality, we have to impress them with how valuable they are. Jesus said to this woman, if you would have asked I would have given you living water. This is pure grace and unconditional love, as you will find it no where in the Bible more clearly. Jesus did not say to her, if you give up the man you are living with, and beg for mercy, I'll see what I can do to reduce your judgment. He said to her, eternal life is just waiting for you for the asking. There is not one iota of law here. This is grace as pure as it comes.
This is how Jesus penetrates the blindness of the sinner. He does not treat her like dirt as the Pharisees did, nor does he come demanding all kinds of reformations before they qualify for His love. He comes saying you are somebody, somebody I even need, and you are so loved and valued that I will give you all that anyone could ever hope to receive to quench their thirst for love and meaning, and it is yours just for the asking.
It is a strange paradox that the saint and the sinner have some of the same fears. The saint is fearful because they feel weak and inadequate, and so full of need themselves. They are afraid to be exposed as needy people, and so they hold back in their witness, lest it be thrown in their face-physician heal thyself. The sinner, on the other hand, is also fearful of being exposed. They do not want to have their sin and failure known. They want to put on a good front so as to be acceptable.
Jesus is the example of how to solve both of these problems. First of all, the Christian needs to stop pretending they are not needy. He had needs, and did not hesitate to let it be known to the prospect. Keith Miller made a great breakthrough in the Christian world when he demanded that Christians quit playing the game of pretending they do not have problems. The common testimony use to be, I had a life of problems, and then I accepted Jesus, and now my problems are gone. He challenged that fantasy with the facts. He had plenty of problems before his conversion, but he also had plenty of them after, and he found this to be true of the Christians he knew. Assurance of eternal life in Christ did not solve all his problems. He was still selfish, proud, resentful, lustful, and all sorts of sub-Christian things. He was saved, and he loved the Lord, but he was far from problem free.
What he discovered was that this was not a liability but an asset in witnessing, for it was his problems that enabled the lost to identify with him, and have hope that they could still be saved, even with a host of problems. Not many people can identify with a problem free life, and so don't pretend you have one. Let your problems and needs be evident, and you will be a more effective witness. That is what Jesus did with the woman at the well.
The second thing He did was to help her overcome her pride. Pride is what makes us hide our problems. Jesus let her know very tactfully that He knew all about her shady past, and sordid present, and yet He did not reject her. He had already told her He was willing to give her living water. He had already made it clear she was a candidate to receive His best gift. You and I cannot know people as Jesus knew this woman. We do not know their hurts and how much rejection they have experienced, and how much failure they have survived. But we can still let people know that even if we knew the worst about them, our goal is not to hurt, but to help them, and heal them.
This woman was damaged goods, but Jesus made it clear she had nothing to fear, for even though He knew the worst side of her story, He intended to offer her a solution to her deepest need. The best counselors; the best Christian friends; the best soul-winners, and disciple makers, are people who can convey to sinners the message that nothing I can know about you will alter my determination to help you find God's best. The best and most loving Christian witness is one where you acknowledge problems, and use them to so relate to the lost, that they become an aid to bringing the lost to finding a solution to their greatest problem-the living water, the Lord Jesus Christ.