Last week we learned that God has called us to mission, we are not on vacation. I suggested a vision for mission to help us fulfill what God has called us to. We were encouraged to continue involvement in mission beyond, to be active in mission projects nearby. And by the way, the Awana program is a part of that work and I appreciate their ministry of teaching the Word of God. Thank you for sharing with us this morning, we want to support this work. We were also challenged to seek God’s guidance as to how to reach the lost in Rosenort and also were encouraged to learn to share faith at our workplace.
I promised that I would follow up on the last item by talking about sharing Christ in the course of life - whether that be in the workplace or in business transactions or in relationships.
CBMC illus. P. 6
As much as we know that this is something that we need to do, many of us find it very difficult. We feel like the person in this picture. We may feel that we are too busy or we are so involved with Christians that we don’t get involved with those who don’t know the Lord or we are afraid that we will be rejected, or we will fail or we will be influenced by the world. We might be unsure of ourselves because we are afraid of our motives or we just don’t know how.
How can we overcome this reluctance?
This morning, I would like to share with you several principles of witness which come from the story of the conversion of the Ethiopian Eunuch through the witness of Philip in Acts 8:26-40.
Before we look at the principles and examine the story, we should probably think about who these people were. The story is about Philip. We first meet Philip in Acts 6, when the church chose seven men to help with the distribution of the food for the Greek speaking widows. Philip was one of the seven chosen. He is not the same Philip as the one who was one of the apostles, but has become known as Philip the evangelist. Then, we meet Philip again in Acts 8. He was the first one to go and preach the good news in the region of Samaria and brought the gospel to those people. Later in Acts, we meet him again. At that time, he lived in Caesarea, had four daughters who prophesied. From what we know of his life, we find that he was a man who was willing to offer himself to God to do whatever God wanted him to do. He had a servant heart.
The other person in this story is the Ethiopian. He is an interesting person. He was a eunuch and was a court official in charge of the treasury for Candace who was the ruling head of Ethiopia. It is not the modern Ethiopia, but a country just south of the first cataract on the Nile. It is likely that he had had contact with Jewish people because there were some who lived in Ethiopia. Through them, he had become interested in the Jewish religion and had become a God-fearing man. He had been to Jerusalem to worship there. The sad thing is that because he was a Gentile and because he was a eunuch (Deuteronomy 23:1), he could never expect full acceptance within the Jewish system, but that was about to change.
What can we learn about how to share faith from the story of how Philip shared faith and how the Ethiopian accepted Christ?
I. Trust God To Make Appointments
Last week we saw the mighty work of the Spirit in the work of evangelism. We learned that the Spirit empowers our words, directs contacts, convicts of sin and guides the church to its ministry.
When we talked about the idea of God leading us to an appointment, I used the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch. Let us examine this aspect in a little more detail.
The first thing we notice is that an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” God prompted Philip and basically said to him, “go for a walk.” He didn’t tell him where he would end up or what to do there, he just told him to go for a walk towards Gaza. Would you hear God speaking if He told you to go for a walk? Would you think it made sense? Would you do it?
As he was walking along the road, the Spirit of God once again spoke to Philip and told him, “go to that chariot and stay near it.” Once again God was at work prompting Philip to follow a particular course.
The work of the Spirit is seen once again in that Philip got near the chariot just as the eunuch was reading Isaiah 53. Should we see that as a coincidence? I don’t think so. I think that once again we see the leading of God in making an appointment. We don’t know how long Philip was walking along beside the chariot, but the way the story is written - that Philip ran up to it and that he heard the man reading - it all seems to be immediate. Once again, I believe the Spirit was at work.
The question is, is this normative or a one time experience? There are other places where such experiences are recorded. For example, when Paul wanted to go into Asia, but was prevented and was sent to Macedonia instead. Furthermore, when we understand that the Spirit is our guide, then we can expect that this is something that God’s Spirit does.
Under what conditions will God’s Spirit do that for us? One of the things we need to note in this story is that whatever God’s angel or his Spirit directed, was followed by Philip. The angel said, “go for a walk” and Philip went. When Philip went down this road, it was a road that took him into the wilderness a long way in the wrong direction. I can imagine that he might have thought, “What dangers await me there?” or “How will I get home?” But none of these things hindered him from obeying the voice of God. Sometimes we are reluctant to get involved because it might be a problem for us, but Philip was not concerned about that and God led him further. The Spirit said “go near that chariot” and Philip ran up to the chariot. The way to experience the guidance of the Spirit is to be willing to obey the voice of the Spirit.
Have you ever sensed a prompting of the Spirit of God? Have you obeyed that prompting? The key to receiving guidance is a willingness to obey the voice of the Spirit.
Recently someone challenged me with a very good thought. He expressed that he wanted to give all to God and not leave any area in his life which was his. As he shared this, I realized that there are times and places when I have not yielded to God fully, when perhaps I have not been open to his leading. I am quite open to his leading when I am “on duty” and in Rosenort, but sometimes when I am in Winnipeg or on vacation, then I sometimes have an attitude of “this is my time” and at least in my heart, I am not available. I have also appreciated the comments of people who have indicated that they are always looking for opportunities to be used of God wherever they are. Have we given our whole life to God? Are we open to the leading of the Spirit? Will we obey when he calls? If we can say yes to these questions, then I think that it is to be expected that the Spirit of God will lead us.
I found a story which was originally published in the Gospel Herald. “When the missionary Barnabas Shaw was forbidden to preach in Cape Town he decided not to leave Africa, but to push into the interior. He bought a yoke of oxen, put his wife and his goods into a wagon and started out, resolved to settle wherever he would be allowed to preach.
“So they journeyed for three hundred miles. Then while camping one night they discovered that a band of Hottentots were also camping nearby. In conversation with the leader, Shaw learned that the heathen were on their way to Cape Town to find a missionary. The similar meeting of Philip and the eunuch (Act 8:26–40) flashed through his mind, when he realized that God had been leading him where He wanted him to go.”
The first lesson we can learn from this story is that we need to look for the leading of the Spirit to guide us to the people he wants us to talk to. We need to be willing to obey the guidance of the Spirit.
II. Begin At Their Need
Sometimes we feel a certain pressure that we should be telling others about Jesus. As we feel this pressure, our agenda becomes doing something anything to get rid of the pressure of guilt to proclaim. What happens when we push our agenda instead of waiting for the Spirit to guide our conversation?
Little p. 45
Notice how Philip did it. The instruction of the Spirit of God was simply to go and walk beside the chariot. Is that important? I think it is very important. Our temptation is to rush into a situation with our agenda and our answers without ever listening to the questions that those who are lost may have. That the Spirit commanded Philip to walk alongside should encourage us to walk alongside as well.
As he walked alongside, he began to perceive what was going on in the heart of the Ethiopian. He noticed that he was reading and recognized that what he was reading was from Isaiah 53:7,8. It was not unusual in those days for people to read out loud for clarity of understanding. Then he asked a question of the Ethiopian, “do you understand what you are reading?” Philip respected the space of the Ethiopian and was sensitive to the work of the Spirit in him. To his question, the Ethiopian invited him up to explain the Scriptures because he did not understand and wanted to.
I think that this is a very important principle. Rather than rushing in with our agenda, we need to listen to people. This is a lot more work, but it also involves doing what God says in I Peter 3:15, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
At the mission conference we had last fall, I bought a book, Peaceable Witness Among Muslims, written by Gordon Nickel who is a missionary to Muslims. He says a lot of things that make a lot of sense in any kind of witnessing. In one place he says, “Believers who carry on nothing beyond a monologue appear to lack humility. Witness must not be a one way street.” In another place he quotes Hendrik Kraemer “The best method for gospel witness, he wrote, is ‘direct personal contact and study of the Bible in a spirit of human sympathy and openness.” He urged Christians in such relationships to treat their Muslim friends not as non-Christians but rather as fellow human beings with the same fundamental needs, aspirations, and frustrations.” What a wonderful concept. Rather than treating the lost as projects or projecting superiority over them because they are lost and we are found, we need to treat them as people and listen to them in order to be able to speak the gospel to their needs. This is not the easy way, but is the way of respect and the way of the Spirit.
In an evangelism course called “Lifestyle Evangelism” this principle is taught and illustrated in this way. CBMC p. 14. In the first illustration little time is spent listening and the resulting harvest is unstable. On the other hand, with a lot of cultivating, the harvest is much more sure. See also p.16.
The second principle of lifestyle witness is to walk alongside those who are lost.
III. It’s About Jesus
Because Philip listened, it was the Ethiopian who asked the next question. He cared about what he was reading but was also puzzled about it and so asked, “who is the prophet talking about?”
If Philip was a good theologian, he could have spent a lot of time speculating about all the possibilities. Although to us it seems obvious, in the time before Jesus, there were all kinds of theories about who this passage was about. It could have been Isaiah himself or Israel or some other person. Even today scholars have all kinds of ideas about who the suffering servant was. However, Philip did not engage in any of these speculations. He got right down to the business which was most precious to him and which answered more than the curiosity question or the theological question, but the question on the Ethiopian’s heart. Philip got right down to speaking about Jesus. Verse 35 says that he “told him the good news about Jesus.”
What a great lesson for us. So often, it is easy to get side tracked. When we have opportunity to speak to a lost person, we are tempted and often yield to the temptation to talk about morality. We discuss with them, or point out to them that smoking is wrong, drinking is wrong or that they really shouldn’t swear. But these are not the issues. People who are lost need to know how they can be found. They do not need us to point out and discuss sin, they need to know Jesus.
Sometimes we are tempted to talk about church. I have so often asked people “what church do you attend?” I have thought that that will perhaps open a door to the gospel, but it seldom does. The issue is not which church a person attends, the problem is that they don’t know Jesus.
I have also at times been tempted to debate various theological issues. Arguments for the existence of God, creationism, the work of the Holy Spirit are all debates which I have had with people which have not led to anything. The issue is not theology, the issue is that people need to know Jesus.
John Stott wrote in Christianity Today, “So much so-called "testimony" today is really autobiography and even sometimes thinly disguised self-advertisement, that we need to regain a proper biblical perspective. All true testimony is testimony to Jesus Christ, as he stands on trial before the world.”
To speak about Jesus means that we need to know Him and know Him well. We need to know him not only with our heads, but by experience. We need a living relationship with Him. It is in a living relationship in which we truly love him that we will be able to speak authentically and honestly about him.
Because Philip obeyed as God guided the appointment, walked alongside the Ethiopian and pointed to Jesus, he had success in his witness. Success in witness is not always a conversion. Sometimes it is simply moving a person closer to Jesus. In this case, however, success was conversion, baptism and that he continued on his way rejoicing. When Philip’s work was done, God literally picked him up and put him down someplace else some distance away. When they invented “beam me up Scotty” in Star Trek they thought they had something new, but God had already done this before, like in this case. From Azotus, where God placed him, Philip did not go on a Mediterranean holiday. He continued to do the work of an evangelist and preached the gospel all the way up to Caesarea.
Philip is known as an evangelist. God had given him that gift. Whether we have the gift of evangelism or not, however, we can all adopt these principles. This morning, I would like to share a practical concept with you that takes into account these ideas. We learned it at the ministerial retreat back in November and I was encouraged by Frank and others that we should teach this in our church. It is called the 4x4 principle. The principle is in your bulletin.
1. Ask God to reveal four people who are lost whom He will bring into your life. This is based on the principle of God making the appointments. There is space for four names.
2. Pray for those four people on a regular basis. Although people need to make their own decision, the Bible does say that no one comes to the Father unless the Father draws him. We need to pray that the Father will draw them.
3. Find a way of connecting with those four people socially. In other words, walk with them. Whether you have them over for a BBQ or go to a game or a concert, get into their world so that you can understand them and love them.
4. Speak to them about Christ as the Holy Spirit guides you. Let God’s Spirit guide you to speak, not about religion or morality, but about Jesus and what he means to you.
I would encourage all of you to adopt this 4x4 principle and let us see what God will do. May God bless as you fulfill the mission He has given you.