Monday, February 6, 2012

Break Down Barriers

Spirit & Truth # 260
“Break Down Barriers”

By Greg Smith

            Even the briefest look at statistics and trends in the American church makes believers sit up and take notice.  Many denominations report declines in attendance, giving, converts, and ordinations.  All indicators show that somewhere along the way the church has fallen down on our mission.  In Acts 1:8 (NIV), Jesus said, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”  Yet, many believers have quit advancing the gospel beyond the borders of their own comfort zones.  Their lack of spiritual power has resulted in the church’s decline across our country.
"Baptism of the Eunuch" by Rembrandt.  1626.
            Philip the Evangelist, deacon of the church, is a good example of what Christians need to do in order to turn the trends around.  In Acts 8:26-40, Philip demonstrated a willingness to go wherever the Holy Spirit lead him.  Even though he didn’t know the full extent of his mission, he followed God’s leadership to a desert road in Samaria where he met a traveler who turned missions work on its ear.  Philip had to learn to be innovative in his approach to sharing the gospel.  He had to learn to break down barriers of all kinds, in order to bring the lost to Jesus.
            First, Philip broke down racial barriers.  Though Philip was Jewish and the traveler was Ethiopian, the deacon shared his faith with him.
            Second, the evangelist tore through the obstacle of language.  Perhaps it was a miracle like in Acts chapter two, or maybe the two muddled through their dialectic differences.  But Philip didn’t let language obstruct his witness.
            Third, Philip overcame the obstacle of income.  While he was a common man, the traveler was likely dripping with gold—a court official to the Ethiopian queen.  But socioeconomic disparities meant nothing to Philip when it came to sharing his faith.
            Fourth, the deacon ignored denominational differences.  The Ethiopian was likely a Jew (there are many Jews in Ethiopia), but his brand of Judaism would have been quite different from the Judean faith of Philip.  Philip put these differences aside, because he didn’t want them to impede his witness.
            Fifth, Philip set aside the revulsion that may have come to him when he realized that the man was a eunuch.  Even though his culture dictated ostracism, Philip didn’t let the sexual condition of his audience even factor in, when he decided to befriend him.  All he knew was that the man needed Jesus.  And Philip was willing to share.
            Sixth, Philip did not let his own politics impede his witness.  Though there were political difference between Israel and Ethiopia, Philip didn’t let this come between them. 
            When you form relationships, chances are you make friends who are very much like yourself in terms of race, language, income, religion, sexual orientation, and politics.  This is natural, as we naturally gravitate towards people who share our own affinities.  But if the church is to reverse the trends of the past few decades—if we are going to reach beyond the borders of our own comfort zones—we are going to have to follow the example of Philip.  Rather than keeping our witness to our “Jerusalem,” we’re going to have to break down our man-made barriers in order to take the gospel to Samaria and to the ends of the earth.

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