Last week I walked into the wrong room in the hospital. The person I was going to see was in room 400, but I had gone into room 401. The usual reaction upon realizing the mistake might have been to say, “Sorry,” excuse myself, and go to the right room. But I’m not a usual person. When I realized my mistake, I admitted what I’d done but then introduced myself as a local pastor. I asked, “Is there anything you need, while I’m here?”
“Just pray for me,” he said. He told me about his health problem and said, “Yesterday, I thought I was going to go down there.” He pointed to the ground with his thumb.
“Tell me what you mean,” I said.
“The grave,” he said, “or worse.”
I knew where he was going, but asked anyway. “What could be worse than the grave?”
“Going to Hell,” he said.
“Tell me about that,” I said. “Do you think you’re going to Hell when you die?”
“Probably so,” he said. He told me he believed that when you die, God puts all your good deeds on one side of a scale, and measures them against your sins on the other side. “If your good deeds outweigh your sins, you’re saved,” he told me. That started a long conversation about his spiritual condition, and just how it is that we can be saved. I explained to him that none of us escapes Hell because we’re good enough. We’re saved because Jesus is good enough to give us His eternal life. It was a good conversation—and even though it made me late for the visit I had intended to make, it was worth it. I call it a “divine appointment.”
In Acts 8:25-40, we read about a divine appointment kept by Deacon Philip, who God used as an evangelist. But before we get into that, we need to admit that many Christians are reluctant to share their faith. Some are afraid that they won’t know all the answers—and they might be right about that! Far too many Christians are biblically illiterate. Others think that they’ll look like hypocrites. They’re definitely right about that! Still others don’t want to appear intrusive or bigoted against non-Christians. Many people want to leave it to the professionals. One survey by Dr. Bill Bright of Campus Crusade for Christ reports that 98% of Christians do not share their faith on a regular basis.[i] Another Gallup poll confirms this figure.[ii] If we take salvation seriously, and if we believe in a place called Hell, then we ought to figure out how we can break this fear of witnessing. We need to quit worrying that we’ll do more harm than good, or fearing a negative reaction. Let’s look at what Philip did to share his faith, and see how we can do the same.
Before he even met the court treasurer, Philip had to locate him. To do so, he had to obey God’s instructions. Not all of us can have appointments commanded by an angel like Philip did—but we can be sensitive to the “accidental” divine appointments that are all around us. Philip could have ignored the call to the Gaza Road. I could have simply excused myself and found Room 400. Finding your audience means being willing to be late, inconvenienced, or distracted by those who may take up your time. Just think of how many people could come into the Kingdom if more Christians just made the time and followed God’s leadership. So, once Philip found his audience, what did he do to lead him to Jesus? I wrote about this in 2002:
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, Philip set aside his judgment regarding the man’s sexual identity. Even though his culture dictated that eunuchs be ostracized, 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.
Fifth, 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.
Sixth, 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. When the new convert asked, “What prevents me from being baptized?” the answer Philip gave was, “Nothing.” We set all kinds of denominational and ecclesiological boundaries on things like this, but Philip’s answer was one of immediate inclusion, regardless of whether it was liturgically correct.[iii]
Not all of us are called to be evangelists like Philip. Some are servants, like Jesus’ friend Martha. Others are intellectual, like Paul who debated theology in the synagogues. Some can give testimonies about what Jesus has done for them. Others use their gift of hospitality to create a safe environment for people to hear about Jesus. Some are great at inviting people to church, while others have their own unique style of evangelism.
What’s your unique style of evangelism? There is no right or wrong way to share your faith. Well—maybe there is a wrong way. Timothy K. Jones writes: “D.L. Moody once spoke with a woman who didn't like his method of evangelism. ‘I don't really like mine all that much either. What's yours?’ She replied that she didn't have one. Moody said, ‘Then I like mine better than yours.’"[iv] Whatever your method is, you need to have one. Unlike Philip, God doesn’t call us all to Samaria. But just like him, the Lord calls us all to actively share our faith.
[i] Bill Bright, president of Campus Crusade for Christ, quoted in Why Christians Sin, J.K. Johnston, Discovery House, 1992, p. 140. http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/w/witnessing.htm. June 11, 2015.
[ii] J.K. Johnston, Why Christians Sin, Discovery House, 1992, p. 140. http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/w/witnessing.htm. June 11, 2015.
[iii] Smith, Greg. Spirit & Truth # 260: “Break Down Barriers.” February 6, 2012. http://revgregsmith.blogspot.com/search?q=Break+Down+Barriers. This quoted passage has been revised by the author, June 11, 2015.
[iv] http://www.sermonillustrations.com/a-z/w/witnessing.htm. June 11, 2015.