Someone sent me an email recently about three sisters who were all in their nineties and lived together.
One day the oldest filled up the bathtub. She put one foot in the water, paused, and then called downstairs to her sisters, “Am I getting in the tub or out of the tub?”
The middle sister started up the stairs to help, paused, and then called back downstairs, “Was I going up or coming down?”
The youngest sister, who was sitting at the kitchen table having tea, said, “I guess I’ll have to help. I hope I never get that forgetful!” and she knocked on wood.
She got up, paused, and then called upstairs, “I’ll be there as soon as I see who’s at the door!”
A recent survey asked Christian people who were ninety-five years or older what they’d do differently if they could live their lives over. Here are their top three changes:
1. They’d reflect more. They would spend more time getting away from the daily grind in order to thoughtfully examine the direction and meaning of their lives.
2. They’d risk more. These elderly people made it clear that they’d be more courageous about stepping out of their comfort zones. In short, they’d pray the Prayer of Jabez and ask God to burst their boundaries on a daily basis.
3. They’d invest in eternity. Instead of just focusing on the here-and-now, they’d share the gospel more often.
During this series we’ve learned that there are three different stages of evangelism: cultivating, planting and reaping. Last week we introduced the idea that God has given each of us different evangelistic styles. It takes all kinds of Christians to reach all kinds of non-Christians. All people cannot witness the same way, but all people can witness some way.
During this section of our series we’re looking at the ways God equipped six people in the New Testament to fulfill different outreach needs. Last week we focused on Peter. Today we’ll study two more approaches – that of Paul in Acts 17 and the Blind Man in John 9.
Paul’s Intellectual Approach
The hallmark of Paul’s style was his logical and well-reasoned presentation of the gospel message. The Book of Romans is a great example of how his mind works.
Can you think of a better person for God to send to the Athenian philosophers in Acts 17? These intellectual heavyweights would not have related well to Peter’s “turn-or-burn” approach. They needed logic that conclusively proved its point. Because of that he reasoned with them. Paul’s audience was probably more like our society than Peter’s was.
The men of Athens were happy to see Paul because they loved to argue about new ideas. To them a good day always included some type of philosophical discussion.
Acts 17:16 tells us that when Paul saw the city, he was “greatly distressed.” This literally means that he was provoked by a storm of protest within his inner being. Instead of leaving town or complaining to the officials, verse 17 shows us that he went to work. He spent time both in the religious centers and in the marketplace. The text says that he did it every day. We see in verse 18 that some philosophers eventually wanted to debate with him.
These intellectuals eventually brought Paul before the Supreme Court of Athens and asked him to explain his beliefs. This is one of the most dramatic scenes in the entire New Testament. Standing on their turf, at their invitation, he starts where they are and uses this opportunity to preach the gospel to them. Like Ravi Zacharias addressing people with their PhDs, Josh McDowell speaking to university students, or Lee Strobel logically presenting the truths of Christianity to atheists, Paul tangled with a group of intellectual giants.
There are at least four principles from Paul’s style that we can apply today.
1. Be Courteous.
If we want to follow Paul’s lead, the first thing we need to do is to be considerate and civil. Look at verse 22: Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious…”
What a great approach! Paul started right where his listeners were. He didn’t denounce them or attack their idolatry. In fact, he paid them a compliment. He basically said, “As I’ve been walking around your city, I’ve noticed one thing about you: You guys are really into religion.”
2. Build Connections.
In the first part of verse 23 we see that Paul looked for ways to establish some common ground with his listeners. First he was courteous, and in this way he broke down barriers; then he built bridges to the heart of his audience by finding ways to connect with them.
Notice verse 23: “For as I walked around and observed your objects of worship, I found even an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD…” Paul was out where the people lived and worked. This is important for several reasons. First, it would tell the Athenians that Paul had taken the time to get to know their city. This is a key principle, isn’t it? You’ve got to get to know people if you want to talk to them intelligently. Second, this statement tells us that Paul found a natural point of contact. As he walked around, he looked for connectors, or bridges, from their world to the gospel.
In verse 28, we see that Paul quotes their own poets to make his point. This is pretty cool. Because of his audience, Peter quoted the prophets. Because of Paul’s listeners, he quoted poetry. People who use this evangelistic style understand the importance of connecting with their listeners.
3. Be Courageous.
I want you to notice how bold Paul was in verses 23-30. Look at the last part of verse 23: “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.” The phrase “something unknown” really means “in ignorance.” It’s as if he is saying, “You admit there is a God you don’t know. I happen to know that God and I’m going to tell you about Him.”
This is tremendous evangelistic strategy. How could they be offended when he starts by quoting the inscription from one of their own altars and by recounting what their own poets have said? By admitting there is more to God than they know, they have opened the door for Paul to preach the gospel boldly.
In verses 24-25, Paul gives them a theology lesson, courageously speaking of God as the Creator and the Giver of all things. He then establishes the fact that God is near enough for us to reach out to Him so that we can find what we’re looking for. Verse 30 shows us the depth of Paul’s courage: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” Like Peter, he’s not afraid to bring it on!
4. Be Christ-Centered.
It’s not enough to just be nice and spend time with people. It’s not enough to just argue philosophy. Nor is it enough to just be bold. We must look for ways to talk about Jesus. Those with the intellectual style of evangelism are masters at communicating Christ in a relevant way.
Look at verse 31: “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.” Paul did not hold back from speaking of an inescapable day of judgment. He did not shrink from speaking the truth about the resurrection of Jesus, even though he knew that many of his listeners would not want to hear it.
If this is your preferred approach, then as God gives you opportunity, speak boldly for Christ. Tell people about His death so they understand that Jesus died in their place and that they can be forgiven for all the sins they have committed. Tell them about His resurrection so that that they can have hope for eternity. Tell them about the love and peace and joy that will be theirs once they surrender to Christ.
There were three reactions to Paul’s intellectual reasoning of the gospel that day. In verse 32 we read that some were contemptuous. Others were curious and wanted to hear more. Verse 34 tells us that a number of others were convinced.
Friends, this is what we can expect when we’re involved in the lives of lost people. Some will mock us. Others will be curious and ask questions. And some will become convinced and commit themselves to Christ.
Here are some of the traits normally found in people who use the intellectual approach:
• Analytical and Logical
• Enjoy debating
There are also some “blind spots” or cautions that you should be aware of:
• Avoid getting stuck on academic points.
• Remember that attitude is as important as information.
• Be careful about becoming argumentative.
The Blind Man’s Testimonial Approach
While both Peter and Paul used arguments and logic, though from different starting points and with different audiences in mind, the Blind Man from John 9 took an entirely different approach. In John 9:25 we see that the man refused to enter into a theological debate with the religious leaders, though Paul would have been thrilled to offer them a few compelling arguments. He also steered away from confrontation, whereas Peter might have given them a shot of truth. The confrontational and intellectual approaches didn’t fit this guy.
As Jesus walks along the road, He sees a man who has been blind since he was born. In verse 2, the disciples see a theological puzzle. They want to talk about the causes of his blindness while Jesus focuses their attention to the purpose of his suffering in verse 3 saying: “…this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”
The disciples were looking backwards when they wanted to know what sin caused the blindness. But Jesus looks forward to this man’s potential, helping the disciples to see that his blindness: “…happened with a purpose so that God’s works could be put on display in his life.”
Using his own spit and the dust of the ground, verse 6 tells us that Jesus made some mud and put it on the man’s eyes. He then told the man to wash himself in the Pool of Siloam. The blind man obeyed and went back home seeing. His new testimony and appearance caused shock and excitement when his neighbors saw him. This miracle had created a change in his entire being. Many didn’t even recognize him!
As we walk through the rest of this story, I want you to how this man uses his own personal testimony of God’s work in his life to tell others about Jesus and I want you to consider how you can do the same.
The first thing we see in verse 8 is that this man was different. His life no longer looked the same. His neighbors were so dumbstruck that they weren’t even sure it was the same man. But in verse 9 the formerly blind man declares that he’s still the same man. Perhaps some of you, when you gave your life to Christ, were so changed that your friends didn’t even know who you were anymore. Maybe it was your language that changed, or your choice of entertainment, or your attitude, but when Jesus got ahold of you He changed you.
The second thing we see is that the many simply told his story and gave Jesus all the credit. When his friends asked how this change took place, he told them in verse 11 that Jesus had healed him. He didn’t know how or why or even who exactly Jesus was, but he knew his life had been changed.
For those of you who want to share your faith but you have this nagging fear that people will ask you questions you don’t know the answer to, this next verse will encourage you. We see in verse 12 that they asked him a simple question (“Where is this man?”) and the man didn’t know. Later on in the passage we’ll see him bombarded with more questions by the Pharisees and his constant response is “I don’t know! I just know that I was blind, and now I can see!”
1 Peter 3:15 commands us to always be prepared to give an answer for the hope that we have and that’s easy – it’s Jesus! And that’s about all this man could tell anyone. He didn’t know the answer to hardly anything, but he knew that his healing and his hope came through Jesus and so he just kept pointing to Him. Likewise, that’s the main thing you need to do – just point others to Jesus.
Verse 13 tells us that this man was “brought” to the Pharisees. These religious leaders have been watching Jesus and were looking for an opportunity to attack Him. They pulled out their policy manual to see if they could trip Him up. When they hear that the healing happened on the Sabbath, they think they have Jesus right where they want Him. So they begin peppering this man with questions about exactly what went down between he and Jesus and this is really where we see him share his own personal testimony.
They asked him how he had received his sight and he told them, “He (Jesus) put mud on my eyes and I washed, and now I see.” Then they asked the man’s opinion of Jesus and he told them that he thought Jesus was a prophet.
They didn’t like his answer, so they called in his parents, who were too scared to even have their own son’s back, so the Pharisees went back to the man again in verse 24 and tried to convince him that Jesus was a sinner. To this the man replied once again with his own experience saying, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
Over and over this man refuses to argue or debate, he simply uses the opportunities he’s given to share his opinion and his personal experience with Jesus. This is something that EVERYONE can (and should) do.
Next we see the man face extreme pressure and disrespect, but he remains strong and responds with faith and even worship. In verse 26 the Pharisees ask him a third time what Jesus did to him. When he answered they hurled insults at him. When the healed man pointed out that they didn’t even have the power to find Jesus, yet Jesus had the power to heal a man who had been blind from birth they were irate and they mocked him some more and then excommunicated him from the temple.
Strangely enough, it wasn’t the bold and confrontational Peter or the intellectual debater Paul that faced persecution in these examples, it was the humble and gentle blind man who simply told others about his experience with Jesus. The fact is that Jesus told us the world would not like His followers. We will face rejection occasionally, but remember: this world is not your home! This is not where you belong! We’re just passing through on our way to an eternity of peace and joy with God. Also, the least we can do is stand up for Jesus since He gave His life for us. It is an honor and a privilege to be a witness for Him and we must be prepared to do so at all costs.
A Style for Everyone
While a small percentage of us are comfortable with the confrontational and intellectual approaches, every one of us can and should utilize the testimonial style. If you’re saved, you can say so. If you’ve been born again, you can tell about your new birth. If the Savior has touched you, you can testify about it.
Some of you may be afraid to say anything about the Lord because you think you’ll be dragged into a theological argument. Learn from the man who was once blind. He didn’t worry about what he couldn’t answer. He simply testified to what He had seen and knew to be true. We’re not expected to teach theology, we’re asked to bear witness of our relationship with Christ.
You are the greatest authority on what has happened to you. As someone has said, “A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with only an argument.” When you stand on your experience no one can deny what the Lord has done in your life. You are a positive, powerful witness for Christ.
Here are some common traits of those who use the testimonial approach:
• Good listener
• Overwhelmed by grace
Here are some cautions to keep in mind:
• Relate your experience to the listener’s life
• Keep Christ and the Gospel message central
We often think of the testimonial approach as only focused on telling our conversion story. But it actually can be used in a variety of ways. As you look for natural ways to talk about what Jesus is doing in your life, God will use you to make an eternal impact in the lives of others.
We are not all called to share Christ the same way, but we are all called to share in some way.
Do not waste this temporary, earthly life that God has given you.
Commit today to be an effective and intentional witness for Him.