We share Jesus out of love. It was C.S. Lewis who said: “Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.” Christianity is of course of infinite importance to the Christian, and so too, then, is sharing the faith with others. In fact to not do so will seem callous and cold. So while Canadian society may have a ‘hushing’ effect on all who would proselytise, we will want to pick up our cross and follow Jesus. To do so is the loving thing to do.
Some of us have been enjoying the “Becoming a Contagious Christian” course where we are encouraged to enter into spiritual conversations with others. Phillip’s personal testimony to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8 is one of a few Bible passages that gives a clear depiction of one person involved in such a spiritual conversation, leading another person to faith in Christ. As such there is much here for us to learn here, so let’s take a look:
Tune into the Lord’s leading and be obedient to it. Notice straight off that the Ethiopian may never have trusted and followed Christ had Phillip not been attentive and obedient to God’s leading in his life (see verses 26-30). Are we listening to God? Are we hearing His heart cry for those who are living, or more accurately dying, far from His presence and love?
Watch for opportunities to start conversations on spiritual matters. While the Lord led Phillip to the chariot, it would seem that Phillip took the initiative in speaking on spiritual matters (see verse 30). An air purifier salesman once came to our house and after a lengthy spiel asked the big question: “if you had the opportunity to live longer, would you take it?” Seizing an opportunity I asked “if you had the opportunity to live for eternity would you take it?” He spoke on air purity for what seemed like an hour while my wife and I listened attentively. I spoke about Jesus for what seemed like a minute or two and the salesman disappeared quickly. While my witnessing may seem to have ended in failure who knows but that the salesman may have thought about my big question every time he asked his. Watch for opportunities to speak about spiritual things, you just never know . . .
Begin with a question and engage in a conversation. Notice how Phillip asks a question of the Ethiopian not out of the blue, but tying in with what is already happening (see verse 30). Can we be watching for opportunities to ask appropriate questions, ones which engage a conversation? It is important that we do not ask a question so that we can open the door for a pre-canned ‘evangelistic sermon’ rather that we ask a question to open the door for a two way conversation. Phillip not only spoke to the Ethiopian eunuch, he also listened and heard him (see verses 30-35).
Watch for an interest. The Ethiopian’s curiosity is already sparked and he wants to hear more (see verse 30-31). Being respectful of others means being aware of when spiritual conversations are beginning, and when they are ending!
Don’t put up barriers. The Ethiopian was from a different land with a different culture, had a different skin colour, and being a Gentile and a ‘eunuch’ would have faced different religious opportunities in the Judaism he had attached himself to. However, Phillip sat beside him and engaged fully in conversation. In a short while the eunuch would be fully immersed in the waters of baptism, symbolizing his full acceptance into the Christ’s Church. Let’s not put up barriers to our engaging another person in Christ.
Don’t be a stranger to strangers. While the emphasis on ‘friendship evangelism,’ can be good, we should not write off the possibility of engaging in meaningful conversations with complete strangers. Phillip was a complete stranger to the Ethiopian, but Phillip was willing to get close, and we get the sense of friendliness between the two. One New Year’s Eve I had an opportunity to speak to a complete stranger about Jesus. This was a union party in a town I had recently left and while filling in for a musician was there for very selfish reasons – to get paid for playing bass. The band was treated to dinner and I sat across from a man who had not set foot in a church since being yelled at by a priest. I seized the opportunity to get a spiritual conversation going and by the end of the night he expressed his regret that I had left town as he would have liked to have come to my church. That speaks of two things: a desire to grow spiritually and and a sense of friendship between us. Can you be a friend to a complete stranger?
Head to the empty tomb, and on the way stop at the cross. The Eunuch was reading about the suffering servant in Isaiah and Phillip “beginning with the scripture proclaimed the good news about Jesus to him” (verse 35 NET). The message of the cross is central to our faith as it speaks of forgiveness, grace, and mercy and so we will want to lead others to be thinking about the cross. However, if we stop there with the message that Jesus is Saviour we have only shared half of the good news. We really need to go further and make our way to the empty tomb where we discover that Jesus is Lord. When in the Bible we hear of people speaking of the “good news about Jesus” it is really a reference to his resurrection as well as His death. It is good news that Jesus is Saviour and Lord. Are we prepared to speak about what happened at the cross? Are we ready to speak about the reality of the resurrection and why it matters?
Know your stuff. When the Ethiopian asked a question about the interpretation of the Bible, Phillip knew what to say. This does not mean that we should have the answer to every possible question (or that we should pretend to), but we should know our stuff to a reasonable degree. This means knowing our Bible well! But it also means being aware of much more.
Don’t be surprised by professions of faith. Imagine our surprise if a complete stranger we are witnessing to would respond as the eunuch did: “Look, here is water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?” (verse 36 NRSV) Given our current Canadian climate of scepticism and pluralism, we are unfortunately not surprised when our youth go off to college or university and drop out of church. But we should be surprised that anyone would walk away from such a reasonable and deep thing as trusting Christ. Given the fact that God is God, we should not be surprised when people put their trust in Him.
Expect rejoicing. The last we hear of the Ethiopian he “went on his way rejoicing” (verse 39 NRSV). Many of us expect others to experience discomfort when we tell them about Jesus. Expect joy!
Know that God can do something big tomorrow with the seemingly little you have done today. Phillip was taken from preaching to crowds in verse six to speaking to just one person, the eunuch, in our passage. We don’t really know what happened to the Ethiopian eunuch but there is evidence of a vibrant church in Ethiopia in the early centuries. Perhaps this eunuch was used of God to begin a great work in Ethiopia. You may not be Billy Graham, but you just never know, the person you are witnessing to may be the next Billy Graham. What seems like a little in our minds can be of huge significance in the mind and plan of God. Besides, there is rejoicing in heaven over each and every soul that comes to Christ in repentance, as each and every soul is significant to Him (see Luke 15:7 again!).
We witness because God is real, and his love for us and others is real. We witness for the sake of the people we share Christ with, we share Jesus out of His love for them. To be a typically reserved and demurring “Canadian” on matters of evangelism is to be cold of heart, leaving people out in the cold. Remember, even Canadians like a little heat now and then! Winter is on the way, ready to light some fires?