We love the Lord and want others to know him, so many of us do our part to share Jesus with others. We have a ready presentation that we are quick to dish out to anyone who will listen. We target people whom we think are easy to give this message. If they don’t believe, or raise too many questions, we move on to others. We have this notion that evangelism should be easy and convenient. There is no need to try so hard.
But speaking forth the good news about Jesus Christ may require long and complex answers. A closer look at the Book of Acts shows us that experience of the early apostles in sharing their faith was neither convenient nor easy. Stephen, the first martyr, showed a profound understanding of history and theology as he answered the highly educated Sanhedrin on issues of the temple, the law of Moses and Jesus (Acts 6:13). His speech, which takes much of Acts 7, is erudite and astute, but resulted in him being stoned to death.
Stephen’s fellow deacon, Philip, answered the queries of an Ethiopian eunuch who was reading some verses in Isaiah. Philip explained those verses and thus led the eunuch to a saving knowledge of Jesus. These men’s knowledge of the Scriptures gave them the ability to engage others in profound ways.
The apostle Paul also had the ability to reason with intellectuals—both Jews and Greeks—with kings, as well as God-fearing women gathered by the river in Philippi. Each time, he adapted the message and contextualised the gospel. To Jews in Pisidian Antioch, who were familiar with the Jewish scriptures, he drew from biblical history (Acts 13). In Athens, to the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, he spoke about the creator God who reaches out to the people he created (Acts 17). On trial before King Agrippa, Paul shared his personal testimony of how he had been a persecutor of the faith but repented when he had a vision of Jesus whom he was persecuting (Acts 26:2–23).
While we are familiar with the account that thousands came to faith on the day of Pentecost, at other times, there was little immediate fruit to the apostles preaching. Instead, they faced hardships. Peter and John healed a cripple at Solomon’s Colonnade, used the occasion to proclaim Jesus Christ, and then were jailed for the evening (Acts 3:1–4:3). Paul and his team were often misunderstood, such as in Lystra, when the people wanted to offer sacrifices to them, believing them to be the Greek gods Zeus and Hermes (Acts 14:11–13). At other times, they were ridiculed for their message (Acts 17:32).
The apostles spent time with people, so as to properly know and understand their context. Paul spent “a long time” in Antioch (Acts 14:26–28), as well as two years in the province of Asia (Acts 19:10). Although he made mission trips, he stayed in each place as long as he could to establish a community of believers there.
We love people and want them to know the Lord. The early apostles remind us again that hard work is needed to engage people where they are, so that they are presented with compelling reasons to follow Christ. Let us be willing to spend time with people, listen to their concerns and questions so that we can, with gentleness and respect, give truthful, compelling reasons for the hope that we have (1 Pet 3:15).
Kwa Kiem Kiok is Lecturer in Missiology and Inter-Disciplinary Studies at Biblical Graduate School of Theology. She worships at Trinity Methodist Church.
Picture by leungchopan/Bigstock.com