IntroWe're finishing up our series on Colossians tonight. What I want to talk about is the topic of sharing Christ with people. It's a fascinating thing to me to look at our culture and see how negatively evangelism, witnessing, proseletizing is viewed. I think part of the negative view people have is related to something we've talked about in here before?the notion that all ways lead to God. The idea that it doesn't matter what you believe. Whatever you believe is true for you. This way of thinking has so permeated our culture that the notion of trying to persuade someone that the way you believe is true and that they need to accept the way you believe is seen as medival, egotistical. It's associated somehow with fundamentalism and narrow-mindedness. Just a while ago we spent a whole week talking about the notion of truth, and whether one view can be right and others wrong. There is also a seminar on this topic coming up in the month of November which should be very goodÿ.ÿ.ÿ. So I don't want to belabor the point right here. But I do want to say that when you really think about it, there are some real problems with saying, "Whatever you believe is true for you." I know of no area of my experience where that actually works. Example: I could say, "My car is the fastest car on the road," but I'll be disappointed. Example: I could say, "My house is worth $100,000," but nobody will buy it. So in every area of life, it doesn't matter so much what you believe as what is actually true. But then people pick out this one area, which happens to be the most serious area of all, and they say, 'Whatever you believe is true for you." I feel real uncomfortable with that, to the point that I think it is one of the most damaging values or beliefs our culture holds right now. Example: It's one thing to point at some "fundamentalist" over in some country and say, "See how they're killing each other over their beliefs! I don't want to be like that!" But then to go to the opposite end of the spectrum and say, "It doesn't matter what you believe!" I just doesn't follow. So, the basis that our culture criticizes evangelism on is very shakey. On the other hand, I realize Christians are also negative about sharing their faith. There are a lot of fears there. There are fears of rejection. There are fears that it just won't work?that I'll fail. In thinking about this, I've realized that's not been my experience. The rejection, the deaf ears, the disinterest that we think we'll see, that's not what I've seen. Oh, I've been rejected or shunned because I'm a Christian. Example: I've been in groups of my friends where they've chided me for still being into that Jesus crap. Example: I've had people say, "Whatever you do, don't try to convert me!" Regardless of how much you might fear that kind of reaction, I find it absolutely fascinating. Why do you say that? Why do you have that reaction? Almost always the reasons people give are very insightful. I remember one person who went on to tell me stories of experiences he had that were truly revolting. And I had to agree, who would want to be treated like that! Example: I had another person tell me that he didn't want to hear it because he didn't care. And it was funny, because as it came out of his mouth, you could tell that it wasn't really true. And then after that he would ask questions about things that showed he actually did care and he was interested. He just wanted to put that front out there for some kind of protection. But for the most part, the response I have seen out of people when I talk to them about the good news of Jesus Christ has been interest. The response I have seen is that it arouses needs and hungers that are deep inside a person. I see questions. I hear honest longings from people that they wish they had more meaning in their life, or that they wish they could know God, or that they wish they could find an answer for their guilt. The myth that people aren't that interested, or that sharing the gospel won't work?that it won't have any effect?is largely held by people who never share Christ with anyone. I want to talk about this some more when we get into the text. But I think that most of the fears associated with evangelism are held by those who don't do it. Example: I have taken people jumping before. I've always liked jumping off things into water. Of course there are jumps that are dangerous. But there are also jumps that are just plain fun. They aren't dangerous. They don't hurt. They feel good. And what you'll see is someone who has never done it, someone who is fearful, will come up to the edge and think about it for a long time. And I can't tell you how many times I've seen someone finally jump, and from that point on they are racing. Run up and jump, run up and jump, as if they're making up for lost time! I think those of us who have not shared Christ very much or not at all need to keep an open mind here. Try to imagine that some of our fears are not really true.
God first (vv. 2-4)With those introductory thoughts, let's get into the passage itself. I think it's so insightful where Paul starts on this topic of sharing your faith (read). He starts with prayer. A lot of people are mistaken in thinking that sharing your faith begins with talking to another person. But it starts with God. The very nature of the good news is you can have a relationship with God. God is using us as his spokespersons to reach out and tap people on the shoulder and say, "Hey, I'm here. And I want a relationship with you." It's not a philosophy. It's not a lifestyle. It's a personal relationship with the living God. That's why we turn to God and say, "OK God, who? Who should I talk to? You give me the words to say. You communicate through me."
God guides and empowersTo me, this helps to make evangelism excting. When you know that God is guiding you. When you know that he is putting you in contact with someone who is really searching and he is there with you. When you know that he is giving you the words to say. Example: Virtually everyone I have talked to, who has shared their faith with people, has had the same experience. "I was saying things I didn't know I could say! Things were just flowing. I had the sense that God was speaking through me!" So there is the fact that God does speak through us. But he also guides us. He leads us to people who are seeking him. If there is a seeking person out there, which there are (Jesus said the harvest is plentifulÿ.ÿ.ÿ.), then God will see to it that one of his spokes-persons gets there. Example: There's a story in Acts where this guy named Phillip is directed by God to walk out into a desert road. And there was this guy in a chariot, reading a copy of the Bible! And Phillip walked up to him and said, "What are you doing?" He said, "I'm reading this stuff that's amazing! But I can't understand it. Can you explain it to me?" If there is a seeking person, and if there is a willing messenger, God will make sure that the two get together. That is why I never want to take the people I meet as just accidents. Example: I was broken down last week on my way home from vacation. And this guy named Ike pulled over to help me out. It turned out that we were together for hours working on my car. The guy was great. But Ike himself said, "Buck, these things don't happen by chance." And I thought to myself, "You don't know how right you are." Durring our time together we had some time for me to share my testimony and why I'm into Jesus Christ. And I also got his address to continue to send him things. So you guys can pray for Ike.
The motivation for evangelism is our relationship with GodI think there is another key insight here. And that is that our motivation for sharing our faith should come from our own relationship with God. In other words, there are times when I have very little desire to share Christ with anyone because my own relationship with him is pitiful. And there are times when I'm very excited about sharing with others because I want them to have the good thing I have. I don't want to put anyone on a guilt trip here. I don't believe that is an effective motivator for evangelism. But I do want us to reflect. If you're not someone who shares you faith, is it because your own relationship with God is not very real? Is it something you're living vicariously through other people? Is it purely accedemic? Maybe some of us need to start by spending time with God and working on our relationship with God.
Be sensitive (v. 5, 6)Paul goes on in v. 5ÿ.ÿ.ÿ. There are a couple excellent points here. One of them is what we've been talking about, that God is going to give us opportunities. He is giving us opportunities to share with people who are already seeking. We just need to pray that we can spot those opportunities and take advantage of them.
People's needs are uniqueBut he also says here, "Be wiseÿ.ÿ.ÿ. so you know how to respond to each person." Paul is telling us here that sharing our faith is not like phone-sales. I'm sure you've had that experience where a phone salesman is giving you the exact same pitch that he's been giving everyone else. And when you say one thing, they have a precise come-back they've practiced on 1000 other people. And it's very irritating. But I think a lot of Christians have this impression about evangelism. They think that the odds of being successful are about the same as if you were trying to sell vaccum cleaners over the phone. Because they've gotten the mistaken impression that it is a formula of some kind. The truth is that every person is different. And people become seekers of God for so many different reasons. Some seek God because they're lonely. Some because they can't answer the deep questions of life. Some because of what they've seen in other Christians. Some because of emptiness. Some fear death. Some because of a tragedyÿ.ÿ.ÿ. This is why it's so ineffective to put too much of an emphasis on what you have to say. Definitely, the good news needs to get out. Definitely, if we don't speak up then the person will never hear. But we also need to take the time to understand people. I've tried to find some kind of correlation between people who are effective at sharing their faith and I have not found the ones you might expect. You might expect them to be the classic "salesman personality." Not so. You might expect them to be effective arguers. Not so. You might expect them to be great communicators. Not so. The one correlation I have seen is that they are genuinely interested in and care about people. They ask questions. They are interested in the answers. They care about people. And it's in that context that you start to see a person's needs. You start to see what it is about them that makes them hungry for God. You start to see why God sent them your way. I feel like I have to understand a person's hunger before I give him food.
Seasoned with graceThen, finally, Paul says that our speach ought to be seasoned with grace. Grace is a word that speaks of God's love. He's saying that God's love ought to permeate our come-off with people. What more basic and obvious point could we make here? We're sharing God's love. That's the message. And so our speach and come-off should be full of it. Example: How incongruous it is to be sharing God's love with someone in a spirit of judgment! (read "Columbus Frolics on Lord's Day" add) With Jesus Christ, the most attractive thing about him, the reason people wanted to be close to him, was not his miracles. It was the fact that he was accepting and lovingÿ.ÿSure, there were people who clammored for miracles or healing. But the people who wanted to get close toÿ him, theÿ people who wanted to hang out with him, did so because they saw how accepting and loving he was. I hope tonight, if there is anything you take away from here, it is the idea that God is loving. That is the good news. God is loving, he wants to forgive you for your sins, and he wants to have a relationship with you. That's our message in a nutshell. It's so simple, but to me so powerful. You can turn to God tonight in prayer and say, "God, I want your forgiveness. I do want a relationship with you." And God will take you up on that!
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