But what else do we know about evangelism? Is it enough to know a plan or is there more? Over the past few years, I have learned several principles which have helped me to develop a biblical perspective about evangelism.
1. Evangelism depends on God (John 6:44).
2. Evangelism must rely on the Bible (Rom. 10:17).
3. Evangelism requires patience (Mark 4:26-29).
4. Evangelism is commanded and empowered by God (Matt. 28:18-20).
These are principles which have helped me to become more patient. But there is a fifth principle which Christians face quite often.
5. Evangelism will be opposed (Acts 4:1-4).
As you think about opposition from unbelievers, consider these words from Mike Morefield, a senior at the University of Arizona. They are taken from his article, "What wouldn't Jesus do? Bully dissenters," published in The Arizona Wildcat on January 25, 2006 after he met a group of open-air preachers who spoke out against homosexuality, abortion, and the Muslim religion.
"Fire-and-brimstone evangelists reduce Christianity to a mockery, and in so doing pay a great disservice to their religion. Instead of aiding the Christian faith, they are causing it irreparable harm."
How should a godly Christian respond to such remarks?
It doesn’t matter. After reading the article, I had conflicting thoughts. A Christian should preach the word whether or not it is acceptable (2 Tim. 4:2). And godly Christians should expect persecution (2 Tim. 3:12) and mocking (2 Pet. 3:3-4). The apostles proclaimed the gospel despite the opposition that came to them (Acts 4:18-20). So, a bad response should not hinder our efforts to evangelize the lost.
It does matter. On the other hand, I have known some Christians who were an embarrassment because of their forceful attempts to "win" someone to Christ. I think of one person who placed his foot in the door of a home and berated the family for not wanting to hear about Christ. I have cringed during evangelistic invitations where the speaker embarrassed people into walking the aisle and then pronounced them "saved."
I was present at Cook County Jail near Chicago when a student preacher from Hyles-Anderson College seemed very antagonistic toward the prisoners he was addressing. The speaker seemed to hate the people he was trying to win. These methods and attitudes detract from the message of hope found exclusively in the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 4:12).
I realize that an unregenerated man will not appreciate any type of confrontation about his sin and that preaching about the cross will seem foolish to him (1 Cor. 1:18). So, I have mixed emotions about Morefield's article. But if I understand his experience correctly, he was more offended with the attitude of the preachers than the content of their message. If they were in the wrong, I hope they will reconsider their methods and learn to "speak the truth in love" (Eph. 4:15).
Now let's get back to our question. How should a Christian present the gospel? What are the most important things needed for someone who wants to tell others about this life-changing message? Consider the apostle Paul’s thoughts on this subject as found in Colossians 4:2-6. What did he need?
Prayer is a necessity for effective evangelism.
The first and most often neglected prerequisite for evangelism is prayer. We realize that prayer is important, and yet we often neglect it. Why is that? I think that prayer is neglected because methods are easier to use. It is easier to memorize a plan than to humble yourself before God and ask him to help you to reach the lost. And yet, this is what Paul asked his friends in Colossae to pray for.
I find it interesting that before giving his two prayer requests about evangelism, Paul tells these believers to watch for the answer with thankful hearts. This was not something that he expected to be lacking in results. He was expecting God to answer the prayers of his children. We ought to come to him with that same expectancy.
Ask God to open the door to a good conversation (3).
On our church prayer list, we have several items regarding the salvation of people we meet. If you pray regularly through this list, you have prayed for relatives, neighbors, and co-workers,. But do you ever go beyond the list and pray for opportunities to speak to people? This is how Paul asked the Colossian church to pray for him.
Paul called this "a door of utterance" (KJV) or "a door for the word" (NASB). This was his way of saying, "Pray that God will give us opportunities to preach the gospel to people." Every opportunity was like a door being opened by God. Isn’t that the way we ought to view our opportunities? We pray that God will allow us the opportunity and then when they come, we take them. But there is something that is equally important.
Ask God for the ability to communicate the gospel (4).
Having an opportunity is good, but if you cannot explain the gospel, what good is the opportunity. We all have felt tongue-tied when opportunities arise, so why not pray that God would help us to speak clearly? If he could help Moses to speak and could make the dumb to speak, he can also help us to carefully explain the gospel to others.
Please note that this is not something that we wait for the moment to prepare. We should be studying the Scriptures so that we are ready to give an answer of the hope that is in us. That takes a certain amount of time as well. How can we learn to better explain the gospel? It takes study and practice. Try writing out your own gospel tract. You have seen several of my presentations of the gospel. You have read gospel tracts and know what seems clearest to you. So, work on this and ask the Lord to help you in making things clear to the lost.
Discernment is needed for effective evangelism.
The second thing Paul wanted from God was discernment. He asked the believers at Colossae to pray for this in two areas. We can learn much from his needs as we consider our own.
How do you use your time? (5)
The phrase "redeeming the time" has been translated two different ways. Some use those exact words and others speak more about making the best use of time. What is being communicated here? The idea can be better understood by thinking of how someone uses his money each month. What is it that you want to buy with your money? The words chosen by Paul depict a Christians at the market of life choosing to buy up time or opportunities. In other words, take advantage of every opportunity you are given.
How do we use our time? Evangelism is not the only responsibility we have in life, but it ought to be very important to us. Are we setting aside time in our schedule for conversations with the lost? Or are we so concerned with our schedule of events that we overlook one of the most important activities we could be engaged in?
How gracious is your speech? (6)
The second thought under discernment has to do with the way the message is communicated. Paul was known for strong comments toward those who rejected the gospel. Jesus told his disciples to shake off the dust of their feet in judgment against those cities which rejected them. But this is not to be our first action when we meet people: "Are you a stinkin’, gospel rejecting, sinner who wants to spit in my face? Go ahead! I dare ya!"
Gracious speech should become a habit. If you wait for an opportunity to begin your kind speech, you will not know how to do it. Why not start now? Be gracious to those you are around every day. Then when it comes time to speak kindly to a stubborn and rebellious unbeliever, you will not have to fumble with the right mask to put on. It is much easier if you are already accustomed to speaking this way.
Gracious speech enhances a conversation. Have you noticed that some people add salt to their food before they even taste it? Why is that? Apparently, they enjoy the way that salt enhances the flavor of their food. Gracious speech does the same; it enhances a conversation. Just as the flavor of food is enhanced by a certain amount of salt or spice, so our presentation of Christ to the lost is enhanced by gracious words.
Gracious speech will communicate with almost anyone. How will I know what to say? This is one of the questions that keeps all of us from speaking on occasion. What if someone is of a higher level of education than I am? What if the person is of a different religious background? What if the person is a homosexual? Paul does not answer all of these questions here with concrete answers. But he does say that graciousness is appropriate when speaking the gospel to the lost.
Is that easy? No, it is not always easy. The reason for this is that we often look at the person’s sin and dread even being in the same room. But when we remember from where we have come, it makes it much easier. We are all sinners whom God drew to himself. None of us was especially endearing to God because of our own goodness. We all were revolting to God. So, be gracious.
As Christians, we have been commanded to proclaim the gospel to everyone. But God is looking for more than just a constant blurting of a message. He is also concerned with how we present it. As you begin this new week, ask God to enable you to present the gospel appropriately and with a good attitude.