WITNESSING THROUGH SUFFERING AND BEING INVOLVED IN THE PROCESS OF EVANGELISM
"Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him (Stephen) to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles." In Acts 1:8 Jesus had told His followers that they would be witnesses to Him in Jerusalem, Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth. In Acts 5:28 the Pharisees accused the apostles by saying "you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching" and so it is time to move out to Samaria. Yet it takes persecution, which grew in intensity and climaxed with the stoning of Stephen, to force these new believers to take the gospel out of Jerusalem. Saul (Paul) was the ring leader in this accelerated wave of persecution as he kicked against the goads (Acts 9:5) of Stephen's powerful sermon and his words of forgiveness as he was stoned to death. What Saul and the other religious leaders meant for evil God used for good even as Joseph said to his brothers after he saw God triumph over their sin against him: "You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive." (Gen. 50:20)
And God did likewise here through the evil intentions against His people: "Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word" … and many were saved (v.12). Romans 8:28 says the same thing; that God can take our sins, the sins against us and sufferings of all kinds and can cause them to work together for good – for His glory and our highest spiritual and eternal good. We see this later in Paul's life as Christ's forgiveness for his great sin against the church created in Paul a passionate love for Jesus and His church. Paul says that the only reasonable response to such mercy and grace is to offer our lives as living sacrifices for God's will in our lives (Rom. 12:1-2).
I want to focus on just two main points from these few verses: 1) the power of trusting and obeying Jesus in persecution or suffering. It is a powerful witness to His supernatural grace and thus to His reality; and 2) how evangelism is a process and not an event (based on a seminar from Search Ministries- Heart for the Harvest).
1) First let's look at the power of witnessing through trials and suffering. We looked at 1 Peter 3:14-15 last week but it is important to review it in this context. "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. "Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened. "But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (even though you are suffering). But do this with gentleness and respect."
Let's look at each phrase: "But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed." Jesus says the same in Matthew 5:10-12: "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you." And even if our suffering is not persecution for our testimony of Jesus, it is still right and righteous to suffer with hope (versus despair and bitterness) in Christ and heaven and it is still a powerful testimony to the supernatural grace of Jesus (2 Cor. 12:9) and His reality that can lead others to Him.
"Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened." But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord." This phrase is also seen in Isaiah 8:12-14: "And you are not to fear what they fear or be in dread of it. "It is the LORD of hosts whom you should regard as holy. And He shall be your fear, And He shall be your dread (i.e., be in awe of Him)." "Then He shall become a sanctuary." Whether it is a warring enemy as seen in Isaiah or financial, relational, or health concerns, we are not to be afraid like those are who do not know our all powerful, all sufficient and all loving God. Again, our lack of fear when all those around us are afraid is a powerful witness to our Lord.
"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have" (even though you are suffering or even though others are fearful of a stock market crash (and take their lives) or other circumstances that cause others to be fearful). "How joyful are those who fear the Lord and delight in obeying his commands. Such people will not be overcome by evil. Those who are righteous will be long remembered. They do not fear bad news; they confidently trust the Lord to care for them. They are confident and fearless and can face their foes (or trials) triumphantly." (Psalm 112:1; 6-8) Also see 1 Peter 2:18-23)
2) Evangelism is a process and not an event. Witnessing is done in many ways and many people feel inadequate for the task. But our Lord tells us that evangelism is a process (not a technique) and that He, not us, brings a person to salvation. Scripture affirms two truths that seem like a paradox to man: 1) that God chooses us we don't choose Him (John 15:16); and 2) man is accountable for his choice of rejecting Jesus (John 16:9). So our part as witnesses is to simply be a witness to what we know about our Lord through personal experience and Scripture. When we share this with another person and they do not receive Christ, we have not failed.
Secondly, let's look at the process of evangelism seen in Scripture using an agricultural metaphor: "Do you not say, ‘Four months more and then the harvest'? I tell you, open your eyes and look at the fields! They are ripe for harvest. Even now the reaper draws his wages, even now he harvests the crop for eternal life, so that the sower and the reaper may be glad together. Thus the saying ‘One sows and another reaps' is true. I sent you to reap what you have not worked for. Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor." (John 4:35-38) "I planted, Apollos watered, but God [all the while] was making it grow and [He] gave the increase. So neither he who plants is anything nor he who waters, but [only] God Who makes it grow and become greater." (1 Cor. 3:6-7) We may only be involved in part of the process and never see the person come to Christ on this side of heaven but each part of the process is evangelism.
Now let's look at the process: 1) Preparing the soil – intentionally building and deepening relationships based on common ground interests so as to draw our friends to Christ. We see Jesus doing this with the woman at the well over the common need for water (a scarcity in Israel) in John 4. 2) Sowing the seed: "A sower went out to sow." (Matt. 13:3) And Paul says He planted (seeds) meaning we are to share God's truth with those with whom we have built relationship even as Jesus did with the woman at the well. But as seen in the account of the sower he was told to sow seeds anywhere and everywhere so that would include strangers or people with whom we have little relationship. 3) Cultivation- even as in farming this is the hardest and longest part of the process which translates into spending time, even many years, with our family members, friends, etc., as God works in their hearts with the seeds we and others may be planting in their lives. Jesus was accused of being a drunkard because he hung out with sinners (Matt. 11:19) though He never sinned. We can't participate in sin with our lost friends but we can remain their friend and speak truth in love as Jesus did. 4) Reaping the harvest: This is helping a person actually receive the Lord. Though God is ultimately doing all the work He often uses people as spiritual midwives to facilitate the new birth. God may use us to lead someone to salvation and we must realize that years of preparation, sowing and cultivation have been going on in their lives through many different people. As Jesus said to the reaper, "Others have done the hard work, and you have reaped the benefits of their labor."
So in summary our part in the process of evangelism is 1) Preparing the soil; intentionally building and deepening relationships based on common ground interests so as to draw our friends to Christ; 2) Sowing the seeds; sharing God's truth with those with whom we have built relationship and/or with strangers or people with whom we have little relationship; 3) Cultivation- spending time, even many years, with our family members, friends, etc., as God works in their hearts; and 4) Reaping – being willing and able to help someone receive Christ.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
1) What is your main take away from the message and table discussion and how can you apply it to your life?
2) Here we see that persecution and suffering lead to witnessing for Jesus. Describe a time in your life where suffering led you to growth in Christ and a consequent witness to Him to those around you.
3) Who has been a witness of Christ to you personally in the midst of their suffering? Briefly describe their suffering and their testimony.
4) Share where and with whom you are presently involved in one or more of these four processes of evangelism and what you are specifically doing so we can learn from each other: 1) Preparing the soil; intentionally building and deepening relationships based on common ground interests so as to draw our friends to Christ; 2) Sowing the seeds; sharing God's truth with those with whom we have built relationship and/or with strangers or people with whom we have little relationship.; 3) Cultivation- spending time, even many years, with our family members, friends, etc., as God works in their hearts; and 4) Reaping – being willing and able to help someone receive Christ.