Lessons from Paul on Sharing our Personal Testimony Especially with a Hostile Person or Group
Paul's amazing calmness and presence of mind in the midst of a violent mob seeking to kill him seems to come from his absolute surrender to God (to live is Christ and to die is gain – Phil. 1:21) and his absolute trust in God and his desire for God's will to be done. Thus instead of reacting in angry self-defense and prideful judgment of lost sinners, he conciliates as much as he possibly can. He shows respect, shares the things they have in common and is straightforward and honest. What we see Paul doing here is what he speaks about in one of his letters to the church (you and me). "For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Do you not judge those who are within the church? 13 But those who are outside, God judges." (1 Cor. 5:12-13) Love the sinner (the person) but let God's Word judge his sin (behavior). If we have any sense of prideful judgment of lost people we are wrong and we will not draw them to the Savior. Paul speaks to them in their own language (Hebrew) again building common ground. The common ground we have with all people is that we all have fallen far short (and keep falling short) of God's glory (His moral standard -perfection) and like all people, we need a Savior, a Redeemer, and One Who loves us unconditionally. His love changes us from the inside out; from the inside (from sinner to saint) out (gradually changes our behavior).
As we share God's truth in love the Holy Spirit does the work of convicting people of their sin and need for a Savior. "And He, when He comes,(Holy Spirit) will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment; 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me." (John 16:8-9) The only unforgivable sin is rejecting Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord/Judge. Now let's listen to what Paul says and see how he speaks the truth but without prideful judgment.
"Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you." (Notice the respect he shows them by calling them brothers and fathers after they had beaten him and tried to kill him.) 2 And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet (he spoke their language; this can have a metaphorical meaning as well – connect to them on their turf. 1 Cor. 9:19-22) ; and he said, 3 "I am a Jew (Paul is saying I am not anti-Semitic, I am one of you; they probably didn't know that; see 21:28), born in Tarsus of Cilicia (a highly respected city), but brought up in this city (Jerusalem – more credibility with them), educated under Gamaliel (Gamaliel was the pre-eminent educator of his generation and one of the most respected members of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling council: see Acts 5:34), strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today (Paul is saying, I respect your zeal for God and I did the very thing you are doing out of love for God). 4 I persecuted this Way (Christianity – and Christ is the only way to God and heaven; Gal: 2:21) to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. (Again he is saying, I was just like you in your love for God and your hatred toward Christ and Christians and the Council of elders are his witnesses.) From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished. (But – now here comes his personal testimony/experience with Jesus Christ. "Always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness (not prideful judgment) and fear (or reverence)." (1 Peter 3:5) (Note the transition from, this is what I was like before I met Jesus, to this is how I (personally) met Jesus. Our actual conversion experience needs to be shared as personally and clearly (with details) as possible. It is a supernatural event. Some people do not recall exactly when it happened but they can still describe their change of heart toward God and Christ which is supernatural. "But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn-not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God." John 1:12-13) 6 "But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me (try to imagine a light brighter than the sun at high noon; that is the brightness of God's glory.), 7 and I fell to the ground (the weight of God's glory) and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' 8 And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?' And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.' (Here is where it begins to get dicey as Paul says Jesus the Nazarene (very specifically identifies Him) is alive and speaking from heaven (as God); the One they helped kill and thought was dead.) 9 And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, (more witnesses) but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. (voice – Gr. phÃ…Âne; 1 a sound, a tone of inanimate things, as musical instruments; 2) a voice; the sound of uttered words; 3) speech; of a language, tongue) (When I (Len) was saved I heard a heavenly sound at a retreat with about 100 people in the room but no one else heard what I heard; the sound of musical instruments from heaven, like harps.)
[Let's pause and review before we hear the rest of his testimony. Paul showed respect and identified with the fellow Jews and drew them to himself by saying I appreciate your zeal for God and I did the same myself out of my love for God. In other words, I know how you feel, I used to feel the same way but now I feel differently because of what Jesus did for me. (Not what I did for myself). Before we were saved we use to love sin and were blind to Jesus and if Jesus hadn't revealed Himself to us we would still feel just like you. Although it is our personal testimony, it is really all about Jesus and Who He is and what He did for us. We can have no sense of superiority.]
10 And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?' (We should spend the rest of our life asking the two questions Paul asked and in that order: Who are You Lord? V. 8; meaning I want to know You more and more intimately- And, What shall I do (for You) Lord? V. 10 Nothing else really matters in the ultimate sense.) And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.' 11 But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light (Paul was not in darkness but blinded by light like when we inadvertently look directly at the sun), I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus (more proof of his experience by those who were with him.). 12 "A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there (Paul continues to build on the point that he and others Jews who loved the Law and were respected by Jews had come to Christ like he had), 13 came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very time I looked up at him. 14 And he said, ‘The God of our fathers (the same God that the Jews who hated Paul worshiped) has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One (Jesus Christ – Isa. 53:11) and to hear an utterance (Gr. phÃ…Âne) from His mouth. 15 For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. 16 Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.' 17 "It happened when I returned to Jerusalem and was praying in the temple, that I fell into a trance, 18 and I saw Him saying to me, ‘Make haste, and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about Me.' 19 And I said, ‘Lord, they themselves understand that in one synagogue after another I used to imprison and beat those who believed in You. 20 And when the blood of Your witness Stephen was being shed, I also was standing by approving, and watching out for the coats of those who were slaying him.' 21 And He said to me, ‘Go! For I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'" (Paul is sorta arguing with Jesus that he should stay in Jerusalem to witness to Him. Jesus knows best; maybe He knew Paul would be killed if he remained in Jerusalem. When Paul calls Jesus Lord and said He is sending him to Gentiles. This infuriated the Jews and they started screaming for Paul's death.) 22 They listened to him up to this statement, and then they raised their voices and said, "Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he should not be allowed to live!" Even though we may share Christ with love and meekness, we like Paul may get a hostile reaction. They are ultimately reacting to Jesus Christ not to us. We are not called or able to save anyone but we are all called to share Christ, both Who He is and what He has done for us. "Let the redeemed of the Lord say so." (Psalm 107:2)
In summary, in sharing your testimony 1) try to win your hearers (even those who are hostile) by sharing common needs, common feelings, to connect with them. 2) Always be ready and willing to share your personal encounter with Jesus but do it with meekness versus pride. (1 Peter 3:15) 3) Love the sinner as Paul loved the very ones who wanted to kill him and even more so our Lord forgave the very ones who nailed Him to the cross. (Rom. 5:6-8) 4) And even though it is our personal encounter with Jesus, He (not us) needs to be the center of attention in our testimony for Who He is (God in the flesh) and what He did by His grace and mercy for us helpless sinners. Paul again is our example as he expressed this later in one of his letters: "As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Gal. 6:14)
The Old Rugged Cross written in 1912 by evangelist and song-leader George Bennard (1873-1958)
On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
The emblem of suffering and shame;
And I love that old cross where the dearest and best
For a world of lost sinners was slain.
So I'll cherish the old rugged cross,
Till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
And exchange it some day for a crown.
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
Has a wondrous attraction for me;
For the dear Lamb of God left His glory above
To bear it to dark Calvary.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
A wondrous beauty I see,
For 'twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
To pardon and sanctify me.
To the old rugged cross I will ever be true;
Its shame and reproach gladly bear;
Then He'll call me some day to my home far away,
Where His glory forever I'll share.
QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION AND APPLICATION
In summary, in sharing your testimony-
1. Try to win your hearers (even those who are hostile) by sharing common needs, common feelings, to connect with them. What are some questions we could ask a person to begin a discussion about the Lord that would not be antagonistic but show our common needs and desires?
2. Always be ready and willing to share your personal encounter with Jesus but do it with meekness versus pride. (1 Peter 3:15) Using Paul's example, are you ready to share what you were like before you met Jesus, how you met Jesus and how you feel and act differently because of Jesus and do all this with meekness?
3. Love the sinner as Paul loved the very ones who wanted to kill him and even more so our Lord forgave the very ones who nailed Him to the cross. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5:6-8) How can we develop Christ's love for people who ignore God or deny Him, especially friends and family members whom God has placed in our lives?
4. And even though it is our personal encounter with Jesus, He (not us) needs to be the center of attention for Who He is (God in the flesh) and what He did by His grace and mercy for us helpless sinners. "As for me, may I never boast about anything except the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Gal. 6:14) Boasting about ourselves will repel people but boasting about Jesus can draw people to Him. What does it mean to brag about Jesus?