|"Witnessing to those who are Religious" |
in our latest series "Can I get a witness"
The following is the transcript from the August 21, 2016 service at the Little Brown Church, Nashua, Iowa.
At a farmer’s market, one farmer put up a sign that read, "Eggplants, 25¢ ea. or three for a dollar." All day long, customers came along complaining, "Are you serious! I should get four for a dollar!"Confronted by their outrage, the farmer shrugged and packaged four eggplants.
The person whose tent was next door had been watching this and finally asked the farmer, "Aren't you going to fix the mistake on your sign?"
"What mistake?" the farmer asked. "Before I put up that sign no one ever bought more than one eggplant."
Sometimes what you sell can depend on what you say and how you say it.
Over the next few weeks we’re going to be talking about witnessing and we’ll be using the examples we find out of the book of Acts to help us understand HOW to witness to others God’s way.
Over the next few weeks, we’re going to talking about:
1. Witnessing to people who are actively seeking Christ
2. Witnessing to people who are hurting
3. Witnessing to people actively oppose us.
This morning, we’re going to focus on witnessing as we see to people who are “Religious.”
Now, there are all kinds of religious people in our city. Some are very committed to their church. Others may belong to a church… they’re just not very committed to it. And still others don’t go to church at all (but they’re religious).
About 80% of Americans DO NOT regularly attends church anywhere. Of that 80% a vast majority have been to church at some point in their lives. They may have gone as a child, or they may have gone as an adult but have drifted away from church, or have had a bad experience at a church.
A survey by LifeWay Research surveyed these “formerly churched” people and found that:
· 28% say they are presently unlikely to consider regularly attending church
· BUT 58% feel it’s time to return to the church;
· 41% say they’d go if a friend or acquaintance invited them;
· 35% would return if they knew there were people there like them;
· And nearly a third (31%) feel God is calling them to attend church.
My point is this; there are a vast number of people out there who are just waiting to be invited to church. And just like that grocer who learned how to sell eggplant to his patrons - sometimes, it’s merely a matter of saying the right thing at the right time.
So let’s take a look at how Paul witnessed to some religious people down by the river side.
It’s a Women’s PRAYER Group. And Acts 16:13 says that
“On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there.”Notice, these were all women. I’ve noticed that women are more receptive than men to the Gospel message. Men are more prone to wanting to do things themselves and they are less likely to want God’s help. But women generally have a more tender heart to Christ’s love.
Now, these were probably mostly Jewish women. They were gathered for prayer on the “Sabbath”. Now Lydia may have been a Gentile who met with them. The term “worshiper of God” is often a code word to describe Gentiles who were attracted to the Jewish love for God and the stories that they found in the Old Testament. But she and the other ladies were gathered down by the river side.
But why there? Why not in some building in town? That’s possibly because there was no synagogue in town. According to Jewish tradition, a synagogue could only be formed when there were 10 men to form the foundation of that group. But as you may notice - there don’t seem to be any men around down by the river… only women.
So here is Paul witnessing to a group of religious women down by the riverside. But he doesn’t appear to have been overly successful. As far as we can tell, only one woman seems to have responded to his teaching: Lydia. Scripture tells us that the Lord opened her heart to respond to the message.
That would seem to be fairly disappointing. Here Paul and Silas are big-time evangelists who travel all the way to Philippi where they find this prayer group that’s willing to listen to them and only one person is converted, only one. Now, granted, later her whole family was baptized into Christ, but Lydia was the only person who seems to have responded to their first effort!
But even if she’d been the only person in her family to become a Christian, God would still have considered this conversion a success! In fact, it appears that God sent Paul to this specific city, to this specific prayer group for just this specific woman because she seems to have formed the backbone of the church that was established there.
Later in the chapter, we find that Paul and Silas are imprisoned for preaching Jesus. And in Acts 16:40 we’re told that;
“AFTER Paul and Silas came out of the prison, they went to Lydia’s house, where they met with the brothers and encouraged them…”After being released from prison, Paul & Silas’ first destination was Lydia’s house. And WHO was there to meet them? “The Brothers” (men of the new church).
It appears that Lydia’s home was a meeting place for the church and it may have been a natural location for the new Christians to gather and worship.
So, what did Paul SAY that won Lydia to Christ? Well, we don’t know. Not one single word of Paul’s teaching is recorded for us. And that’s probably because it wasn’t Paul words that captured Lydia’s heart.
Notice in Acts 16:14 we’re told that: “… The Lord opened her heart….”God OPENED Lydia’s heart? How long had God been working on Lydia’s heart? We don’t know. But we do know this is exactly what Jesus promised the Holy Spirit would do. He said:
“When he comes, (the Spirit) will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment” John 16:8There’s a passage out of the Old Testament that says:
“Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” Psalm 127:1aIt was God who laid the groundwork for Lydia’s decision. And I think that groundwork had been laid long before Paul and Silas ever got to Philippi.
In Acts 16:6 & 7 we find that Paul and Silas TRIED to go preach in other areas… but they were
“kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia.”And
“they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.”Why? Why were they KEPT from going into certain areas to preach??? I believe it was because God knew that Lydia and others in Philippi were ready to listen to Paul and so God directed Paul and Silas to THAT town, to that prayer meeting and to that specific woman And “… The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message.”
The Bible says we are God’s WITNESSES. The Bible never says we are called to judge or convict people of their sins – we are witnesses.
Another way of looking at this is this: Jesus called us to be fishers of men. Apparently, God wants you and me to do the fishing, and Spirit of God baits the hook!
Even though we’re NOT told what Paul and Silas said at this Prayer Meeting we can be pretty sure they weren’t jumping down the throats of those who believed differently than they did. Like I said, they were witnesses. They were not there to convict or judge.
Many people believe that witnessing is all about being a better arguer. But Paul warned Timothy:
“Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to knowledge of the truth” 2 Timothy 2:23-25If you get into an argument with someone all you end up doing is make them a better arguer. Most of the time you’re not going to say anything that will move them anywhere - except deeper into their own convictions. Farther away from where you want them come to.
Notice what Paul said after warning Timothy about not getting into arguments:
“…he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth”In other words, Paul was telling Timothy to TRUST GOD to convict people of their sins. You do the witnessing (Paul was saying) and God will do the convicting.
We’ve got to trust God for some of this. It’s not all about us! We’re part of the kingdom of God.
We’re not some social organization, like the Elks or the Lions. This is GOD’S kingdom. So it’s vital we remember to include Him in our witnessing.
Now, I’m going to ask again: What did Paul say to Lydia that changed her heart? We don’t know… but I’ve got a pretty good idea. And my idea comes from another place in Acts where Paul encountered some other “religious people”
Well, Acts 19, when Paul arrived at Ephesus,
“… he found some disciples and asked them, "Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed?" They answered, "No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit."Now, I suspect, Paul knew the answer to his question before he asked it.
He knew they didn’t know that God had promised to put His Spirit inside of believers.
But his objective was to take these religious people and ask them a question THEY didn’t know the answer to. And that question led him to be able to teach them something about Jesus they didn’t understand. And that question led them to be baptized into Christ and become Children of God.
So, if you’re going to witness to religious people how are you going to do that? Questions that will open the door for you to introduce them to Jesus and His church. But when you ask those questions… you need to know the answers yourself.
“Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” I Peter 3:15So, perhaps the first question you need to ask, is one you ask of yourself:
Do YOU know the reason for the hope that you have?
Father, the words which we have heard hear this morning with our ears, May through your grace, be grafted in our hearts, that it will produce the fruit of good living, to honor and praise your name; in Jesus’ name, amen.