Of all the aspects of the Christian life, a personal sharing of faith with nonbelievers seems to be the one which brings the most unease or fear. While prayer, Bible study and even stewardship come easy, personal witnessing or evangelism prompts a host of reasons to excuse a lack of exercise.
Most of these excuses relate to some perceived limitation on the individual such as limited opportunity or limited ability. Chrisitians will say they do not know any non-believers or do not know enough to witness or do not have that gift. Some are able to summon the courage to witness, but only do so at specific times such as a church’s designated visitation night.
But as believers, it is our duty to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Peter 3:15). As we conclude the study of the book of Acts, we see an occasion in the life of Paul that teaches us how to overcome any perceived limitations in our efforts to share the Good News.
Make new acquaintances (Acts 28:16-22)
After a long and dangerous journey, Paul arrived in Rome, the political center of the known world and a city to which Paul never had traveled. Although it was a Jewish leader in Jerusalem who had Paul arrested, he called together a meeting of the Jewish leaders in Rome shortly after arriving. Paul had reason to expect the same type of response from them as he had received in Jerusalem, but he apparently felt he had more in common with these leaders than anyone else in the city.
Everywhere Paul went, his primary desire was to share the gospel with anyone who would listen, and he most often started with those who shared his religious heritage. In this case, he began by simply sharing with them the story of his experience in Jerusalem, a city which would have held significance to them.
In doing so, Paul shows us an important first step in witnessing is to establish a relationship with people. Once they understand we have much in common, they will be more willing to listen.
Find interested people (Acts 28:23-25)
Once Paul established common ground with the Jewish leadership, they brought others to hear what he had to say.
Often one of the reasons believers do not witness is that they are afraid of ridicule if the other person is not interested. It is much easier to talk to people who are interested in what you are saying. But often, even if the first person is not interested, when word spreads, those who are interested will come to hear.
It is clear many in the crowd who came to Paul were interested since they stayed to listen “from morning till evening.” Focusing on those who already have an interest does not excuse us from being prepared to share with anyone, but those with an interest are the ones most likely to be convinced and to be a support afterwards. Believers should never use the excuse that they do not know any nonbelievers with an interest in spiritual issues. If we only look, we will find there are many interested people.
Look for open-minded people (Acts 28:28-29)
One of the negative results of the centuries since the Scientific Revolution is that humanity has come to believe that we have all of reality figured out. We can explain all of the aspects of the cosmos with purely physical and mathematical descriptions. Ironically, the Age of Enlightenment which was intended to broaden our minds with knowledge has, in some areas, resulted in a narrowing or closing of the human mind.
This especially is true in the area of the supernatural or spiritual realm. Over the past few decades, however, there has been a reawakening to the reality of humanity’s essentially spiritual nature. There are many who honestly are seeking answers and are open-minded in their search.
This appears to have been the state of many of those who came to hear Paul speak. Those who came with an interest also came with an open mind. Although some did not initially believe Paul’s message, they did listen and then continued the discussion with others after leaving Paul.
One of the most difficult obstacles or limitations to overcome in witnessing is seeking to convince someone who is close-minded. Yet if we look, we can find those who, for a variety of reasons, are willing to listen with an open mind.
Let people come to you (Acts 28:30-31)
When Paul first arrived in Rome, he did not know anyone and was soon told that, while they had not heard negative reports about Paul, all the leaders knew about the message Paul proclaimed was negative. Yet having established a relationship with the local leaders, Paul soon found it unnecessary to go looking for people to witness to. They were coming to him.
A common misconception about personal witnessing is that it always requires a person to go out and approach people. While God does call us to be willing to go, simply living the faith we profess will attract those around us to come to us. It is then merely a matter of being ready and willing to respond. As we do so, we need not worry about not having all of the answers. Like Paul, we simply need to share with them what we know and trust God to turn their interest into conviction and acceptance.