- August 17, 2008
- By Donald Raney, First Baptist Church, Petersburg
• Acts 24:22-26; 26:22-31
People respond to the gospel in a lot of different ways. Some readily accept God’s offer of salvation while others respond with a number of questions. Still others see the Christian message as something of a crutch for the “weak-minded.” Some may see it as a quaint idea that may have had significance for people long ago, but certainly could not be relevant to life in the 21st century world.
One of the results of the last 150 years of scientific advance has been a gradual decline in the perceived need for God by many people. With our increased knowledge of the natural world, they find less reason to appeal to the supernatural.
Because of this, believers often have found people increasingly closed to the gospel. Some may come to the conclusion that certain people are simply unreachable. They perhaps have witnessed to them and prayed for their salvation for weeks or months without any sign of change. Some may even give up on reaching them.
Yet the history of the church is full of stories such as that of Frank Morison and Josh McDowell who were atheists that set out to disprove the gospel only to become strong Christian believers. God wants us to understand no one is unreachable and we never should stop sharing the Good News with anyone. Paul provides us with a number of examples of how to maintain a witness to even the most secular people.
Some will wait: Keep talking (Acts 24:22-26)
After his initial arrest, Paul eventually was sent to stand before the governor Felix. Although it is unclear how, the Bible tells us Felix had considerable knowledge of the gospel. Perhaps a number of believers had stood trial before him. Perhaps he had secretly attended some of their meetings.
However he had obtained the knowledge, it is clear it was simply head knowledge without belief or acceptance. On several occasions in Acts, it seems as if Felix is close to converting, but continually puts Paul off.
There are many people outside the church today who can state accurately the essential tenets of the Christian faith. They perhaps used to attend church regularly. They have read the Bible and may watch religious television programs. Yet for some reason, they refuse to take the step of accepting God’s gift of salvation. Perhaps they feel they will have time to do that later.
Paul teaches that when we encounter such people, we should never say, “Well, I have told you all you need to know. Whenever you get ready to accept it, let me know.” We should simply continue to be a positive witness to the Truth in their life and keep talking to them.
Some will ridicule: Show respect (Acts 26:22-25)
Whereas Felix had merely put Paul off, Festus openly ridiculed Paul for his beliefs. Today, a number of unbelievers criticize and ridicule believers as weak, old-fashioned and deluded. Often these statements are based on misconceptions or are used as a defense or excuse for refusing to accept the message.
When this happens, it can be easy to react and return their ridicule. Yet such a reaction would actually harm the believer’s witness and violate Jesus’ call to love those who persecute us.
Paul demonstrated the proper response to ridicule—respect the other person and their opinions. Paul recognized the position Festus held and refused to start an argument over sideline issues. He respectfully kept the focus on his words.
While we may well encounter those who will make fun of or ridicule our beliefs, we must never get involved in the senseless practice of labeling others or returning insult for insult. One of the most effective weapons we have in such instances is to remain respectful even amid ridicule.
Some will be silent: Ask questions (Acts 26:26-27)
Throughout Paul’s trial, one person had remained mostly silent. King Agrippa apparently had been quietly observing the proceedings. He had been listening to both sides present their arguments and was likely weighing them in his personal balance. Like Felix, Agrippa apparently was no stranger to Paul’s message. He also likely had considerable contact with those who professed belief in Jesus. Paul noticed Agrippa was remaining silent and directly addressed a question to him which called on the king to take a stand on one side or the other.
As we share or witness, we will occasionally encounter those who do not respond in any way. In these cases, we need to determine whether they understand what we are sharing. Yet in asking questions, we should try to avoid putting them on the spot or in an awkward position. We may find they are close to accepting, but simply do not know how to express it.
Some will refuse: Express concern (Acts 26:28-31)
At the end of the day, none of the officials present could find any fault with Paul or his message. Yet none of them seems to have believed or accepted that message. Even after the king expressed the possibility that Paul might be able to convince him, all of the officials left the court. As they did so, Paul expressed his desire that each of them would come to salvation.
How often are we today that concerned about the spiritual condition of unbelievers, especially those who question, ridicule or refuse to accept our message? The Bible is clear that it is the desire of God that all people come to a saving knowledge of Jesus and God has given us as believers the duty to share that message with all people regardless of how secular-minded they might be or how much they might ridicule us and refuse to believe.
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