Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Evangelism: The Pauline Model

Being free of all, I enslave myself to all, that I should be gaining the more.  And I became to the Jews as a Jew, that I should be gaining Jews; to those under law as under law (not being myself under law), that I should be gaining those under law; to those without law as without law (not being without God's law, but legally Christ's), that I should be gaining those without law.  I became as weak to the weak, that I should be gaining the weak.  To all have I become all, that I should undoubtedly be saving some."  -The Apostle Paul, 1 Corinthians 9:19-22

Several years ago, a friend of mine told me of an encounter he had with a Jehovah's Witness.  At the time, my friend believed in an eternal torturous hell, and the Witness (who didn't) challenged his evangelistic efforts.  With one remark, the Witness left my friend literally speechless.  His challenging question was this:  "If you Baptists truly believe in an eternal hell of literal fire, why are we the ones out knocking on people's doors?"

In one short sentence, the Witness left my friend defenseless and without excuse.  My friend's beliefs and lack of effort in spite of them proved his immense hypocrisy and self-righteousness.  Sadly, this trend pervades the majority of Christendom.  A study of professing Christians was done years ago which found that when anonymously polled, over eighty-seven percent of churchgoers admitted to never witnessing to an unbeliever!  

While many of these people may neglect to share their faith because of hypocrisy and self-righteousness, many others neglect to witness out of fear.  They recognize that the "turn or burn" message is completely ineffective and they know how ridiculous they will sound to those they engage.  In the end, they justify their lack of action by reasoning that since God is in control, He will fulfill His plan whether they share their faith or sit at home.

While God is in complete control, He never allows us to use that excuse to justify a lack of action.  Paul's example to the Corinthians is the perfect example of this.  Rather than do nothing in light of God's sovereignty, Paul evangelized with every breath.  As members of Paul's evangel, we are to imitate him and do the same (1 Cor. 11:1, Phil. 3:17), recognizing that as God's elect we are charged with the vital duty of drawing others in the redemptive process.

Ironically, the Jehovah's Witness who challenged my friend doesn't have much to brag about either.  He may be fearless in his approach, but his results are statistically no better.  His fault, though different from my friend's, is no less detrimental.  My friend may have lacked effort, but the Witness lacked the proper approach.  I've been visited by Jehovah's Witnesses many times and have always invited them in for a discussion.  Each time, they have been eager to share their beliefs but completely unwilling to consider mine.  Needless to say, I was never eager to return their dismissiveness with openness.  In the end, neither the Witness nor my friend were effective because neither imitated Paul.

So what is the Pauline model we should follow when evangelizing?  Fortunately, we don't have to go far to find the answer to this question.  In fact, you need not go farther than the top of this article.  Paul spells out his strategy in a few short verses to the Corinthians.  Paul's method is simply this:  becoming all to all to undoubtedly save some.

One of the most striking words in this verse is "undoubtedly."  Paul is completely confident that his method will produce guaranteed results and will never be entirely fruitless.  We know from Scripture and history that Paul is the greatest evangelist the world has ever known, so his tactics speak for themselves.

What does it mean, then, to "become all to all" when sharing the evangel?  Well, fortunately Paul provides some detailed examples so we don't have to do a lot of guess-work.  To the Jew he becomes as a Jew; to the one with law, as one with law; to the one without law, as one without law, etc.  In short, Paul met people at their level.  He showed no superiority and never displayed traits with which his recipients would not identify.

So how can we follow Paul's example in modern America?  How, exactly, can we "become all to all" in these trying times?  

The thought of always meeting people at their level seems to imply an inevitable violation of faith.  You may want to share the evangel with a coworker who is profane and belittles others but can't find a way to possibly relate to him without doing those things yourself.  

In this case (and every one like it), there are plenty of ways to relate to the coworker without violating your conscience.  Simply by starting a conversation, you can quickly uncover a lot about the person's past and the experiences that shaped him.  You will likely be able to relate to many of those experiences from your own life, and the smallest bit of common ground can lay a strong foundation on which to build.  

One of the most frequent complaints among unbelievers regarding Christians is that they are arrogant and judgmental.  By admitting our own flaws and exhibiting a truly caring nature to others, we will earn their respect and, more importantly in terms of the evangel, their attention.  

When you commit to relating to others and meeting them at their level, your evangelistic efforts will quickly flourish.  By following Paul's example and resisting the common Christian habit of appearing superior and judgmental, you will be properly armed with 1) the necessary effort, and 2) the right approach.  Follow Paul's model, and you will be confident approaching unbelievers.

© 2012 by Stephen Hill

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