Let’s be honest: Most Christians would rather do almost anything than witness. There are a number of reasons for this feeling. One is ignorance – we really don’t know how to go about it. Another is indifference. We have other things to think about, after all, and besides there are plenty of people with the gift of evangelism who can do the job better (we’re plenty willing to pick up the tab if they’ll just do the work.) Still another reason we’re reluctant is fear. Nobody likes being made a fool of, or being asked questions they can’t answer. And what if the response is hostile? The whole idea is just too scary. Also, some of us have an unpleasant memory of a bad experience when someone grabbed us by the collar and shoved the gospel down our throat. We remember that embarrassed, intruded upon pressured feeling and the last thing we want to do is to make someone else feel that way. We know we should share our faith, but we still feel awkward.
Yet God longs for us to get into the game. He has chosen us to be His voice, to introduce lost people to the most important message they will ever hear! And here in the last half of Acts chapter 8 we have an example of how He wants us to go about it. – and it is quite different than what most people would think.
In this passage we have 5 principles that are necessary to be a person whom God uses to get the gospel out. The focal point of this passage is Philip, one of the original 7 deacons chosen back in chapter 6. And the importance of that to most of us is that he was not a “professional” evangelist. Even though in the first part of the chapter he is doing many impressive things in the area of evangelism, he is still a “layman.” But suddenly, right in the midst of that, God changes Philips’s direction. Look at verse 26:
Now an angel of the Lord spoke to Philip saying, “Arise and go toward the south along the road which goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza. This is desert.
And Philip’s response to that command demonstrates the first guideline for God’s plan for evangelism: Attentiveness. Out of the blue God tells Philip to take off for the desert. No reason is given, and no arrangements are made for someone to take his place in Samaria. There’s just this command. How tempting it would have been to brush that still, small voice away like a gnat buzzing in his ear. Things were going so well; the Samaritans were open to the gospel; but Philip had walked with God long enough to know that He sometimes throws a curve. And when He does He always has His reasons. He knows that to be an effective witness he had to be “attentive” to God’s call. S. Lewis Johnson says that “attentiveness” has a Siamese twin by the name of “availability.” There is not much good in hearing God’s call if you’re not willing to follow it when it comes. Look at verses 27 and 28:
So He arose and went. And behold a man of Ethiopia, a eunuch of great authority under Candace, the queen of the Ethiopians, who had charge of all her treasury, had come to Jerusalem to worship (28) was returning. And sitting in his chariot, he was reading Isaiah the prophet.
Who would you have thought it? Out in the middle of nowhere is a political leader, riding in his chariot and reading the word of God. No one but God could have known he was there, and how receptive he was going to be to the gospel. Philip didn’t know that this Ethiopian was the reason for his unexpected detour to the south. He simply was available to the Lord, who in his sovereign plan had caused their paths to cross. I wonder how many times God directs our steps – or wants to, across the path of someone whom He knows is ready to hear. We should look at every unexpected happening as a possible opportunity for evangelism. And sometimes those opportunities come to people who are not strangers to us, too.
The next principle is in verses 29 through 34, and it is alertness
Then the Spirit said to Philip, “Go near and overtake this chariot.” (30) So Philip ran to him, and he heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said “Do you understand what you are reading?
First Philip was alert to the Spirit’s voice in verse 29. Remember, he didn’t know why the Spirit had told him to come out there, even when he saw the man riding in the chariot. And who would have even dream-ed of overtaking a moving chariot (which was probably being pulled by several horses)! But Philip was listening for further instructions. And again, I wonder how often we have missed opportunities to witness, – or some other kind of service – simply because we were not alert to the situation around us and attentive to the voice of the Lord.
There is a striking example back in the Old Testament. It occurs in Exodus chapter 3 as Moses was on the back side of the desert working for his father-in-law. As he is moving around in the desert he sees something unusual – a bush was burning. I grew up out in west Texas where the atmospheric conditions are almost identical to those of Israel in “the back side of the desert.” And it is not unheard of to see a bush burst into flame by spontaneous combustion in that area. But the thing that was significant in this case was the fact that even though the bush was burning it wasn’t being consumed by the fire. And so, in verse 3 Moses says:
I will turn aside and see this great sight, why the bush is not consumed.”
Now we don’t know if Moses pondered this deliberately over every decision that he made, but look what the next verse says: And when the LORD saw that he turned aside to see God called to him from the midst of the bush and said “Moses, Moses and the implication seems clear that if Moses had not stopped to notice the unusual nature of the burning bush that God would not have spoken to him. Now listen carefully: it was in that conversation that God called him to be, from the human standpoint, the deliverer of the Israelites from their Egyptian bondage, the ministry in which he would be involved for the rest of his life. And the point is a simple but extremely important one. “Pay attention to what is going on around you.” The thing that the Lord wants you to see may not be a physical burning bush; it may be simply a person near you whom you can see by the look on his or her face that something is wrong in their life. It may be a painful tragedy or a struggle with sin – and when it is all said and done you wind up being able to have an eternal spiritual impact, perhaps on a whole family. The bottom line is that we as Christians need to be alert to what is going on around us.
Now going back to the book of Acts we have seen Philip’s alertness in listening to the voice of the Holy spirit, but there is something more. Look at Acts 8:30:
So Philip ran to him and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah, and said, “do you understand what you are reading?
Philip didn’t wait for the man to lean out of his chariot and say, “excuse me, but do you happen to know anything about the Old Testament? But at the same time, he didn’t run up to him and say, “say buddy, do you know the savior?” No! Philip was alert to the situation. He looked for an appropriate way to open the conversation. And verse 30 shows how he did it. He started simply by talking about what the man was interested in. He simply said, “do you understand what you are reading? And that simple question got a straightforward answer. Look at verse 31:
And he said, “how can I, unless someone guides me? And he asked Philip to come up and sit with him.
Now Philip has established personal contact, but his alertness doesn’t stop there. Again, he lets the other man express himself. Look at verse 32 and following:
The place in the scripture which he read was “He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and as a sheep before his shearers is silent, so he opened not his mouth (33) In His humiliation His justice was taken away, and who will declare His generation? For his life is taken from the earth.” (34) So the eunuch answered Philip and said, “I ask you, of whom does the prophet say this? of Himself, or some other man?
By simply letting the other man go first, Philip opened the door to a perfect opportunity for the gospel.
And by the way, isn’t it “lucky “that he “happened” to be reading such a perfect passage! – Don’t ever forget the ministry of the Holy Spirit in preparing another person’s heart for your ministry!
But Philip is an example to us of the right way to go about witnessing. He tactfully let the eunuch ask his questions and with accuracy he gave the answers. And that is the fourth guideline for witnessing. Look at verse 35:
Then Philip opened his mouth and, beginning at this scripture, preached Jesus to him.
He began right where the man was – “at this scripture” and he went from there (in the Old Testament) to preach Jesus. It takes skill to continue with accuracy and keep from getting sidetracked when you are witnessing – Satan gives people an amazing ability to pull you off the subject and onto arguments about evolution or the latest church scandal. But Jesus is truly the only subject that matters.
Well, Philip’s strategy (and really it is the Lord’s strategy) is working. The gospel message penetrates the man’s heart to such an extent that in verse 36
Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, here is water:what hinders me from being baptized?
At this point, Philip brings in the fifth guideline for witnessing. He speaks with authority to his disciple. You may soon turn your new convert over to someone whom you consider more able, but at first you will be that person’s only authority. And Philip wisely puts first things first, knowing that salvation comes through faith, not through baptism, he says decisively in verse 37:
If you believe with all your heart you may. And he answered “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”(38) So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water and he baptized him.
First there was a private acceptance of the message, then there was an outward demonstration of faith. And I think these verses demonstrate also that any Christian can officiate at the baptism. It doesn’t have to be a “Reverend” or a “Father.” And notice too that this had nothing to do with joining a local church There is nothing in the scripture that links baptism with joining a local church; it is simply based on tradition.
Normally in our witnessing the next step would be follow-up – spiritual guidance for the new believer. But in this situation something startling happens. Look at verses 39 and 40:
Now when they came up of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing. (40) But Philip was found at Azotus. And passing through, he preached in all the cities till he came to Caesarea.
Now as I say, this is not the norm. Usually a soul winner needs to be extremely careful to guide his new convert into some thorough follow-up, whether he does it himself or makes arrangements for someone else to do it for him. But this passage does demonstrate that true follow-up is really in God’s hands ultimately. His job was finished, but the court official’s was just beginning, because he carried the gospel back to the land of Ethiopia, and eventually the entire continent. This was such an important issue that it was prophesied in advance. Psalm 68:31 says:
Ethiopia will stretch out her hands to God.”
The exciting thing about soul winning is that you never know how it will end up.You see, a whole nation eventually embraced the gospel because Philip was “attentive,” ”available” “alert” “accurate” and “authoritative.”