Many Christians today are discouraged about their poor witness for Jesus. We struggle to get conversations about Jesus started with our friends and family. In their book, Everyday Church, Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, touch on this.
Many of us know how to answer the question, What must I do to be saved? But we do not know how to begin a conversation about Jesus. Our only hope is a crass, awkward change of direction, like crunching the gears in your car. So you are watching football and you resort to saying things like, ‘At last a substitution. Did you know that Jesus could be your substitute?’ (113)
Often, our evangelistic effort looks like an awkward fumbling over words that leaves people thinking we’re weird. Could it be that we’ve missed an important step in the evangelistic process? A step which the apostles were careful to observe for the sake of the mission? Could it be that we’ve forgotten what it means to sacrifice for our neighbors before we try to speak to them?
What would you be willing to lose to see your neighbors come to know Jesus? Reaching people with the gospel of Jesus Christ requires sacrifice, but what might be gained is far greater than what is lost. As Christians, we desperately need to be aware of this truth, and it is modeled for us by Christ’s early followers. For them, reaching the lost was so important that they were willing to give up very precious things in their lives for the sake of reaching their neighbors. Let me give you just one example.
Paul came also to Derbe and to Lystra. A disciple was there, named Timothy, the son of a Jewish woman who was a believer, but his father was a Greek. He was well spoken of by the brothers at Lystra and Iconium. Paul wanted Timothy to accompany him, and he took him and circumcised him because of the Jews who were in those places, for they all knew that his father was a Greek. (Ac. 16:1-3)
It’s important to mention that, in the chapter before this, the apostles had determined that followers of Jesus didn’t have to be circumcised to be a part of the church! This is noteworthy because it means that Timothy didn’t undergo this surgical procedure due to some divine commandment, or obligation. Timothy chose to follow through with this for another very important reason.
As Paul was sharing Jesus with the lost, he recognized that enlisting Timothy in the work posed certain cultural problems for his audience. Paul, ministering to Jewish people, understood that Timothy would not be well received by the Jews he was trying to reach because he had not been circumcised. This “handicap”would have kept him from being taken seriously by Jews since circumcision was a significant religious and cultural practice for them. Timothy wasn’t obligated to be circumcised, but he chose to do it for the sake of the mission. What was Timothy willing to lose so that his Jewish neighbors might know Jesus? His foreskin (ouch!).
Consider this: Paul and Timothy didn’t know for certain that this act would give Timothy a fruitful ministry among the Jews, but they did know it would make it easier for them to engage in that ministry. They believed that what might be gained as a result of this sacrifice was much greater than what was lost. They wanted to remove any potential stumbling block between themselves and the people they wanted to reach for Jesus, even if it meant sacrificing their own flesh!
Perhaps one of the reasons we have a difficult time reaching our neighbors with the gospel of Christ is that we are unwilling to sacrifice anything for their sake, breaking down relational and cultural walls that make it hard for them to receive our message. Sacrificing foreskin probably won’t do much in our context, but what about our time? Having someone new over for dinner can be a sacrifice (especially when you have kids!). Sharing our goods (money/possessions) with those in need is also a godly sacrifice (Heb. 13:16). Even the sacrifice of prayer for our neighbors is something we should be willing to engage in (Romans 10:1). When you sacrifice for your neighbor, you’re modeling the implications of the gospel to them in a tangible way. This means you’re not just speaking the great truth of the gospel to them, but you’re showing them what the gospel does in practice.
The early disciples of Jesus were willing to ask themselves what they might lose in order to gain their neighbors. I think the disciples of Jesus today must be willing to ask themselves the same question. There is something so glorious about the message of Jesus that the potentiality of more effectively sharing that message with others led the early Church to do things the world might consider crazy. Timothy sacrificed his comfort for the sake of reaching people. This shouldn’t sound all too crazy to Christians, though; after all, we follow the God who was willing to sacrifice his own flesh to gain us. Jesus didn’t just preach to us; he laid down his life for us. As we are steeped in that wonderful reality, we’ll be enabled to recover the missing piece of evangelism: sacrificing for others like Jesus sacrificed for us.