October 28, 1990
Christians have a treasure they must share with a world in need—the good news of Jesus Christ. Alistair Begg dispels myths that inhibit effective evangelism and offers practical help in telling others about our hope in Christ. Effective witnessing begins with prayer, with Jesus as the soul-winner through us and with us.
Sermon Transcript: Print
So far, those of you who’ve been present on these evenings will know that we have in these studies on evangelism begun by tackling the foundational question: What is evangelism? And then we went on from there to ask a further question: What is God’s part in evangelism, and what is ours? And then we paid attention to the content of the message that we proclaim, seeking to understand it in terms of all its biblical fullness. And then we went from there last time to—no, I mean the time before last—to the whole question of motivation in our witness, realizing that biblical motivation would be God’s glory, which would transcend man’s need, although we would recognize that we minister to men and women in their need. And then last time we examined what we referred to as “The Master’s Plan for Evangelism.”
And really, the essence of last time was upon the notion of our lives in terms of the way we live before people being, if you like, the melody line of the gospel, the tune, which people may begin to recognize and which we said we would need to have patience, allowing people the time to recognize and pick up that melody line. And I hope that we stressed it enough. We certainly only gave one week to it, but it was a pivotal week, as each of the weeks has been, I hope. It’s been an important aspect, a building block, as we’ve gone along. And I hope that as a result of our study last time and thinking and praying about it, we have endeavored to be patient with people to whom we would love to witness with all the ramifications of everything we know about the Bible. And we’ve had to hold check.
I remember one time in a restaurant in Philadelphia, when I was working in the summer of ’74, there was a waitress there. And I remember one evening, when work was done, I started to tell her, I was so keen to tell her, about the second coming of Jesus Christ. And she stopped me, and she said, “Alistair, just don’t go any further. I haven’t even worked out his first coming yet.” And I was so keen to just drive through the whole program with her, and we need to take time to recognize where people are.
We saw also last time that there is little opportunity for impact without meaningful contact. And the pattern that we saw established last time I just wanted to reinforce for us by means of the diagrams, which you’ll find in your outline. I was wrestling last time with Venn diagrams, which I remembered from math in school in Scotland. I never really knew much about Venn diagrams; I just liked drawing the circles. I wasn’t quite sure what they were about; that’s why I was slow to use them last time. But we do have one this evening.
And you will notice here that in these two circles, we have Christians in containment in one circle and then the world in another circle. And this one diagram represents what is sadly the case for many of us, insofar as we develop what we might refer to as a fortress mentality—what we referred to in our last study as rabbit-hole Christianity, where the focus of the believer (that is, of you and of me) is largely inward, that our involvement is primarily with church people, and our preoccupation is almost directly involved with our own personal development. And consequently, we play sports with Christians, and as best as we’re able, we work with Christians, and so it goes on, and we find ourselves living in containment. And the world and our ability to impact the world is another island altogether, upon which we seem to make very little impact at all.
And the danger in this kind of containment is the danger akin to what we do with our children as we go through the wintertime—and I know that mothers identify very much with this: that at some point in the winter, around January the seventeenth, when the children seem to have been in the house for 185 days without a break and when the walls seem to be far too close to one another and life seems rather pressured, we know that it is time to suit them up and to ship them out. No matter what else may happen in this day, they must get fresh air, they must meet somebody else, and they must move on to new adventures, because we have exhausted all the resources in an endeavor to contain them.
And when the church of Jesus Christ lives in containment, that is exactly what happens. You contain your children for too long, they start to fight with one another. You contain the church family too long, it starts to fight with one another. They get bored with one another. They get bored with the program. They get tired of things. And the answer lies not in providing fresh entertainment within the circle; it is in reminding them that they must go out and explode the other circle. They are in need of fresh air, new friends, and new adventures, fulfilling the pattern of Jesus in John 17: “I do not pray that you take them out of the world but that you leave them in the world, but that you keep them from the Evil One.” And so we simply reinforce where we were last time as we seek to move on from there.
Now, as we live before people playing the tune, as it were, of our lives, there is going to come a time, hopefully, when we have the opportunity for a clear good-news presentation. For a clear good-news presentation. And I deliberately put it that way. Not that there comes a time for us to tell people everything we know, nor for a time when we can tell people everything they ought to be doing, but a time that opens before us to clearly present, in a verbal form, the news concerning the truth of Jesus Christ. When that time comes, it’s going to be important that, first of all, we are alert enough to recognize it. And that is something which we need to ask God for as we begin each new day: “God, I’m going to walk out into the pathway of life today. Today may be a day in which you open an avenue for me in which I may be able to make a clear, concise good-news presentation. Lord Jesus, at the beginning of this day, I ask for grace to see the opportunity. And secondly, I ask for grace to be able to take it.” First to see it, and then to seize it. Sometimes we don’t see it. Sometimes we see it, and we let it go.
And at this point, I think it’s very important to address the question which is raised as a false antithesis too many times. It goes something like this: “Well, actually, last Sunday was much more along my line. Because, you see, I just live the gospel. I don’t talk the gospel. Tonight is a good night for other people, the talkers, but for me, I’m just a liver.” That is not, you know… “I’m just one who lives it.”
That kind of antithesis is akin to asking a pilot as he begins to taxi down the runway which wing is the most important, the right wing or the left wing? The answer is neither wing is more important than the other; both are essential for flight. And so we need to recognize that life and lip are interwoven when it comes to making clear presentations of the good news. Because by our lives we may pave the way for our lips, and by our lives we may destroy the validity of what our lips may say. Therefore, having allowed them to learn the tune, we have made it possible for us to add the words.
Now, what I’ve put down next is very straightforward, but I make no apologies for it, as I’ve said all the way through. Let me just identify this for you. I’m not going to fill it in.
Each of us has long-term contacts. That’s obvious. For example, people who are our next-door neighbors, people with whom we work, people that we meet frequently, folks who by and large know something about us. And the reason I left the gaps there was for you not to fill it in generically but for you to fill it in specifically—that is, to take time to write in the people who are your personal long-term contacts, the ones that you have frequent opportunity to be around and to whom it may be that God will give you an express opportunity to make a clear presentation of the good news. And so, we might expect that with these long-term contacts, in the pattern of our lives, opportunities to speak for Christ will inevitably come.
At the same time, each of us has short-term contacts. Just to live life and to move around from day to day, we meet people whom we may never meet again. It may be one occasion that we meet them. We may meet them in the doctor’s waiting room, because you have to wait there a fair while. You can get through a clear, concise presentation of the gospel, usually. In the departure lounge in the airport, you can get through a complete book while you’re waiting there. You can have plenty of time to witness to them once, to leave for a couple of hours, to come back and have a follow-up time with them. You can witness to them on the bus. You can witness to them on the Rapid. You’ll find them waiting for pizza. And we’re put in touch with them, people we may never see again. What do we do with them?
Well, we need to recognize that as we pray in the morning that God might open doors of opportunity for us, while we may expect, be most comfortable with, an opportunity to speak the good news to someone who is a long-term contact, it may become very obvious to us that God has brought someone into our path for a moment, and the way the conversation goes leads to us seizing the opportunity to share the good news with them.
We need to remind ourselves constantly that effective witnessing begins when we’re on our knees and not when we’re on our feet. Whatever you may do or I may do this week concerning sharing Jesus with another, it will be directly related to the fact that we came from our knees to our feet, at least metaphorically if not literally—that God does things in answer to prayer, and that those who are genuinely interested in, if you like (to coin an old-fashioned phrase), a soul-winning ministry will declare that before God first in the silent territory of their own hearts and their own homes. And I can assure you that those who are involved in seizing the moment in short-term contact will be those who have been with God, asking for the short-term contact and for the wisdom and grace to speak as we should.
The old songwriter put it like this, and it’s a good prayer to write in your morning prayer regimen at least a few times a week:
Lord, lay some soul upon my heart,
And love that soul through me;
And may I [humbly] do my part
To win that soul for thee.
Now, you see, when the people of God move from the experiences of worship and proclamation, gathering for edification, and are ready to scatter to evangelize, if you have no target, you’ll probably hit it. But when you begin each day keen for the adventure of life, zealous in the realm of faith, tentative in terms of all that you know and don’t know and yet excited that God might use you, I can guarantee you that you are about to walk into an adventure such as you have never experienced before.
God in his goodness introduced me to the wonder of sharing my faith when I was sixteen and a half years old. I can’t remember ever before that ever giving anyone a clear presentation of the gospel. It was as a result of an institute of biblical studies at the university of Aberystwyth put on by Campus Crusade for Christ. And there they told us how to write our testimony in a hundred words, and there they drilled us and beat on us and made us articulate things and then sent us out onto the beaches of Aberystwyth, encountering people. And I thank God that somebody pressed me in that direction; otherwise, I might have remained in the posture of many a British Christian: in the fortress mentality, not wishing to be interfered with, and feeling dead certain that nobody else would like to be interfered with either. After all, they’re just having a happy time at the doctor’s; they don’t need me making it any worse for them with my news. They’re just pushing their grocery cart. There may be tears in their eyes, but I’m sure I’m not the one that’s supposed to speak to them. I mean, I’m only taking the course on a Sunday night to find out a few things. I mean, I’m not going to get into it! No, no, we’ll leave that to a small group of evangelists.
Well, we may. The cause of the gospel is diminished, and our ability to enjoy the adventure is less than it might be. We can trust God to make the opportunity and then trust him to enable us to take the opportunity. I like that. Saves me from having to rush around trying to make things happen.
Now, there are one or two myths that need to be exploded. And so we’re going to try and explode them right now.
Myth number one: to be involved in this ministry, it takes a certain kind of person (and that person is not me). The people who say it takes a certain kind of person are usually saying that to alleviate the responsibility.
Now, consider the variety of personalities called by Jesus to join his band of disciples. There is no question but that Nathaniel was a different type than was Peter, and Andrew and Peter may have been brothers, but they were different. And as you go through the group and think of Matthew the tax collector, and you think of the timidity of some and the posture of others, you think of Philip. Bless his heart, lovely Philip, always asking the questions twenty minutes after Jesus has given the answer. “He who has seen me has seen the Father,” says Jesus. So Philip says, “Mm, well, show us the Father, and that will be fine.” So Jesus must have said, “Wait, wait, let me run that one by you again, Philip. He who has seen me has seen the Father. Now, do you want to ask the question again?” Okay?
There’s a whole variety of personalities. God in his wisdom did that so that tonight, as we sit here, asking the question somewhat fearfully, “Lord, do you think you would use me in personal evangelism? I’m not the type that you use,” we open our Bibles, and we discover that he uses all types. And most of the folks that he used began by telling God that he’d got it wrong. Moses: “I’m not your man.” Jeremiah: “I’m only a youth. Surely there’s somebody else to pick.” God uses the most unlikely folks.
Now, it’s true to say that if you happen to be an extrovert, you’re probably going to be a little bolder when it comes to the short-term-contact, intervening kind of ministry. There’s little doubt about that on the basis of human personality. You may be able to launch right in. But there’s a fair danger that you and I will launch right in with both feet first, and we’ll launch in so deep that we won’t be able to get our feet out in time to save the situation. And we may be able to reach those who are like that. But the person who is quiet, the person who is shy, the person who is diffident, the person who is thoughtful, the person who is bright, the person who is intellectual, we may not just be as good at reaching. It’ll take an introvert to do that. For they will identify that same posture of heart and mind.
So tonight, none of us can say, “It takes a certain kind of person, and I am not that kind of person”—or, if you like, “It takes a certain kind of person, and I am that person.” In the purposes of God, we’re all that person.
Secondly, myth: you need to be a walking Bible encyclopedia or a walking Bible dictionary. “Oh, I could never launch into sharing my faith. I mean, I just, uh… I, you know… I just haven’t got it all down yet.” Well, if that’s an excuse for laziness, may the Lord forgive us, and may we be about the business of endeavoring to prepare adequately. But let us not be gainsaid by the fact that we do not know the answer to every question. We don’t even know every question! How could we know the answers?
And it is frequently in a week, when we engage in sharing our faith, that if we’re honest, we have to say to people, “You know what? You stumped me on that question. I can’t find it. I know there’s an answer to it, but I can’t give it to you right now.” People will be far more respectful of that kind of response than they will be of us trying to make them believe that we know more than we’ve actually learned. We need to remind one another that what we’re doing is not trying to introduce people to an ideology which we’ve come to embrace but to a person we’ve come to love. As I wrote that down, I thought, “That doesn’t sound as clear as I would like it,” so I tried it again, and I put it this way: “We’re not introducing people to a philosophy that has challenged us but to a person who has changed us.” I liked it better the second version.
So we’re not philosophers. They don’t need philosophers, you see, on the Rapid, by and large. The guys who are carrying their briefcase just like yours, bulging with information, crammed with material, and with a head that’s so full of things that it nips, who is wondering about his wife and children that he has left behind and the responsibilities that he faces in yet today, he doesn’t need somebody to sit down beside him and try and introduce him to the latest Mideastern philosophy. But he may be interested to hear about a person who has changed your life.
Thirdly, mythology number three: I am personally responsible to speak to everyone. If we don’t get ahold of this, we’ll suffer from a kind of Christianized version of Saint Vitus’s dance. Those of you who are medical people know that that’s probably the incorrect pronunciation, but it is a condition. My dog had it; I know that for sure. One dog I had had it. It was very sad, actually. But if it was a little sadder, I would look sadder. But it was an amazing experience. But the thing moved all the time! All the time! Here, there, back, forth, up, down. We had to give it tablets to try and calm the thing down. It took to running around in circles in the yard, backwards, foaming at the mouth. Truth! And we waited until my mother and two sisters went north to Scotland for a few days’ vacation, then my father and I had the dog put down, ’cause we couldn’t stand the dancing any longer. It was a shame to everyone, not least of all the dog.
Now, if you get up on a morning with a bad condition of Saint Vitus’s dance, you’re going to be absolutely a pain in the neck from start to finish to everybody you run into contact with. If you think somehow that God’s sovereignty extends to everywhere except around your life and ministry and that he has nixed out a section for you to go ahead and get on your own, then you will suffer from all kinds of diseases. One, you will suffer from dreadful depression because you did not speak to everybody today. Two, you will suffer from unbelievable guilt because you didn’t manage to do that, which contributes to the depression. Three, every place you go and every person you meet, you will feel compelled to do something to them or say something at them. You will leave tracts everywhere you go if you’ve been unable to say something.
Now, I’m not against you leaving tracts, and that’s fine, and God is able to honor all of that. But I want you to understand this: you are not personally responsible to speak to everyone in the universe. That’s why we began with the quote from Leith Samuel on the heading of your notes tonight. Let me just reread it for emphasis’s sake. It’s a great statement. Leith Samuel was the pastor of Above Bar Church in Southampton—a terrific man, a great pastor, and a super evangelist, especially among students.
Look what he says: “Christ is going after His lost sheep, and He wants to use our lips that they may hear His voice today, and our hands that they may feel His touch. He is the soul-winner. People are not won by us for Him.” This is a lesson in prepositions. “They are won through us by Him. He can win them without us, just as He can speak to them through the Bible quite apart from any thing we might say. But He has chosen to work through us and with us.” I found that a tremendously helpful statement. We do not win them for him. He chooses to win them through us. If we fail to understand this, then we will appear to people more like salesmen than fishermen.
Now, all of that brings us, then, to the point where we ask the question, “Okay, we’ve understood that. We understand that it doesn’t take a certain kind of person. You don’t need to be a walking Bible dictionary. I’m not personally responsible to speak to everyone. But here I am, I’m in the seat, the conversation flows, the door opens up, and boom! I’m in it. What do you say then?”
Well, I can’t tell you, because it’s twenty-eight minutes past seven, and we have to stop. So, I mean, I’m being serious, because we’re done. And so we’re going to have to do it next time. But then we’re getting to the heart of it, you know? And I’m looking forward to it, and I’d go right now till eight thirty at the drop of a hat, but I wouldn’t be bringing a great blessing from regions beyond. And so, in order to be fair to everybody and to be a part of the total ministry, I’m sorry that we have to conclude just to the point of usefulness.
But let me ask you to do a little check this week on something that I’m not going to make much of next week. When it comes to the specific task of sharing Christ with people, don’t overlook simple yet important aspects of body language. You say, “Body language? You’ve been reading different kinds of books? We don’t expect you to speak about body language, Alistair.” I’m not talking about b-a-w-d-y; I’m talking about b-o-d-y, okay? Body language—i.e., eye contact, for example.
Give yourself a check this week on how much you use eye contact in personal conversation and how much you look around everywhere when you’re talking to somebody. As surely as my mother taught me how to squeeze somebody’s hand firm in a handshake, my father taught me till I was blue in the face, and he too, “Look me in the eyes when you speak to me. If you don’t, I will assume that either you’re embarrassed about something, you’ve got a guilty conscience, or you don’t know what you’re talking about. So look me in the eyes.” Give yourself a check this week—on everything, not just sharing your faith! How much do you do that? The use of your hands and your posture—for we can convey by our posture such a tremendous amount, and we often do.
Next time, we’re going to pick it up at this point, and we’re going to go through some very practical aspects of what it means to get down to the business of articulating the good news of our faith in Jesus Christ.
Our time is gone, and so we’ll pray together:
Our gracious God and Father, we bow to thank you tonight for those who took the time to share the good news of Jesus Christ with us, who by their lives and by their lips opened up a pathway over which you walked into our hearts and into our homes. Some of them are even seated around us tonight, and we thank you for them.
And we pray that you will in these Sunday evenings stir within our hearts a desire for genuine adventure—the adventure of realizing that although we are only one, we are one; that although we can’t do everything, we can do something. And so, what we can do, by your grace, we will do.
This week, O Lord, give us eyes to see and ears to hear the cries of our friends and neighbors and contacts, the dispirited, crestfallen brow which confronts us. Unloose our stammering tongues that we might share good news in the midst of so much that’s gloomy.
Thank you for this time. May the love of the Lord Jesus draw us to himself. May the joy of the Lord Jesus strengthen us as we seek to live for him. May the peace of the Lord Jesus guard and keep our hearts and minds, today and forevermore. Amen.
 John 17:15 (paraphrased).
 [Leon Tucker?], “Lord, Lay Some Soul upon My Heart.”
 John 14:7–9 (paraphrased).
 Exodus 3:11 (paraphrased).
 Jeremiah 1:6 (paraphrased).
 Leith Samuel, Witness for Christ (London: Pickering and Inglis, 1973), 20–21.
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.