When the Lord called Simon and Andrew, He promised “Come ye after Me and I will make you to become fishers of men” (Mark 1:17). The Lord committed Himself to teach them, train them, and show to them principles of evangelism which would turn them into “fishers of men.”
This is encouraging because it shows that we can be taught how to evangelize. The Lord, the perfect evangelist, has left us an example to follow. Over two articles, we intend to consider one conversation of the Savior to see what we can learn from Him.
Rudyard Kipling once wrote:
I keep six honest serving-men
(They taught me all I knew);
Their names are What and Why and When
And How and Where and Who.
Before we consider John 4, we will take five of these “honest serving-men” and examine our subject.
What is evangelism? The Greek word means to announce good news. This defines our responsibility. The Biblical view of evangelism is simple: we declare the message, and God does the miracle of salvation. This frees us from pressure to “win souls.” Telling someone the gospel is evangelism.
Why do personal evangelism? Without it many will not hear the gospel! How many of your work colleagues, school-friends, or neighbors will hear the gospel publicly preached? Likely a small percentage. Other Scriptural methods must be used to reach them. Personal evangelism is Biblical, having been practiced by the early Christians, the apostles, and the Lord Himself.
Who should be involved? In the NT there are at least three ways the gospel reaches people. These include direct intervention by the Lord, public preaching, and private conversation (John 1:35-52, Acts 8-10). None of us can be involved when there is direct intervention by the Lord, and only some of us can be involved in public preaching. However, all of us can converse privately about the Savior.
That evangelism was never intended to be left to “professionals” is confirmed by Ephesians 4. The ascended Christ “gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds, and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry” (vv12-13 ESV). The evangelist is given to “equip the saints.” He is not only meant to evangelize, he is also responsible to train other believers to evangelize.
Where should I start? In Acts 8:4, “They that were scattered abroad went everywhere preaching the Word.” The word “scattered” means “sown.” While the devil was scattering the Christians, God was sowing them. When seed is sown it is intended to produce fruit where it lands. So, wherever you are presently is where God desires you to bear fruit.
How can I do it? It is good to be exhorted, but better to be equipped. Our consideration of the Lord’s conversation with the Samaritan woman should give a few pointers.
Why “must” Jesus “go through Samaria” (John 4:4)? It was not a geographical necessity, nor was it the conventional route taken by the Jews. Samaria was, however, the place He intended to evangelize. The Lord lived an intentional life, ordered around the fulfillment of His Father’s will and the blessing of souls. Is that true of us? Do we have the same priorities? To be intentional about evangelism, we must pray, plan, and prepare for opportunities to tell others the gospel.
Who opened the conversation? The woman undoubtedly perceived the barriers of race, religion, gender, and lifestyle which divided them, so the Lord took the initiative or the conversation would never have taken place. If we are to follow His example, we must also cross barriers, open conversations, take the initiative.
How did Jesus make it happen? He made a simple request, “Give me to drink” (v7). To this woman, the request communicated a lot. These few words demolished her preconceptions. As a Samaritan, a woman, and a renowned sinner, she did not expect Him to communicate with her at all. His willingness to converse showed that He valued her. His words also dignified her, for He was not only willing to converse, He was willing to receive from her. He treated her as a social equal. By making a request, He also demonstrated a non-threatening attitude, making conversation possible. The Lord did not commence by preaching.
How can we make conversations happen? We must accomplish the same ends as the Lord did. One way to achieve this is to ask questions with a humble, non-controversial attitude. If a question is asked with the correct attitude, the person to whom you are speaking feels valued, not threatened. Asking a question also puts immense pressure on them to reply, opening and maintaining the conversation. Questions also put you in the driver’s seat, enabling you to bring up the subjects you want to introduce in a non-threatening manner. This will help you to inoffensively communicate the gospel.
There are many more aspects of the Lord’s approach worthy of emulation. He was positive, presenting the gospel attractively. Early in the conversation He conveyed the wonder of salvation: “If thou knewest the gift of God, and Who it is that saith to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of Him and He would have given thee living water” (v10). By showing His confidence in the worth of the offer, He whetted her appetite for more information. He was patient, allowing the conversation to unfold naturally, giving her the freedom to engage in it. By allowing her questions and interjections, He communicated further that He valued her. He used pictures. The analogy of water as a thirst-quencher was used to convey the spiritual satisfaction of salvation.
The lessons are many. Are we intentionally arranging our lives to reach the lost? Do we wisely take the initiative, and by doing so, sweep away common misconceptions that we are arrogant or disinterested? Do we use questions to make contact and maintain control of conversations? May we learn the lessons!