What We Must Do (4)
And he said, “Brethren and fathers, listen: The God of glory appeared to our father Abraham when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Haran…” Acts 7.2
Find a patch of ground
Stephen’s witness had a profound and lasting effect on Paul. As Paul emphasized the greatness of God, Who does not live in temples made by human hands, he must have thought back to Stephen’s witness before the Jewish authorities, and of his own role in that tragic situation.
It’s possible that Stephen affected Paul’s witness to the Greeks in another way as well. We recall Paul’s opening remarks to that gathering of philosophers and thinkers, how he complimented them for their interest in matters religious, and that he used their own writers as a platform for sharing the Word of Christ. Stephen did the same in his witness before the Jewish leaders; thus, he shows us that we must establish common ground with those to whom the Lord is sending us with the good seed of His Kingdom.
It can be difficult at times to remember that people who are outspoken in their opposition to God and the Gospel, who have nothing kind to say about anything Christian, and who seem so angry whenever anything related to religion comes up – these people actually have a good deal in common with those of us who believe.
That might surprise some of us. After all, what can we have in common with people who seem to hate us so much that, given half an opportunity, they would figure out some way to silence us once and for all?
But Stephen understood this, and he knew that it was important to stand for Christ on whatever patch of common ground he might share with his accusers. We must understand the people and times to which the Lord has sent us, and we must make every effort to communicate the Good News with them. This will require that we seek common ground with those among whom we sow the good seed of the Kingdom.
Seek common ground
Notice how Stephen began his defense: He referred to those who would murder him before the end of the day as brothers and fathers. He spoke about their common ancestry in Abraham, even when Abraham was still living as a pagan in Mesopotamia. And he went to considerable lengths to identify with them in their national story: the promises to Abraham, the patriarchs, captivity in Egypt, deliverance through Moses, the giving of the Law, and so forth.
Stephen understood the importance of seeking a positive connection with people, even though he knew they weren’t interested in connecting with him, and that, no matter what he said or did, this situation was not going to turn out well.
Nevertheless, he made the effort. He affirmed their story and his own connection to it, if, by any means, he might assuage their anger, connect with them by his message, and create a context in which reason and cooler heads could prevail.
Because all people are made in the image of God, we can always find something about them which can serve as a kind of common ground for talking about the things of the Lord. Whether it’s their work, interests and avocations, views on this or that, background and upbringing, or their sense of purpose and morality, we can always discover something about them, the fruit of their being God’s image-bearers, which we can affirm, and on the basis of which we can establish a connection and begin a conversation about the Lord.
Regardless of the degree of hostility this world may display toward us and the Gospel, we must always do our best to remain respectful (1 Pet. 3.15), to speak gently and reasonably (Col. 4.6), and to engage those who oppose us by establishing some common ground on their turf. We must help them understand God’s calling and message within the framework of their story, their worldview, and their concerns. Some people, we know, will respond favorably to such efforts, and civil and ongoing conversation may be the result.
Others will see in our effort a condescending and judgmental attitude, which, combined with what they already regard as naiveté, if not lunacy, will only serve to make them angrier and more determined to put us in our place.
There have been times in history when whole societies were like this, and sincere believers, no matter how gracious and reasonable, encountered the same response Stephen did, if not always quite so violent and final. We could be heading that way in our day.
But we must not put our hopes in political solutions or relief as threats of persecution foment. Nor must we abandon the effort to connect with those we are trying to reach for Christ, even though we may suspect that nothing we do or say is going to change their minds or mitigate their wrath.
We have to proceed anyway, even if the consequences should be dire, for there are always young zealots hanging around in the background, watching as older heads hammer us and our worldview. And some of these may already be starting to wonder whether our blustering and bullying, under-the-sun generation may have gotten the story wrong.
1. What do we mean by trying to find “common ground” with the enemies of the Gospel? Can you give some examples of what might serve as common ground with people in your Personal Mission Field?
2. Why should we expect to be able to do discover such common ground?
3. Why is it important to do this? Does doing this mean we will always succeed in helping others to understand or believe the Gospel? Explain:
Next steps – Conversation: Make a list of the non-Christians you regularly see during a typical week. Beside each name, write down two or three things you think you might have in common with them (review the things mentioned in this article). During the week to come, use one or more of those “common ground” components to start a conversation with a non-Christian – a friendly conversation only. Can you see how such conversations could easily lead to something more substantial?
T. M. Moore
We must be ready with the Gospel as the Lord gives us opportunities in our Personal Mission Field. Our little book, The Gospel of the Kingdom, can help you to be ready to give an answer and explanation for the hope others see in you. Order your copy by clicking here.
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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.