What We Must Do (5)
“This is that Moses who said to the children of Israel, ‘The Lord your God will raise up for you a Prophet like me from your brethren. Him you shall hear.’ This is he who was in the congregation in the wilderness with the Angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers, the one who received the living oracles to give to us, whom our fathers would not obey, but rejected…” Acts 7.37-39
Their resources for our case
Stephen shows us why it is so important to understand the times and the people to whom God sends us as His witness. As Paul, knowing Greek culture and thinking, couched the Gospel message in terms familiar to his hearers (Acts 17), and Stephen connected with his audience along the lines of their worldview, we too must be able to put ourselves into the story of the people around us, so that we can help them see through their under-the-sun worldview to the brighter hopes of our under-the-heavens calling from God.
This is what we’re trying to do by seeking common ground with those to whom we bear witness. One of the advantages of doing this is that the resources of their story become available to us for our message.
Remember, all who reject the Gospel are separated from God, cut off from truth, and are therefore living a lie. Paul makes this assertion plainly enough in Romans 1.18-32. But because all people are made in the image of God, they are at all times susceptible to His breaking into their purview and upsetting their settled convictions and beliefs. And very often, God will use people like you and me to accomplish that unsettling.
So however people might construe their particular story, we know that, at best, this story only seems to make sense to them (Prov. 14.12). And it only seems to make sense because they have managed to overlook, omit, or wrongly interpret some aspects of their own story. If we know their story well, and if we take our stance for Christ from within their own worldview, we may be able to use their story to help them see the folly of their under-the-sun thinking, and thus open a fissure in their soul for the light of truth.
Where they’ve missed the boat
As angry as folks may be at us already, at the risk of angering them even more, we need to be ready to explain the hope that is within us by showing them, from their own story line, where they’ve missed the boat, become inconsistent, are omitting key facts, or have simply gone wrong.
We must not be reluctant to say to people, as Jesus often said to those who attacked Him, “Here is where you’ve obviously got it wrong.”
This is what Stephen did before the highest religious leaders in Israel. Remember Moses? he asked his accusers. Well, of course they did. They were the spiritual and religious heirs of Moses! They were the keepers of the Law! The preservers of the traditions! The rulers of the temple and of the people! Of course, they knew Moses.
But what Stephen wanted them to see was, that like that generation in the wilderness, who perished under the wrath of God, they had set Moses aside and were pursuing a path more agreeable to their own selfish interests.
Moses taught the people to look forward to a coming Prophet and Deliverer, Who would bring God’s Word to His people with finality. He would fulfill all the Law, be the final perfect sacrifice, and bring renewal of heart to all who looked to Him, like Israel looked upon the serpent in the wilderness, for deliverance from their sins.
But Stephen’s accusers had thrust Moses aside at precisely this point, just as their unbelieving forebears had, and they were determined to preserve their own project, and their place in it, even while they tried to claim Moses as their spiritual forebear.
They got it
Stephen’s message to them was subtle, but they got it. Oh yeah, they got it. He said to them, You’re like Dathan and those rebels in the wilderness, who wanted power and privilege and self-interest rather than obedience, and you can be sure that you will perish just like they did if you persevere in this foolish course.
The worldviews of those who oppose the Gospel, especially those who, in this secular age, speak out so boldly and brashly against Christianity and those who profess it, are shot through with damning inconsistencies, falsehoods, incongruities, half-truths, and lies. We need to understand where these occur in their thinking, why they matter so much, and how to point them out in our conversations. And we need to be bold, while at the same time remaining gracious, in showing our unbelieving friends that, contrary to what seems right to them, their under-the-sun worldview is rife with vanity and feeding on the wind.
They may not appreciate it when we point this out and show them where they’ve got it wrong, and our doing so may only make them angrier; but is it loving, and is it loyal to truth, to let them continue in their bluster and blindness, without an honest attempt to show them the error of their ways? Knowing what we do about the lie of our secular and narcissistic age, as well as of the coming harvest of the Lord, we must use all the resources at our disposal – both from our worldview and theirs – to help our neighbors see the truth that is in Jesus.
1. People don’t like to be told that they’re wrong. Why is that?
2. But why is it important that we do this? Can we hope to help someone see the truth of the Gospel so long as he continues to cling to a way of life that seems right to him?
3. When it’s necessary to say to someone, “Well, here’s where you’re wrong,” how can we do this without sounding like what we’re saying is, “Listen, stupid, and you might learn something”?
Next steps – Preparation: It’s important to help people talk about what they believe, so that, as we listen, we can spot any inconsistencies and ask for clarification. What are some good questions to use in teasing out the worldview of an unbelieving friend or co-worker? Talk with some other believers about this question.
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.