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5 Evangelism and the Disciple

Being a disciple begins with a proper relationship to Jesus Christ and having on your heart what is on His. Making disciples begins with evangelism. As one person puts it, the objective of Christian life is “to populate heaven and depopulate hell.”

The fourth chapter of John’s gospel provides us with a striking example of Jesus’ approach to evangelism.

Picking the Opportunity

Verse 4: “and he had to pass through Samaria” (NASB). A close look at a map of Palestine in the days of our Lord Jesus reveals that the shortest and easiest route from Jerusalem to Galilee was through Samaria. This however was not the way most people traveled. Rather than going through Samaria, they would descend from the heights of Jerusalem to the banks of the Jordan River and follow the river’s gently winding path to Galilee.

The reason for this dates back to the Assyrian Captivity when the 10 N”orthern tribes of Israel were displaced.  A remnant of those tribes remained in the land and intermarried with other peoples, producing a nation of mixed origin – the Samaritans. For this reason, they were despised by the Jews. These Jewish “thoroughbreds” would go to any length to avoid contact with the Samaritans.

But here we find Jesus to go through Samaria. Why did He feel that it was necessary to pass through this region of outcast people? I believe it was to show the universality of the Gospel. The message of our Lord Jesus was not just for the chosen people, but it was designed for men and women of every tongue, tribe, and race.

Underlying this is the important lesson that the objective of any aspiring disciple is to reach the lost. To do this, he must follow the Savior’s example of being the “friend of publicans and sinners.” Too many evangelicals interpret separation from the world as meaning “separation from worldly people”. Evangelism begins with becoming friends with worldly people.

Verse 9: [The woman of Samaria said to Jesus,] “The Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans.”

Jesus arrived at Jacob’s well tired and thirsty (vv.6-7). His needs were simple and easy to understand. But instead of satisfying Himself, He created out of His need an opportunity to witness. As Jesus sat resting, He saw a Samaritan woman come to the well to draw some water. She could hardly be considered a “good opportunity”. She was a Samaritan. He was a Jew. Jews had no dealings with Samaritans. She was a woman. He is a man. Men do not counsel women. She was immoral. He was righteous. Righteous people just do not associate with the unrighteous. She was an outcast, He was a teacher. She lost her reputation and He by association with her, would stand a good chance of losing His. What Jesus implied by His interest in her was, “I have dealings with the whole world.

Jesus was tired and thirsty, but he didn’t use His needs as an excuse not to witness. What about you, do you use your personal needs, feelings or emotions as an excuse not to get involved in a conversation in order to witness to a person who is lost? Most of the time, what appears to be a poor opportunity to share Christ was in fact an excellent opportunity.

Principles in Evangelism

There are many principles that can be derived from the ministry of our Lord in the area of evangelism from John 4, but 8 of them should draw our attention:

1. Open the opportunity by asking a favor.

“There came a woman of Samaria to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’”(v7 NASB)

It is part of human nature to like to have others feel obligated to us because this makes us feel needed and important. By asking her for a drink of water, Jesus made the Samaritan woman feel needed and important. By revealing His need to her, He created a permissive atmosphere in which she could feel free to talk about her own needs.

A university student once met a beautiful coed in his biology class. Many of his buddies had tried to date her and none of them had succeeded. He decided on a novel approach by asking her if she could sew the missing button of his sports coat. She agreed to do this and he insisted on returning the favor by taking her out on a date.

In making friends with people, there are many things we can do to make them feel important. Say to someone who is proficient in Math, “I wonder if you could spare some minutes to help me in my homework. Of course, you can think of many other situations to start the conversation.

2. Tailor the approach with the person.

“Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, “Give Me a drink,” you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water’” (v . 10, NASB).

Jesus did two things here that few people can resist – He offered her a gift and aroused her curiosity. The Lord Jesus was a master at using the right approach for the right person. He did the same thing with Nicodemus, according to John 3. Recognizing that Nicodemus was a religious leader, Jesus’ approach to him was theological: “You must be born again.”

The great Bible teacher H. Clay Trumbull was riding on a train next to a person who opened a flask and offered him a drink of whiskey. Dr. Trumbull declined the offer. A few minutes later the man repeated the offer, and again Dr. Trumbull turned him down. The third time the offer was made, the man said to Dr. Trumbull, “I bet you think I am a rather evil man doing all this drinking, don’t you?”  “No,“ said Dr. Trumbull. “I was thinking what a generous man you are to keep offering me a drink.” That entrée was sufficient for Dr. Trumbull to lead the man to Christ before the journey ended.

3. Choose the questions you want to answer and ignore the others.

The woman of Samaria said to Jesus, “this Jews have no dealings with the Samaritans” (v. 9). Jesus chose to ignore this controversial point. The Samaritan woman again brought up a point of controversy, this time pertaining to the place where people ought to worship God (v. 20). Now she was striking at a critical issue, and Jesus chose to respond.

In evangelism, develop a feel for the important questions and major in them. Generally speaking, there are questions that deal with getting to know God. Jesus geared His conversation to answering her needs rather than getting entangled in peripheral issues.

When you talk to people about Christ, all kinds of questions come up. “If the Bible says you cannot marry your sister, who did Cain marry? “What will God do with people who have never heard the message of salvation?

Many times one is not quite sure how critical the issue is to the person. Is it a genuine problem with him, or is he trying to sidestep the real issues? To help determine this, you can counter with, “If you knew the answer to this question, would it make any difference with your relationship with Jesus Christ?” If his answer is no, you might suggest that the real and important questions center on getting to know God in a personal way. If, however, his answer is yes, then do all that you can to reply. If you don’t know the answer, be honest; tell him that you don’t and that you will endeavor to get if for him.

4. Strike the “open nerve” that causes the person to expose his need.

The Samaritan woman began to argue to Jesus about His ability to draw water by Himself from Jacob’s well. Jesus countered with the statement, “Go, and call your husband and come here” (v. 16 NASB). She replied that she had no husband, and Jesus completely exposed her with the comment, “You have well said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands; and the one whom you now have is not your husband” (vv. 17-18, NASB).

The Gospel is the Good News that God can change an individual. This Good News is based on the assumption that each person’s needs can be met. In evangelism, therefore, one of the first objectives is to get the person to expose his need.

Suppose you are walking down the street and a stranger appears from nowhere, grabs hold of you and says, “You look sick. Come with me into my office , and I will operate on you and make you feel better.” What do you think your response would be? I would probably flee as fast as I could.

We must be careful not to be guilty of the same approach in evangelism. It is probably not the best approach to walk up to a stranger and say something to the effect, “Do you want to be saved?” Rather, concentrate on getting to know the person. Ask probing questions – even before you begin to engage him in a conversation about Jesus Christ. Find out what his needs are, what is occupying his thinking.

A few months ago I was talking to a young coed who was returning from home to the university. In the course of our conversation, she happened to mention that she was majoring in sociology. She had her heart set on being a social worker, I asked her why she chose this career, and she said she had a desire to help people. At this point, I was able to ask her what she felt were the real needs people face. This triggered off a deep, spiritual conversation , during which I was able to share the Gospel.

5. Tell the truth even if it hurts.

“You worship that which you do not know; we worship that which we know, for salvation is from the Jews” (v. 22 NASB). This statement by the Lord Jesus, “salvation is from the Jews,” was the very thing that turned Samaritans off. Her initial response to such a statement would probably have been, “Well, here is another bigoted Jew who thinks He’s got all the answers.” Yet Christ straightforwardness here gave her confidence and trust in His character when he revealed to her that He was the Messiah. If we hedge on things we know to be true, then we convey to our listeners a lack of trust in our convictions.

As you witness, you will meet people who will look you right in the eye and ask, “Do men really go to hell if they don’t believe in Jesus Christ? What will you do? Will you tell them what you know to be the truth? Or will you seek to run around it and change the subject?

This does not mean that we are to be tactless or obnoxious as we talk to people about spiritual truth. Kindness, patience, and long-suffering should be the virtues that characterize our lives (2 Tim. 2:24-25). But having said this, we must be willing to tell people the truth.

6. Agree with the person as much as possible.

This principle brings into balance principle number 5. The Jews and Samaritans could not get together on the simplest questions – namely, where God has to be worshipped (vv. 20-24). Agreeing with the woman as much as possible, Jesus said, “Well you are partly right. The issue is not between Jerusalem nor this mountain. God is a Spirit. You worship Him in spirit and in truth.

A buddy of mine was witnessing to a friend who retorted, “I’m a Catholic and you’re a Protestant,” as though that should terminate the conversation between them. My friend said, “Well, that’s interesting. I have more in common with my Catholic friends that I do with many of my Protestant friends”. That simple statement was enough to bridge a potential argument and allow the conversation to continue.

7. Don’t allow the conversation to get off the subject.

This principle is seen in how the woman responded to the Lord Jesus when He revealed that the man she was now living was not her husband. She immediately tried to change the subject by getting into a theological argument over where God was to be worshipped. She tried to avoid the moral issue to asking a theological question.

This often happens when one is talking to people about Jesus if the conversation becomes a bit too personal. Instead of facing up to the personal matters, they might counter with, “What about those people in non-Christian countries who have never heard the message of Jesus Christ?”

In pursuing the real issue, we must lovingly point out that the question is not so much, “What about people who have not heard?”, but rather, “What will you do with Jesus Christ now that you have heard? However, if this is a question that is an obstacle to the person becoming a Christian, then we must do all we can to find the answer for him. (see principle number 3).

8. Be sensitive to how the Holy Spirit is working in the person’s life.

Jesus did not push the Samaritan woman. He engaged her in conversation and allowed her to ponder the implications of what had been said. As you read through the story, you notice that salvation became her idea, not just His. She ended up truly wanting it. He did not push it on her.

A beautiful illustration of this is found in Acts 2:36-38. Peter had just finished his great sermon at Pentecost. He gave no invitation. He did not tell his audience what to do. He merely ended with divine claim – Jesus was the Christ. But what he said shook them; and because the Spirit of God was working in their hearts, salvation became their idea, not Peters. They took the initiative asking, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter’s reply was, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ.”

When you talk to people about Christ, you can often tell where they are by their changing view of who He is. This can be seen by the Samaritan woman’s response to Christ. First, she calls Him as a Jew (v. 9). Next, she addresses Him as Sir (v. 11). Then, she calls Him a prophet (v. 19). Finally, she confesses Him as the Christ (v. 29).

Passion to Do the Job

Jesus said that His food was to do God’s will. This is what concerned Him, what was uppermost in His mind. He told His disciples, “My meat is to do the will of Him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Say you not, “There are yet four months, and then comes harvest? Behold, I say to you, ‘Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest’” (John 4:33-35). Jesus does not say here that He is exercising His gifts, or that He really loves to talk to people about their eternal destiny. He simply says that He is doing the will of God.

People shun evangelism because they say it is not their strength. It is not their gift or they do not enjoy doing it. I certainly empathize with that. Evangelism is engaging the enemy in what the Bible calls “spiritual warfare”. It means fighting the forces of darkness for the souls of people. Let’s face it, few people enjoy fighting.

If you do not enjoy engaging people in spiritual combat, don’t feel that you stand alone. Few people enjoy it. That really is not the question nor is the question one of whether evangelism is your gift or strength. The only relevant question is whether it is the will of God – and we know from the Scriptures that the will of God is for us to do the work of evangelism. The disciple’s ministry begins with evangelism.