TEXT: Acts 18:1-11
TITLE: How to Evangelize in Difficult TimesDATE: 9th June 2013
The newspapers are telling us that Namibia is currently experiencing the worst drought in 30 years. Agricultural advisers are saying that farmers need to be wise and sell much of their livestock.
The prophet Amos spoke of another kind of drought - a spiritual drought: “Behold, the days are coming,” declares the Lord GOD, “when I will send a famine on the land—not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the words of the LORD. They shall wander from sea to sea, and from north to east; they shall run to and fro, to seek the word of the LORD, but they shall not find it. (Amos 8:11-12).
Amos, like his prophetic colleagues Isaiah and Jeremiah was prophesying in times when the Word of the Lord was not well received in the land. People seemed not only to be to be deaf, but also resentful to the voice of God. Thankfully physical droughts do not last forever. Thankfully spiritual droughts are also broken. The books of Nehemiah and Ezra are a record of times when people were eagerly gathered around the Word of God, ready to obey everything that they heard (Neh. 8; Ezra 10).
The apostle Paul, on his missionary journeys encountered those who were willing to listen and those who were unwilling to listen to the Word of God. Paul’s visit to the city of Corinth (Acts 18) was one of those times when there was a lot of resistance to the gospel, although his visit there was not without fruit. One of the outstanding conversions was that of the synagogue ruler Crispus (18:8). But, by and large this city was not very responsive. It also happened to be the congregation in this city to which he had written at least 2 letters. This congregation as we know, had many problems. The people there seemed to be very self -centered and unwilling to submit to the Word of the Lord and to one another. There are times when a spiritual hardness overtakes a society, and even the church in that society.
These are some of the signs of spiritual hardness:
(i) Either the Word of the Lord is resented (even by so called professing Christians) and the preacher will be labeled as boring when he preaches the Word without gimmicks.
(ii) Or the Word of the Lord is simply not proclaimed, or side lined for social action or substituted, as is common in our day, by pop psychology.
A society is spiritually hard when it wants to have the gospel of Jesus changed, and to be turned into a soothing syrup.
A society is hard when the Word of the Lord does not produce regular conversions, and when people are not healed from their spiritual sicknesses , such as anger, bitterness, resentment and other ugly emotions which are not fitting for God’s holy people.
A society is hard when, by and by a former living church empties out until only a handful of old folk remain who remember the previous days of glory, when every week people came, hungry for the Word, and when every week people were being saved, baptized and added to the church.
Why does this happen? Why are there such times when it seems as if evangelism becomes an exercise in futility? How do we evangelize in difficult times?
Corinth – a case study
Corinth was an affluent city, strategically located on an important trade route. A strong sex cult was located on the Acrocorinth, a mountain overshadowing the city. Every evening a thousand prostitutes would descend upon the city, contributing to the prevalence of much sexual immorality. As we read Paul’s letter to the Corinthians we see that this spirit was also affecting the church. Another matter that affected the spiritual temperature of the church was the man centeredness (the excessive focus on man) and the resultant division that was found within the church.
When such things happen, the Spirit of God is grieved  and He withdraws . We learn this from the history of Israel. Whenever they grieved the Holy Spirit , God withdrew until they repented. At such times it is necessary to have seasons of self- examination and confession and repentance in the church until God returns in His saving power to heal broken relationships and to save rebellious sinners. At times when the church descends into a merely religious spirit (keeping up appearances), when believers find worship on Sundays a drag and not a delight, it is time to seek the Lord, for if we don’t, we will find and substitute other loves!
I believe that we are living in such times and we need to understand these times ! We need to know what to do in such times . Our society has become every bit as aggressive and resentful of the gospel of Jesus Christ as the Corinthians were in the text that we have read. So, how do we evangelize in such challenging times? What can we learn from the text before us?
1. We must continue to evangelize : Paul and the apostles never changed their method. They always did the same thing: “And he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks.” (v.4) … “testifying to the Jews that the Christ was Jesus…” (v.5)
2. We must continue to evangelize until it becomes impossible to evangelize: God has commanded the church to preach the gospel, notwithstanding the difficulties we may encounter. We must do so until it becomes physically impossible to do so. We see two examples of this in our text: (i) Vv. 1&2: “After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. And he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome.” Priscilla and Aquila, a Christian husband and wife team were committed to the spreading of the gospel, whilst making tents to support themselves. At one time they were forced to leave Rome because the emperor Claudius (Roman emperor from AD 41-54) had ordered all Jews (including Christians, who were regarded a sect of the Jews) to leave Rome. Thus it became impossible for them to preach the gospel in Rome . (ii) The next example is found in in v. 6 “And when they opposed and reviled him, he shook out his garments and said to them, “Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.” Paul reasoned (dialego) and sought to persuade (epeitheo) Jews and Greeks in Corinth(v.4). He was earnestly testifying (diamartureo) (v.5) - and when they opposed him, he had to do what Jesus said – and he shook out His garments and left there . Let this be clear. We are under no obligation to continue to plead with people if they oppose the gospel, or if they threaten us in any way.
There are two formidable obstacles in the way of successful evangelism:
(i) man’s natural inclination to oppose God.
(ii) Satan’s powerful work in blinding people in the ways of unbelief and disobedience.
What does this mean for evangelism? Quite simply this: No matter how clearly you present the gospel, you will not persuade anyone to believe in the Lord Jesus. You cannot give life to the spiritually dead. You cannot oppose Satan in your own strength! Our approach to evangelism is not realistic until we have faced this shattering fact.
Unfortunately modern evangelism has thought otherwise..We have been taught for many years that good organization and the right techniques ( e.g. a powerful speaker, good music) would ensure that our evangelism would be successful. It was believed that a dead church or a dead town could be automatically revived by an intensive evangelistic campaign.
The late 1800’s and much of the 1900’s were well known for big evangelistic crusades (D.L. Moody ; R.A. Torrey, Billy Graham etc. ), but if the truth be told it wasn’t their great preaching that brought men and women to Christ. The truth is that God was working in those days in a way in which He is evidently not working now. Countries and continents that once saw immense spiritual blessing (e.g. the UK and the USA) are now rapidly drifting from their Christian moorings, and it is not that they have lesser gifted or less anointed preachers now.
The biblical ‘secret’ to evangelism is this (and we laid the foundation for this series on Evangelism at Pentecost) : The power of the Holy Spirit, and the unmerited grace and mercy of God is that which gives life to people. We must certainly pray for Him to return. He is certainly the God who loves and forgives the repentant sinner and the and the lukewarm church when they call unto Him, but whether or not He will visit our country in revival power we cannot determine by doing the right things.
What we do know is that God always honours His own Word. If our people faithfully share the Lord Jesus Christ with unbelievers there will be a harvest. So, in times of coldness and hardness we must continue to evangelize until we are forbidden or driven away.
3. We must evangelize where we are received : (Vv. 7-8) “And he left there and went to the house of a man named Titius Justus, a worshiper of God. His house was next door to the synagogue. Crispus, the ruler of the synagogue, believed in the Lord, together with his entire household. And many of the Corinthians hearing Paul believed and were baptized. Notice that Paul did not leave Corinth. He left a certain kind of people that were unreceptive for a people that were receptive in another part of the city.
4. We must believe that the Lord has a harvest field: (Vv. 9-11) And the Lord said to Paul one night in a vision, “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people.” And he stayed a year and six months, teaching the word of God among them.
What effect should this have upon our attitude when evangelizing?
(i) It should make us bold and confident: The Lord has His chosen people everywhere and at all times. They are part of His harvest field. They will hear the voice of their Good Shepherd, and they will come. So just because they don’t respond in Ludwigsdorf or in Rocky Crest does not mean that they will not respond in Katutura or Olympia. God has His people here in Windhoek. Therefore find them!
(ii) This confidence should make us patient: We live in an age of hurry and pragmatism. We want quick results. We resent spending time doing things thoroughly. The truth is that the work of evangelism often demands patience and perseverance. Explaining the gospel takes time, and often you build on another man’s labours (Jn 4:37). We need to make sure that he/she is convinced of the truth, and that repentance and forgiveness is sought from God before we encourage them into an active response.
(iii) This confidence should make us prayerful: prayer is a confessing of our helplessness and our need, an acknowledgement of our dependence, and an asking for the mighty power of God to do for us what we cannot do for ourselves. Evangelism belongs to this category. Paul’s plea wherever he goes to preach is this “Pray for me” ( Col 4:2-4).
So what should we do in times when the work of evangelism has become difficult? The answer is – carry on, but don’t waste your time with those that will not hear. Go to those that are willing to receive the gospel, and yet, be ever hopeful and prayerful that in time the hard soil of those that you long to reach may soften. Above all remember that effective Evangelism only happens when the Holt Spirit is at work. To that end pray expectantly! Amen
 See Paul’s comment on this in 2 Corinthians 4:1-6
 1 Corinthians 5
 1 Cor 1:10-17; Ch 3
 Eph. 4:30
 Rev 2:4,5
 Isa 63:10ff
 2 Cor 13:5
 1 Chronicles 12:32
 Matthew 10:14
 Jim Packer : Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God is a very helpful book on this subject (particularly Ch. 4)