During my missionary life in New York City, I ministered to one Jewish man who was enthralled by and attracted to Jesus. He wanted to learn more about Jesus with me.
Taking a few visits to his apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, I opened up the gospel of John, sharing some of Jesus’ claims to be the Jewish Messiah.
He seemed to be resonating with what the bible was teaching, with one exception. Soon after arriving at his apartment for another bible study, he stated in so many words, “You’re making me very uncomfortable.”
I said, “How so?”
He replied, “The Jesus you’re presenting from the bible is not the Jesus I’ve been thinking about. I like a lot of things about him, except for his claim to be the only way to God” – a reference to Jesus’ words in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
I looked at him calmly and directly, “You know. Maybe that’s exactly the way you’re supposed to feel!”
Conviction is powerful. Truth pierces – “even to the division of soul and spirit” (Hebrews 4:12).
In conversation with people, there are appropriate times to set aside pleasantries and social graces for bold, direct and sometimes challenging words. Regarding faith-based conversations, this time for bluntness takes wisdom, discernment and faith! There is no ‘formula.’ It may be in an initial conversation or it may occur after a relationship has been established – a connection built upon time, rapport and trust.
As we continue examining Paul’s testimony under trial in the later part of Acts, we touch upon a fascinating encounter between Paul and Felix, governor of Judea. In Acts 24 we explore another witnessing principle that can inform our witness this day: boldly and directly challenge your audience.
Boldly and Directly Challenge Your Audience (Acts 23:23-24:27)
The setting: Paul, accused of sedition against Rome, along with the charges of sacrilege and sectarianism by the Jewish religious authorities, is brought before Felix, Governor of Judea.
Following Paul’s initial defense of himself, where he finally states that he is simply on trial for believing in ‘the resurrection of the dead’ (Acts 24:21), Felix puts Paul under house arrest. This imprisonment lasted two years, during which time Paul would have opportunities to witness to the governor – including this interaction in Acts 24:24-25:
And after some days, when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ. Now as he reasoned about righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.” Meanwhile he also hoped that money would be given him by Paul, that he might release him. Therefore he sent for him more often and conversed with him.
As God opened up a door of opportunity to witness to Felix, Paul boldly, directly, and courageously challenged Felix with God’s standard of righteousness and self-control. You see, Drusilla, Felix’s wife, was someone else’s wife when Felix lured her away – for she became his third wife. Lacking righteousness and self-control and facing the judgement to come, Felix is convicted. In fear, he sends Paul away. Conviction of sin will do one of two things – draw a person to the Lord or send them running. In this instance, Felix flees, sending Paul away.
When people are willing to interact over the gospel, it’s ok to challenge them with truth. And let’s be honest, the truth cuts (Hebrews 4:12-13). Certainly we should go to God on behalf of people before we go to people on behalf of God. Yet, in humility and gentleness, take opportunity to be direct, speaking the truth in love.
Paul would have future opportunities to share with Felix, although the governor’s motives were mixed at best (Acts 24-26-27). And you can bet Paul took advantage of them.
As a postscript regarding my witness to the gentlemen in New York – that was the last time we visited. I was grateful for the opportunity to share the biblical Jesus. Part of the exclusivity of the gospel is that God requires us to come to Him on His terms (John 14:6), not ours. On the other hand, the grace of God’s inclusivity is that “He so loved the world, that He sent His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16).
As you engage in faith-based conversations with others, the appropriate time to boldly and directly challenge your audience requires wisdom and grace:
“Walk in wisdom toward those who are outside, redeeming the time. Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one” (Colossians 4:5-6).
It takes faith to boldly and directly challenge your audience. It also entails a degree of risk. As we relate to others and have those conversations surrounding spiritual matters, may the Lord Jesus guide us and be glorified through us as we share the ‘truth that sets men free’ (John 8:32).
Heavenly Father, I acknowledge that being bold and direct in conversation is a challenging aspect of being a witness for you. Lord, I acknowledge my complete and utter dependence upon You in this matter. Please grant me wisdom, grace, and love to boldly and directly challenge others with truth in Your time, in Your will, and for Your glory! Amen.