Summary: In our Scriptures today, we see two encounters, which lead to making disciples. This encounter and Jesus’ ministry to such folks teaches us that lost people matter to God. All of us are surrounded by people far from God
In our Scriptures today, we see two encounters, which lead to making disciples. The first is when Jesus has a group of tax collectors and sinners who have gathered to hear him talk. Tax collectors were some of the most hated people in Jesus’ day because they were thought to be crooks. Yet this doesn’t stop Jesus because these are the types of people that Jesus came to save. And what was the religious leaders response? “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them.” In fact, Jesus spent most of his time with sinners rather than the religious. This encounter and Jesus’ ministry to such folks teaches us that lost people matter to God. All of us are surrounded by people just like the tax collectors and sinners, people who are far from God. They’re in our neighborhoods, our families, our churches and our workplaces. They may have tried to be religious, maybe even prayed, read the Bible, or even gone to church at one time. But something is still missing: a connection to and relationship with Jesus. One of the keys to making disciples is building relationships.
In our second Scripture passage, Philip encounters an Ethiopian official who served as the Secretary of Finance for his government. As an Ethiopian diplomat, he would have had everything in the world at his fingertips and yet there was something missing in his life. That led him on a search for God. From this encounter, we discover eight vital lessons about building relationships and making disciples. First, go where the people are. “Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” If you want to make disciples, you have to go where the people are. Philip was sent to Samaria, a place where every Jew was forbidden to go, to a deserted stretch of road, for a chance encounter with an Ethiopian on a search for God. God sent Philip to the place where people needed salvation. We need to go where the people are as well, whether that be at the park, the mall or your neighborhood. God didn’t say the whole world needs to go to church, he said the church needs to go to the world. We need to remember that we are a sent people so “Go!”
Second, obey the Spirit’s leading. “The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot…” A lot of us think the Spirit never speaks to you. But today I want you to consider that the Spirit speaks regularly to you and maybe we’re not listening well. Some of us allow the voice of the Spirit to be drowned out. The Spirit can speak in any number of ways: through dreams, Scripture, a thought or impulse, another person or even in the midst of our circumstances. The best way to ensure that you’re going to hear the Spirit’s leading is to begin each day with a simple prayer, “O God, lead me that I may do your will and help me to be responsive to it.” The Spirit leads Philip to travel 80 miles by foot and what did he do? He seized the moment because he had already determined God was going to lead his life and ministry. We need to decide ahead of time that we are going to obey the Spirit’s leading so that when it comes, we respond!
Third, approach with tact. Notice that Philip didn’t go up to the guy and say, “Are you saved?” Instead, he sought to establish dialogue. Tact is defined as saying the right thing at the right time to open discussion. Unfortunately, this skill is lacking in too may Christians. Too often, Christians come off judgmental and condemning when encountering someone disconnected from God. That never opens up somebody for a conversation. Instead, we need to remember that we are talking to someone just like us who has hungers and pains and problems and is seeking the meaning and purpose of life. When speaking with them, watch your language! Avoid church talk like salvation, redemption, justification or even grace. Speak using words as if they have never been exposed to the Christian faith. Don’t preach. Speak to them as a friend.
Fourth, show them you care. “Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. Notice that Philip didn’t casually stroll but showed his excitement and interest by running up to the chariot. And Philip immediately noticed this man’s spiritual hunger. This man not being of Jewish origin was a Gentile and had come to believe in the God of the Jews. This meant he was a god fearer, one who followed the laws of the Jewish faith but were not allowed in the Temple. They worshipped from the outside looking in. So while included, they were also outsiders. Philip sees this man reading from the prophet Isaiah so he asks him about it. To show someone you care doesn’t means you have involve spiritual things. It can involve anything in their life which they care about: their career, someone sick in their family, their spouse, their kids, a hobby, whatever. Just show your interest in them and what they care about and let it be genuine.