A. Let me start by asking you a few questions: Where do you go when you have a problem? Whom do you turn to when you need help or advice on some important issue in your life?
1. Are you more likely to turn to someone you know or to a stranger?
B. How do you feel when stranger comes to your door or calls you on the telephone and tries to talk with you about political issues, replacement windows or religion?
C. How much attention do you pay to all the junk mail that is addressed “To Occupant” that crowds your mailbox every day?
D. Now please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not going to deny that God sometimes uses these techniques to touch people with the truth.
1. Regardless of the approach – street preaching, door knocking, direct mail, bumper stickers, etc. – there will always be an occasional story to prove that these efforts have some validity.
2. But I believe that people are becoming more and more immune to impersonal approaches to evangelism.
E. The fact is that all of us experience discomfort when someone outside our circle of friends tries to influence us about personal and significant matters.
1. We all naturally gravitate toward people we already know and trust.
2. Friends listen to friends. Friends confide in friends. They let friends influence them.
3. Therefore, if we’re going to impact our world for Christ, then one of the most effective approaches will be through our relationships.
F. Back in sermon #3 from this series we talked about the formula for impacting our world. That formula included high potency and close proximity.
1. We have been talking about our potency as we have discussed authenticity, compassion and sacrifice.
2. Today we want to address the need for close proximity.
3. The most powerful salt in the world has no impact when left in the shaker.
4. The most authentic, compassionate and sacrificial Christians on the planet will not influence anyone until they have contact with them.
5. So in today’s lesson we will explore the building of relationships with those we hope to reach.
6. We don’t have to look very far in our Bibles before we find examples of this approach to reaching people for the Lord.
I. Biblical Evidence
A. Let’s start with the example of Jesus.
1. It’s amazing that we often overlook the fact that Jesus spent the majority of his time with those outside of the religious establishment.
2. Time and distance tend to soften history and the sinners that Jesus hung around with can seem more safe and sanitized than the ones that we might encounter today.
3. But such was not the case For example, the tax collectors Jesus associated with really did extort large amounts of money from the downtrodden people around them, and the prostitutes He expressed compassion for actually engaged in illicit sexual activity as an occupation.
4. Jesus intentionally rubbed shoulders with the lowest of spiritual reprobates of His day because they mattered to God and He wanted to lead them into the family of God.
5. When we let that truth soak in, it’s natural to recoil a bit and say, “How could Jesus do that? He was the sinless Son of God, didn’t he understand how corrupt they were?”
6. Of course he knew how corrupt they were. He knew how lost they really were.
7. That’s why He tried to reach out to them.
B. Another role model for us is the Apostle Paul.
1. He said in 1 Corinthians 9:22-23, “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.”
2. Paul cared enough to stretch himself in order to make contact with people and influence them toward Christ.
3. Paul put forth great effort to build bridges between himself and unbelievers.
C. Let’s consider also the example of Matthew recorded in Luke chapter 5, verse 27 and following.
1. You’ve got to give Matthew a lot of credit.
2. Matthew had become a Christian after having been a tax collector, which, in those days, was about one notch above being part of the mob. If you were a tax collector, you essentially had a license to extort.
3. But Matthew’s encounter with Jesus had changed his life, and as a result, he had an immediate concern for his friends.
4. His natural desire was to help them find what he had found.
5. The real question for him was, how? He hadn’t been through an evangelism seminar. He hadn’t graduated from seminary. He didn’t have any tracts.
6. He didn’t think he could get them to go to church with him, so he decided to bring the church to them.
7. Knowing that his buddies loved parties, he threw a big party and invited Jesus as the guest of honor.
8. On the night of the event, we really don’t know what took place nor how many of the guests put their faith in Jesus.
9. The only details the Bible tells us about that night is that the Pharisees got upset about this method of evangelism and pulled Jesus and his disciples aside to criticize them.
10. They said, “Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?” (Lk. 5:30)
11. Can you imagine how Matthew must have felt?
12. I’m sure he began to wonder if he had done the wrong thing. This was his first evangelistic effort and now Jesus was getting chewed out by the religious brass.
13. But just when Matthew may have wanted to run and hide, Jesus spoke up and defended their actions.
14. Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Lk. 5:31)
D. I believe that God wants us to be doing what Jesus, Paul and Matthew did.
1. God wants us to be innovative and think creatively.
2. Within the parameters of biblical principles, God wants us to come up with a strategy that is true to who we are and to who are friends are.
II. Getting Started
A. So, how do we begin? Where do we start?
1. First, we need to stop and identify the people we already know with whom we have developed a measure of trust and rapport.
2. Second, as we have already said in several of the lessons, we need to carve out some time.
3. Finally, we need to plan some opportunities, both formal and informal to have some time together with them.
B. The list of things we can do to have further contact with unbelieving friends is endless.
1. Throw a “Matthew Party” that brings together some of your Christian and non-Christian friends.
2. Share a meal – Have a barbecue.
3. Throw a holiday party. Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Years, 4th of July.
4. Watch a ball game together.
5. Go shopping together.
6. Exercise together. Golf or bowl together.
7. Build friendships with other parents at your children’s school or sports activities.
8. Be consistent in the places you do business – gas stations, banks, restaurants – and try to build connections with people there.
9. As I said, the possibilities are endless. Be creative and follow God’s leading.
C. As we wrap up this lesson, I would like to address a few stumbling blocks to this approach to evangelism.
III. Overcoming Obstacles
A. First of all, there may be a resistance on our part because of some biblical issues.
1. Some of us may have been taught that we are not to be friends of the world, or that we should come out from them and be separate.
2. Certainly this is true. We are not to be friends with the world, meaning the sin and evil of the world.
3. As James 1:27 puts it, we need to keep ourselves “from being polluted by the world.”
4. But Jesus prayed in John 17, “My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one…As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.” (Jn. 17:15, 18)
5. In 1 Corinthians 5, Paul clarified this issue, “I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world. But now I am writing to you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.” (1 Cor. 5:9-11)
6. In 2 Corinthians 6:17, when Paul says not to be yoked with unbelievers, he is warning us to avoid formal alliances with unbelievers. He is not talking about everyday friendships where we are trying to be salt and light.
7. So, yes, we are to be “in the world” rubbing shoulders with unbelieving people, but we are not to be “of the world,” becoming like them in their evil ways.
B. Another concern we might have about developing relationships with irreligious people is the spiritual danger that it might pose to us personally.
1. In 1 Cor. 15:33 Paul wrote, “Bad company corrupts good character.”
2. This can certainly be the case. If we are not strong in our beliefs and our behavior, we can be influenced more than we are influencing others.
3. That’s why we must guard ourselves and make certain that we are the one whose influence is prevailing.
4. But if we sense that we’re being negatively influenced, then it’s time to back away at least for a while until we are stronger, or we need to involve someone else who is stronger to ensure that the Christian influence is the dominant influence.
C. One final obstacle for us is the personal discomfort we will have to face.
1. When we take ourselves into close proximity with those in the world, it can be very uncomfortable.
2. Their language can make us uncomfortable. Their humor might be off-color and embarrassing. And their wayward values and activities may leave us wondering if the spiritual gap is just too wide to bridge.
3. I regularly venture into that kind of situation with a group of guys with whom I play basketball.
4. Often I find myself thinking, “What am I doing here?”
5. Their voices are often loud and their language is foul. Many of their lifestyles are filled with wanton sin.
6. They often tease me about my faith.
a. “Glad Preach is on our team, that means the Big Man Upstairs will be on our side.”
b. One day we were playing and right in the middle of the game one of the guys said “Look at Preach’s shirt,” and everyone stopped and looked. The sweat pattern of my shirt formed a perfect cross. It was like one of the Jesus sightings in a grill cheese sandwich. Some one said, “He even sweats religious!”
7. And so I wonder, “Why am I here?”
8. And often I sense the gentle confirmation of the Spirit, “You are here to build bridges. You are here to establish trust. You are here to lay the groundwork for opportunities that may come down the road. You are doing what Jesus did.”
9. The kinds and levels of discomfort that we will encounter in building relationships with unbelievers will vary, but God will help us face them and He will honor our efforts in the process.
A. Let’s remember: We can’t be contagious Christians without getting close enough to other people for them to catch what we have got.
1. Later on we are going to talk about ways to effectively communicate the content of our faith, but it’s important to realize that the ability to communicate doesn’t do any good if we have no one to communicate with.
B. As I said earlier: Friends listen to friends. So become one. Be a friend to as many as possible.
1. And what’s exciting is that when we are a part of reaching out to unbelievers we see our own faith deepening and our reliance on God growing and the adventure becomes more fulfilling!
C. Next week, Lord willing, we will talk about finding an approach that fits.
1. I don’t want to leave the impression that friendship evangelism is the only way to evangelize.
2. I do believe that is it one of the most effective approaches to reaching unbelievers, but it is not the only approach. So next week we will explore some other approaches.
(Much from this sermon came from Chapters 7 and 8 of Hybils Becoming a Contagious Christian)