The Care and Feeding of Unbelievers
SEPTEMBER 21, 2022
We’re here for them.
In the account of the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4:1-42, Jesus said, “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35).
Jesus had said this before. “Then he said to his disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore, pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest’” (Matthew 9:37-38).
And on another occasion, Jesus said, “And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32).
Not only are we here for them, people are ready and waiting for us.
Either the workers are there, though, or we’re doing it wrong. Given that there have never been so many workers before—the Christian faith is the world’s largest religion—we must be doing it wrong.
So, we have to do it Jesus’ way. (Don’t you just hate it?)
I’ve been doing evangelism for a long time. I’ve attended many evangelism conferences (and even taught at some of them). I’ve decided to forget all of that and just do it the way Jesus did.
How did Jesus do it?
Jesus didn’t set agendas. He reacted to them.
“And he had to pass through Samaria . . .” (John 4:4).
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus said, “Go therefore and make disciples . . .” The literal translation is, “As you’re going, make disciples.”
In other words, do what you normally do . . . and don’t duck.
Let me give you a great prayer: “Lord, I’m not going out of my way today to talk to anybody about you. That’s probably because I don’t care, but you do. So, I ask that you would make me so real, honest, kind, and clearly screwed-up and saved that anybody I meet will see it. Then give me the grace not to duck.”
If you pray that prayer and never share your faith, you’ll never have to feel guilty again. But let me tell you a secret. You’ll be blown away by how many people want to hear about Jesus during your day.
True story. A man involved in the Mafia once knocked on my door at home and said, “My girlfriend said that if I came to you, you would tell me about Jesus.” Believe it or not, I told him, “Hey, it’s late. Why don’t you call me tomorrow, and we’ll set up a lunch sometime?” He was not the kind of man one argues with . . . so he came inside right then and sat down in my living room. I told him about Jesus, and he became a Christian, served as head usher at the church, and eventually became a pastor.
I didn’t plan that. He just showed up at my door, and I wanted him to leave.
Tell God you won’t duck. Then get out of the way.
Jesus didn’t ask questions. He created them.
“The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask for a drink from me, a woman of Samaria?’” (John 4:9).
In referring to uptight Christians, Martin Luther said, “There are some who have no understanding to hear the truth of freedom and insist upon their goodness as means for salvation. These people you must resist, do the very opposite, and offend them boldly lest by their impious views they drag many with them into error. For the sake of liberty of the faith do other things which they regarded as the greatest of sins . . . use your freedom constantly and consistently in the sight of and despite the tyrants and stubborn so that they may learn that they are impious, that their law and works are of no avail for righteousness, and that they had no right to set them up.”
I think that is good, but it is also important to take what Luther said about how we should react to our Christian brothers and sisters and double it for unbelievers.
Unbelievers have us figured. They know what we’re going to say, what we’re going to do, and how we will react. They see us, point, and say, “There’s another Christian!” Then they run in the opposite direction.
For God’s sake, do something that confuses unbelievers.
Maybe even confess your sins to them.
My friend told me, “If people want to hear about Jesus, I tell them. But if they don’t want to hear about Jesus, I don’t tell them. I just invite them out for a beer. They don’t know how to respond to that.”
Watch out for free Christians.
Jesus didn’t respect barriers. He destroyed them.
“(For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans)” (John 4:9).
What are your barriers to relationships? Who are the people you don’t want to know and hang out with?
Burn down those barriers.
When we build a wall to keep someone out, we make the statement that we are better than them. We’re not.
Jesus talked to a woman. That simply was not done.
Jesus talked to a sinful woman. That simply was not done.
Jesus talked to a Samaritan woman. That simply was not done.
You may have to go to a bar or a club to find people who aren’t like you. You may have to join or volunteer for a non-Christian organization. You may have to invite your Buddhist or Islamic neighbors to have dinner with you. Whatever it takes, break down the barriers between “us” and “them.”
Jesus didn’t condemn sin. He acknowledged it.
Jesus said, “If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10). “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you now have is not your husband. What you have said is true” (John 4:17-18). “Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest” (John 4:35).
There is no evidence that the woman felt condemned. Just the opposite. You have to know Jesus to know how he said what he did. Why didn’t she feel condemned by Jesus? It’s because she had already condemned herself.
After a tirade against God in general and the church in particular, one of the angriest unbelievers I ever knew told me something I’ll never forget. The woman said that she prayed every night before she went to sleep, “I’m sorry. Good night, Jesus.”
We aren’t anybody’s judge.
Jesus said, after John 3:16, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John 3:17).
We aren’t anybody’s mother, either.
We are simply beggars telling other beggars where we found bread.
Judgment is God’s business . . . not ours.
Jesus didn’t define reality. He was and is reality.
Jesus said, “‘But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (he who is called Christ). When he comes, he will tell us all things.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am he’” (John 4:23-26).
Jesus said, in effect, “I’m what’s important. When you know me, it doesn’t matter where you worship . . . because I am spirit and truth.”
Have you ever heard of Emperor Joshua Norton, the only emperor America has ever had? Norton lived in San Francisco in the 19th century and declared himself “Emperor of the United States” and “Protector of Mexico.” Then he started issuing decrees that the newspapers published. He dismissed governors, dissolved the United States of America, and abolished the Republican and Democrat parties because they couldn’t get along. And when Norton died, more than 10,000 people attended his funeral.
The church is sometimes like that. We take over and make decrees nobody cares about. Do you really think the world cares about whether or not you’re Reformed, Dispensational, or Pentecostal? Or whether you support R.C. Sproul or N.T. Wright? They don’t even know what all that’s about. (It’s not that those things aren’t important. It’s just that they aren’t important in our task of being here for them.)
I have a friend who says that the best kind of evangelism is “vacuum evangelism.” Pascal said that there was a God-shaped hole or vacuum in everybody’s heart . . . and nothing fills it but God. My friend says that all Christians have to do is to get next to unbelievers and be authentic and real. When that happens, their vacuum will suck in our reality.
Jesus, as spirit and truth, defined reality.
So, go out, get next to an unbeliever, and see what happens.