"Judge a man by his questions rather than by his answers." - VoltairE

Philip and the Ethiopian: Lessons in evangelism

Posted by Anne Witton on Monday, July 31, 2017 Under: Reflections


I recently preached at Kelvin Grove church in Gateshead and my text was Acts 8: 26 - 40. I’m not going to recreate the sermon here or go into the background and exegesis of the passage, but I did want to highlight 4 things we can learn about Philip’s approach to evangelism:

(1) Relying on the on the Holy Spirit
Clear that Philip relied on and was directed by the Spirit (v.26, 29, 39). He was open to going where God told him to go in the power that God gave him, and we need to do the same. We can easily drift into doing evangelism in our own strength through our plans, programme and strategies without leaving much room for God.

Gal 3: 3 warns “Are you so foolish? After beginning with the Spirit, are you now trying to attain your goal by human effort?”

  • How do we rely on the Spirit in sharing our faith?
  • Praying deliberately and daily for opportunities
  • Going around prayerfully. Being mindful of God and his purposes throughout the day, whatever we’re doing.
  • Recognising that the gospel is for everyone, whatever their background or circumstances 
  • Being on the look out - noticing people around us. (Not being plugged into headphones or distracted with mobiles).
  • Recognising that stirring in the heart or a voice or thought telling us to speak to someone.
  • Recognising that God has given us a unique network of friends, colleagues, family and encounters with strangers. We’re all missionaries!
We can’t make people Christians by clever arguments or persuasive words. We just need to be prayerful and obedient and leave the results to God.

(2) Recognising that God is already at work
God has been at work in the Ethiopian’s life long before Philip got there - he was returning from worshipping in Jerusalem and he was sitting there reading the Scriptures!

It’s not about us. God graciously allows us to be part of his plans, but he doesn’t need us, which is tremendously liberating! We get to be part of something joyful and amazing that God is doing, but the pressure isn’t on us to transform people’s lives because only God can do that.

We just need to be faithful and obedient by responding to the Spirit and taking the initiative with people.

We can join in with people and travel with them as they explore spiritual truth. My friend Duncan describes it as ‘spiritual hitchiking’.

Philip comes alongside the Ethiopian, asks a good question to understand where he’s at spiritually, finds out what’s on his heart and responds to his deepest spiritual need.

(3) The Power of God’s word
Philip recognises the power of God’s word and uses it to explain about Jesus.

He’s able to adapt his methods of evangelism - whether he’s talking to crowds of ordinary Samaritans or with this individual VIP - but he never changes the gospel message. He always brings the same good news of Jesus.

We need to recognise that God’s word is true and powerful.

One way to engage people with God’s word is to do evangelistic Bible studies - essentially just a Bible study with non-Christians focussing on Christ and his work. These are powerful because:

  • The Bible has authority - they’re not just taking your word for it, but going to the source.
  • We can be ‘learners’ together. Asking each other questions of the text.
  • Sometimes focussing on something in front of you is less intense than sitting opposite each other looking into each other’s eyes!
We can be prepared by knowing our Bible well - by having some passages that have a particularly clear gospel focus that we’re very familiar with, so that we have an idea of how to explain them to others and what questions to ask.

(4) The challenge to respond
It’s clear that Philip’s mission is not just an intellectual exercise to help people learn facts about God and his word. There’s a response needed, and the eunuch wants to be baptised.

The eunuch goes on his way rejoicing. He has understood and responded to the good news of Jesus and it has transformed his life.

How do we challenge people to respond to the gospel?
  • We need to make it clear that nothing they can do can earn their salvation - it is a gracious gift of God through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Encourage them to pray to turn from their own way of doing things and commit to following Jesus, accepting his love and forgiveness.
  • Explain to them the cost of discipleship - that it means dying to your old life and following Jesus with every ounce of your being.
  • Encourage them to read and study the Bible to get to know their loving saviour more deeply.
  • Encourage them to meet with someone to explore all the implications of following Jesus - new hope, changed priorities, care for the poor, desire to share faith etc.
  • Introduce them to a church where they can serve and learn in a community of Christians.
  • Encourage them to be baptised - a public declaration of the inward renewal that Christ has brought.
In this instance, Philip wasn’t able to disciple the man, but he could trust that the Holy Spirit would continue transforming the man’s life. He went on his way rejoicing because Christ was with him, even though he was heading home to Africa and away from Jerusalem.

Encountering Jesus brings a changed life. We can challenge people to grow in their faith, live by the Spirit and share their new faith with others.

In : Reflections 


Tags: evangelism "holy spirit" acts sermon 
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