Discovering Your Style, Part 2

John 9:1-41; Luke 5:27-31

March 4, 2001 | Brian Bill

Now that my 40th birthday is in my rear-view mirror, I’m starting to experience the joy of a marginal memory.  I can’t seem to remember all the things I used to.  Someone sent me an email recently about three sisters who were all in their nineties and lived together.

One day the oldest filled up the bathtub.  She put one foot in the water, paused, and then called downstairs to her sisters, “Am I getting in the tub or out of the tub?”

The middle sister started up the stairs to help, paused, and then called back downstairs, “Was I going up or coming down?”

The youngest sister, who was sitting at the kitchen table having tea, said, “I guess I’ll have to help.  I hope I never get that forgetful!” and she knocked on wood.

She got up, paused, and then called upstairs, “I’ll be there as soon as I see who’s at the door!”

A recent survey asked Christian people who were ninety-five years or older what they’d do differently if they could live their lives over.  Here are their top three changes:

  1. They’d reflect more.  They would spend more time getting away from the daily grind in order to thoughtfully examine the direction and meaning of their lives.
  2. They’d risk more.  These elderly people made it clear that they’d be more courageous about stepping out of their comfort zones.  In short, they’d pray the Prayer of Jabez and ask God to burst their boundaries on a daily basis.
  3. They’d invest in eternity.  Instead of just focusing on the here-and-now, they’d share the gospel more often.

During this series we’ve learned that there are three different stages of evangelism: cultivating, planting and reaping.  Last week we introduced the idea that God has given each of us different evangelistic styles.   It takes all kinds of Christians to reach all kinds of non-Christians.  All people cannot witness the same way, but all people can witness some way.  Or, another way to say it is that God desires to use our personalities as we participate in the process of evangelism.

During this section of our series called, Becoming a Contagious Christian, we’re looking at the ways God equipped six people in the New Testament to fulfill different outreach needs.  Last week we focused on Peter.  Today we’ll study Paul’s approach and the Blind Man’s M.O.

Six Evangelistic Styles

Style Biblical Example Text

Confrontational Peter Acts 2

Intellectual Paul Acts 17

Testimonial Blind Man John 9

Interpersonal Matthew Luke 5

Invitational Samaritan Woman John 4

Serving Dorcas Acts 9

Paul’s Intellectual Approach

The hallmark of Paul’s style was his logical and well-reasoned presentation of the gospel message.  The Book of Romans is a great example of how his mind works. 

Can you think of a better person for God to send to the Athenian philosophers in Acts 17?  These intellectual heavyweights would not have related well to Peter’s “turn-or-burn” approach.  They needed logic that conclusively proved its point.  Because of that he reasoned with them.  Paul’s audience was probably more like our society than Peter’s was.

We live in a world that doesn’t know what we believe, and frankly doesn’t care.  That reminds me of the woman who walked into a jewelry store looking for a necklace.  As she looked at the display case, she said, “I’d like a gold cross.”  The man behind the counter looked over the selection and asked, “Do you want a plain one, or one with a little man on it?”

The men of Athens were happy to see Paul because they loved to argue about new ideas. To them a good day always included some type of philosophical discussion.

Acts 17:16 tells us that when Paul saw the city, he was “greatly distressed.”  This literally means that he was provoked by a storm of protest within his inner being.  Instead of leaving town or complaining to the officials, verse 17 shows us that he went to work.  He spent time both in the religious centers and in the marketplace.  The text says that he did it every day.  We see in verse 18 that some philosophers eventually wanted to debate with him.

These intellectuals eventually brought Paul before the Supreme Court of Athens and asked him to explain his beliefs.  This is one of the most dramatic scenes in the entire New Testament.  Standing on their turf, at their invitation, he starts where they are and uses this opportunity to preach the gospel to them. 

There are at least four principles from Paul’s style that we can apply today. 

1.  Be Courteous. 

If we want to follow Paul’s lead, the first thing we need to do is to be considerate and civil.  Look at verse 22: Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens!  I see that in every way you are very religious…”

What a great approach!  Paul started right where his listeners were.  He didn’t denounce them or attack their idolatry.  In fact, he paid them a compliment.  He basically said, “As I’ve been walking around your city, I’ve noticed one thing about you: You guys are really into religion.” 

2. Be Contemporary. 

In the first part of verse 23 we see that Paul looked for ways to establish some common ground with his listeners.  When he was courteous, he broke down barriers; when he was contemporary, he built bridges to the heart of his audience.

Notice verse 23: “For as I walked around and observed your objects of worship, I found even an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD…”  Paul was out where the people lived and worked.  This is important for several reasons.  First, it would tell the Athenians that Paul had taken the time to get to know their city.  This is a key principle, isn’t it?  You’ve got to get to know people if you want to talk to them intelligently.   Second, this statement tells us that Paul found a natural point of contact.  As he walked around, he looked for connectors, or bridges, from their world to the gospel.  

In verse 28, we see that Paul quotes their own poets to make his point.  This is pretty cool.  Because of his audience, Peter quoted the prophets.  Because of Paul’s listeners, he quoted poetry. 

3. Be Courageous.  

I want you to notice how bold Paul was in verses 23-30.  Look at the last part of verse 23: “Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.”   The phrase “something unknown” really means “in ignorance.” It’s as if he is saying, “You admit there is a God you don’t know.  I happen to know that God and I’m going to tell you about Him.”

This is tremendous evangelistic strategy.  How could they be offended when he starts by quoting the inscription from one of their own altars and by recounting what their own poets have said?  By admitting there is more to God than they know, they have opened the door for Paul to preach the gospel boldly. 

In verses 24-25, Paul gives them a theology lesson, courageously speaking of God as the Creator and the Giver of all things. He then establishes the fact that God is near enough for us to reach out to Him so that we can find what we’re looking for.  Verse 30 shows us the depth of Paul’s courage: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.”  Like Peter, he’s not afraid to bring it on!

4.  Be Christ-Centered. 

We must look for ways to talk about Jesus

It’s not enough to just be nice and spend time with people.  It’s not enough to just argue philosophy.  Nor is it enough to just be bold.  We must look for ways to talk about Jesus.  Those with the intellectual style of evangelism are masters at communicating Christ in a relevant way.

Look at verse 31: “For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed.  He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”  Paul did not hold back from speaking of an inescapable day of judgment.  He did not shrink from speaking the truth about the resurrection of Jesus, even though he knew that many of his listeners would not want to hear it.

If this is your preferred approach, then as God gives you opportunity, speak boldly for Christ.  Tell people about His death so they understand that Jesus died in their place and that they can be forgiven for all the sins they have committed.  Tell them about His resurrection so that that they can have hope for eternity.  Tell them about the love and peace and joy that will be theirs once they surrender to Christ.

There were three reactions to Paul’s intellectual reasoning of the gospel that day.  In verse 32 we read that some were contemptuous.  Others were curious and wanted to hear more.  Verse 34 tells us that a number of others were convinced.

Friends, this is what we can expect when we’re involved in the lives of lost people.  Some will mock us.  Others will be curious and ask questions.  And some will become convinced and commit themselves to Christ.

Here are some of the traits normally found in people who use the intellectual approach:

  • Analytical and Logical
  • Inquisitive
  • Enjoy debating

There are also some “blind spots” or cautions that you should be aware of:

  • Avoid getting stuck on academic points.
  • Remember that attitude is as important as information.
  • Be careful about becoming argumentative.

The Blind Man’s Testimonial Approach

While both Peter and Paul utilized arguments and logic, albeit from different starting points and with different audiences in mind, the Blind Man from John 9 took an entirely different approach.  In John 9:25 we see that the man refused to enter into a theological debate with the religious leaders, though Paul would have been thrilled to offer them a few compelling arguments.  He also steered away from confrontation, whereas Peter might have given them a shot of truth.  These confrontational and intellectual approaches didn’t fit this guy.

As Jesus walks along the road, He sees a man who has been blind since he was born.  In verse 2, the disciples see a theological puzzle.  They want to talk about the causes of his blindness while Jesus refocuses their attention to the purpose of his suffering in verse 3: “…this happened so that the work of God might be displayed in his life.”  The disciples were looking backwards when they wanted to know what sin caused the blindness.  Jesus refreshingly gives the forward look: “It happened with a purpose so that God’s works could be put on display in his life.”  Another way to say it is that this man was custom-designed for the testimonial style.   

Using his own spit and the dust of the ground, verse 6 tells us that Jesus made some mud and put it on the man’s eyes.  He was then told to wash in the Pool of Siloam.   He obeyed and went back home seeing.  His testimony and appearance created quite a stir when his neighbors saw him.  This miracle had created a wholesale change in his entire being.  Many didn’t even recognize him!

As we walk through the rest of this story, I want you to notice this man’s 10 different responses to the various questions that were thrown at him.

1. I am the man (verse 9). 

When people were divided about whether or not this was the same person, he insisted, “I am the man.”  Many of you have experienced this.  Christ has radically transformed your life and the people who know you well wonder if you’re really the same person.

2. Jesus did it (verse 11). 

Treating this miracle more like a crime than a wonderful cure, his friends are troubled.  They want to know exactly what happened.  This gives the man a wonderful opportunity to retell the story by giving credit to Jesus.

3. I don’t know (verse 12). 

When his neighbors want to know where Jesus is, the man simply replies that he doesn’t have a clue.  This is very encouraging to me.  When we give our testimony we don’t have to have all the answers.  We can simply tell people what happened and say, “I don’t know” when asked for more information.

Verse 13 tells us that this man was “brought” to the Pharisees.  These religious leaders have been watching Jesus and were looking for an opportunity to attack Him.  They pulled out their policy manual to see if they could trip Him up.  When they hear that the healing happened on the Sabbath, they think they have Jesus right where they want Him.

In their minds, Jesus broke their rules in three separate ways.  First, while it was OK to spit on a rock on the Sabbath, saliva was not allowed on dirt because the making of mud involved work.  Second, the rabbis said it was forbidden to heal on the Sabbath.  They specifically said, “If you find somebody with a broken leg you can keep it from getting worse, but you cannot make it any better.”   The third thing Jesus did was to use saliva.  The rabbis did not allow this on the Sabbath because they believed it was medicine and medicine involved work.

4. He healed me (verse 15). 

When the Pharisees want more details in verse 15, instead of giving the complete story, this man gives a condensed version: “He put mud on my eyes, and I washed, and now I see.”  Did you notice that he doesn’t name Jesus, or mention that he had been told to wash?  I think he knows that they’re trying to accuse Jesus of “working” on the Sabbath and he doesn’t want to give them any additional ammunition.

Verse 16 reveals that the Pharisees are divided.  One group has written Jesus off.  The other is baffled by the miracles.  Amazingly, they decide to ask the man what he thinks in verse 17: “What have you to say about Him?  It was your eyes He opened.”

5. He is a prophet (verse 17). 

Seizing the opportunity the man reveals his growing understanding and declares that Jesus is a prophet.  This is not the answer they want to hear so they take a different tack.

Frustrated by their interrogation of the healed blind man, the parents are now called in.  They still don’t believe that this man was actually healed.  His parents bail on their own son because they’re afraid of what these leaders can do to them.  When the Pharisees are done grilling mom and dad they bring in the man for a second round of questioning.  They hope to wear him down and break his story.

In verse 24 they say, “Give glory to God, we know this man is a sinner.”  That’s their way of saying, “tell the whole truth and nothing but the truth.”  I love his answer!

6. I now see (verse 25). 

This is the defining verse for the testimonial style of evangelism: “Whether He is a sinner or not, I don’t know.  One thing I do know.  I was blind but now I see!”

In verse 26, the leaders, who are now losing ground, make another mistake when they ask him again how it happened.

7. Invitation to others.  

Verse 27: “…do you want to become his disciples, too?”  He’s obviously being a bit sarcastic here but those who utilize the testimonial approach make their faith so compelling that others will want to follow Jesus as well.

This hits a nerve with them and they go ballistic and start insulting the healed man in verses 28-29

8. Jesus is from God (verses 30-33). 

The man then takes a deep breath and boldly declares that Jesus is from God.  That’s all they can handle so they throw him out of the synagogue.  A few of you have experienced something similar after you got saved.  Maybe your family has kicked you out or ostracized you.  If so, you can draw strength from this healed man’s story.

By the way, the healing of the blind is one of the defining characteristics of the Messiah.  The Pharisees should have known this from Isaiah 61:1-2 but they missed it.  The healed blind man is more willing to believe than they are.

When Jesus heard that the man was thrown out, he found him and asked him a question in verse 35: “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”

9. Wants to believe (verse 36). 

He wants to put his faith in Christ but he’s not sure if he’s got all the facts right.  As we study this man’s responses, we can see that his faith is growing in stages.  He’s obviously in process.  He’s right at the critical point.  His heart is warmed, his mind is convinced and now his will is ready to surrender.

10. Believes and worships (verse 38). 

I love how faith and worship are linked in this verse: “Lord, I believe, and he worshipped Him.  He recognized Jesus not only as His Healer, He also trusted Him as Savior and submitted to Him in as Lord in submissive worship.  

A Style for Everyone

If the Savior has touched you, you can testify about it

While a small percent of us employ the confrontational and intellectual approach, every one of us can and should utilize the testimonial style.  If you’re saved, you can say so.  If you’ve been born again, you can tell about your birth.  If the Savior has touched you, you can testify about it.

Some of you may be afraid to say anything about the Lord because you think you’ll be dragged into a theological argument.   Let’s learn from the man who was once blind.  He didn’t worry about what he couldn’t answer.  He simply testified to what He had seen and knew to be true.  We’re not expected to teach theology, we’re asked to bear witness of our relationship with Christ.

You are the greatest authority on what has happened to you.  As someone has said, “A man with an experience is never at the mercy of a man with only an argument.”  When you stand on your experience no one can deny what the Lord has done in your life.  You are a positive, powerful witness for Christ.

Bill Bright, the founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, says that at least 50% of nonbelievers would receive Christ if properly approached by someone who can give testimony of God’s love and forgiveness.  If you’re like me, even this approach can be intimidating.   

Here are some common traits of those who use the testimonial approach:

  • Good listener
  • Vulnerable
  • Overwhelmed by grace

Here are some cautions to keep in mind:

  • Relate your experience to the listener’s life
  • Keep Christ and the Gospel message central

We often think of the testimonial approach as only focused on telling our conversion story.  It actually can be used in a variety of ways.  As you look for natural ways to talk about what Jesus is doing in your life, God will use you to make an eternal impact in the lives of other people. 

Do you have any thoughts or questions about this post?