42/97 7/12/97 Scripture: Acts 22:1-29
CHRISTIANS frequently have to defend their faith. When we first become Christians, we may be criticised by our own family, friends or school or workmates. Sometimes the attacks seek to destroy our faith. In some countries the attacks are carried out by spies of hostile governments.
Can you remember when you had to defend your faith? One young man said when he became a Christian, his workmates used fouler language than before, and they kept putting pornographic magazines on his desk. The early church was attacked for the faith. It grew in a hostile environment, becoming strong under the hammer of persecution. John Clifford mused about the worn old hammers on the floor of a smithy, and he asked the blacksmith,
"`How many anvils have you had' said I,
`To wear and batter all these hammers so?'
`Just one,' he answered. Then with twinkling eye:
`The anvil wears the hammers out, you know.'
And so, I thought, the anvil of God's Word
For ages sceptics' blows have beat upon,
But though the noise of falling blows was heard
The anvil is unchanged; the hammers gone."
The church in the Acts of the Apostles was constantly under attack. The believers decided that the best form of defence was attack. They used the style of defence practised in the courtroom and developed a new form of literature - the Apology - a speech in defence of a person or an action. Those who defended the faith were called Apologists and their writings, Apologetics. Today "apology" is often a lame excuse, but originally it meant a strong defence, and even a counter-attack.
Among the early apologists were Clement of Rome, Ignatius, Justin Martyr, Athenagoras, and later, Thomas Aquinas, John Wesley, Bishop Joseph Butler, and C.S. Lewis who argued that the Christian had to be equipped to deal with any attack. "It was because the Christians read the best books and absorbed them and lived the freest intellectual life that the world knew, that they overcame." Christians have to know whom they believe, why they believe and give a reason for their faith. Christians face the world and out-think it! Today R.C.Sproul, Tony Compolo, Josh McDowell, Alister McGrath and Sydney's Ross Clifford are outstanding apologists.
Alan Richardson wrote in his book "Christian Apologetics", (S.C.M. Press) "Apologetics is the study of ways and means of defending Christian truth. Apologetics deals with the relationship of the Christian faith to the wider sphere of man's `secular' knowledge, philosophy, science, history, sociology, and so on." (p.19). The Apostle Peter knew believers would suffer, so he wrote, (1 Pet 3) "Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."
Paul was often called upon to defend his faith. 22:1 "Listen now to my defence," he said in the first verse of our reading, and the word "defence" is the Greek word "apologia". Paul was attacked by Jews in the Temple and, although he was the victim, was arrested because the commander of the Romans thought he was someone else.
Paul was courteous, respectful and firm. This was no "please excuse me"! It was an apology in the old sense, a counter-attack by declaring his belief. Look carefully at what Paul said and discover the basic principles you can use in defending our faith today. Student, panel beater, computer programmer, accountant, saleswoman, doctor, housewife, retiree: if you have problems sharing your faith with others, here is Paul's method.
1. AFFIRM COMMON GROUND
Start where the others are. v2 Paul spoke in their language. Don't use a lot of churchy jargon when you talk to people. Start by talking about the things you have in common. When the crowd quietened because he spoke their language, Paul said "I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today." Gamaliel was one of three most famous lecturers of whom the Jews were so proud. He started off where others are! He disarmed them.
When we start talking to someone about faith, find what you have in common and start there.
2. CONFESS YOUR EARLIER LIFE
Everyone is interested in personal details. Paul owns up to what he was and what he did before he was converted. "I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished." Paul makes a simple and straight-forward confession of what he used to be.
In Canada recently Dr. J. Daniel Joyce, President of Phillips University, Enid, Oklahoma said, "If you want to communicate the love of God, you don't have to be a solicitor or lawyer to argue your point. You don't have to be skilled in logic or a scholar good in debate, but you do have to be a genuine person. You have to be yourself, authentic, willing to share your own life with others." Tell them what your life was before you came to Jesus, how you behaved, what your attitudes were, what was your motivation, what was your direction, and how you behaved. People are interested in these things. Paul confessed his life before conversion.
3. HOW YOU BECAME A CHRISTIAN
People want to know what happened and how it happened. Paul told how God came into his life and interrupted his complacency as he was travelling. "About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, `Saul ! Saul! Why do you persecute me?' `Who are you, Lord?' I asked. `I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting,' he replied. My companions saw the light, but they did not understand the voice of him who was speaking to me. `What shall I do, Lord?' I asked. `Get up,' the Lord said, `and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.'"
He entered Damascus and his life was changed. Christ met him, interrupted his journey, touched his conscience, opened his mind, and challenged his will. C.S. Lewis said that it was when he was on a bus one day that God interrupted his life and gave him a new direction and purpose. It is important to tell others how you became a Christian.
4. ACKNOWLEDGE HELP GIVEN
When Paul reached Damascus, he was blind from the light that flashed on the road, completely helpless. "My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me." There he was visited by one he had come to persecute. This man greeted him, "Brother Saul!" What a way to greet someone who had come to hurt you! "`Brother Saul, receive your sight!' And at that very moment I was able to see him." So Paul was accepted. Older Christians have a very important part to play in the lives of young believers. Young believers need acceptance and encouragement.
5. TESTIFY TO THE CHANGE
Paul then witnessed to his new life. Ananias said, "The God of our fathers has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard." The Greek word for "witness" is the word from which "martyr" comes. The primary meaning of "martyr" is given as "person put to death for adherence to Christianity." The Greek word meant only that the person would give evidence but those who spoke out boldly for their faith were often killed.
The word "witness" became the key word in the life of Paul. He became a witness to the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. That is what he was doing as he spoke to the people from the steps leading to the fort. "When we testify," said Martin Luther, "we let loose the Word of God and it makes an impact in the lives of others." Nothing is more powerful than the witness of the change in life of an ordinary person. Tell them of the change.
6. TELL HOW YOU RESPONDED
Ananias said, "Now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name." Paul was baptised and responded to the call to serve his new Lord. Not all of the church was convinced that their arch-enemy had become their friend. But Paul no longer had any doubts about his mission. "Then the Lord said to me `Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.'"
At this the crowd who had listened quietly "raised their voices and shouted, `Rid the earth of him! He's not fit to live!' As they were shouting and throwing off their cloaks and flinging dust into the air," Paul was lucky that all the crowd could throw was dust! John Wesley preached near cow yards and he copped worse than dust! As the riot broke out, "the commander ordered Paul to be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and questioned in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this."
As they tied him to the whipping post, Paul said, "Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn't even been found guilty?" The commander was hurriedly fetched. He knew there could be trouble if he broke the law and flogged a Roman citizen. The commander went to Paul and asked, "Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?" "Yes, I am," he answered. Then the commander said, "I had to pay a big price for my citizenship." "But I was born a citizen," Paul replied. Those who were about to question him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realised that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains. Next week we will see what happened.
Here we have learned that whenever you defend your faith, there will be some who will oppose you and there will be others who will just withdraw because they cannot understand. But there will be some who will hear your defence and believe. When you defend your faith, do not do it limply. Turn it into a counter attack and declare boldly the difference faith has made in your life and how Jesus Christ has changed you and given you a new future.
Once Eric came to see me in a bitter attack. "I'm not a Christian. I don't believe. I think the church is corrupt but I decided to give you a chance to explain what you believe." I answered his questions for an hour. Then he said: "I've got more I want to put to you, can I came again?" Tuesday 5pm was the only time I had available. I gave him another hour. Then another. Then another. I was getting nowhere and losing patience. But he wanted those weekly meetings. It became a way of life, until I decided to end the meetings. It was all pointless.
The next Tuesday night, Eric started in his usual belligerent manner: "Just before I hit you with tonight's question, do you realise it is a year since I first met you? This year has been pretty important to me and I have wondered why you haven't thrown me out long ago. But I have had a lot of anger in me and it was important that I could get it out on somebody. Anyhow I've come a long way since then. My question tonight is, `Will you baptise me as a Christian believer? I want to be part of the church.'" I did, and he still is.
The patient defence of the faith is the first part of proclaiming it. Respond in faith now!
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