The evangelism strategy in the early church appears to have been some version of the following:
Step One: Live a distinctively Christian life
Step Two: Do your homework
Step Three: Take full advantage of every opportunity you are given
Step Four: Don’t blow your testimony by acting foolishly
We see evidence of this basic approach in Peter’s first epistle:
Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (1 Peter 3:14–16 ESV)
Remarkable Christian character looks slightly different in every situation. During the horrific plague that swept through the Roman Empire in the 3rd century AD, Christians distinguished themselves from their pagan neighbours by marching into the disease-ridden city of Rome to care for the sick and the dying. During the 18th and 19th centuries, Christians in Great Britain and America distinguished themselves by being the first and most vocal of those to oppose the horrific institution of human slavery. During the great peace and prosperity of the last 70 years, Christians have generally distinguished themselves by outgiving their unbelieving neighbours by a considerable margin; one recent study suggested that Christians out gave unbelievers by as much as 129%!
Every season in human history offers Christians a unique opportunity to adorn the Good News with specific good deeds. Jesus commanded us to speak but he also expected us to show. He said:
You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:14–16 ESV)
As we enter into the new normal of COVID19 it may be helpful for us to begin to brainstorm about some of the ways that we could commend the Gospel of Jesus Christ through remarkable actions and behaviour. Toward that end, I offer the following 5 suggestions:
1. Yield the sidewalk with a smile
The sacrifices required of us during this pandemic are rather mild when compared to those made by our great grandparents during the Spanish Flu or our forebears during the Black Death in the 14th century. We are mostly required to stay at home and to avoid large gatherings. To this very light burden we could easily add the requirement that Christians be known for always being first to yield the sidewalk to oncoming pedestrian traffic.
This seems a rather obvious application of Philippians 2:3 which says, “Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves” (Philippians 2:3 ESV).
If Jesus could wash the disciples’ feet, then surely we can yield the sidewalk to seniors and mothers pushing strollers and maintaining social distance.
Let’s be known as the people who always consider others more significant than ourselves.
2. Refuse to spread rumour and conspiracy
Let’s also be known as the people who refuse to spread rumour and conspiracy. This also seems an obvious application of the clear teaching of the Bible:
Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. (Isaiah 8:12–13 ESV)
We can’t peddle conspiracy theories today and hope to be heard when we speak about the resurrection tomorrow, therefore Christians need to quickly decide whose cause they are most committed to. In the passage on evangelism from 1 Peter, cited above, the Apostle begins his appeal in precisely that way. He says, “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord” (1 Peter 3:15 NIV11).
If our primary commitment is to the cause of Jesus Christ, then we will be careful not to become associated with rumour and conspiracy theory. Just as a soldier does not entangle himself in civilian affairs (2 Timothy 2:4), neither does an ambassador for Jesus Christ associate himself with wild speculation on the internet.
Let’s be known for our wisdom and restraint in these matters.
3. Submit to every God-given authority
During this time of crisis and difficulty it would be helpful if Christians were known as the best of all citizens to lead. Our government and health officials are working long hours and shouldering incredible burdens and it would behoove us as believers to develop a reputation for gratitude and eager obedience.
There is plenty of biblical warrant for this posture.
The Scriptures say:
Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God. 2 Therefore whoever resists the authorities resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment. (Romans 13:1–2 ESV)
Hostility toward the government is not a fruit of the Spirit, in fact a decent argument could be made that the more mature the believer, the more congenial he or she will be toward civil authority. W.S. Plumer said memorably: “Because princes and rulers are under God’s control and accountable to him, the righteous may be very calm and quiet respecting public affairs even in times of distraction.”
Let us aspire to such a reputation in these remarkably distracting times!
When the local mayor considers the Christians in her city let her think of them as “calm and quiet respecting public affairs”. When the Premier of the Province puts his mind to regulations for large group gatherings, let him recall that Christians are calm and quiet respecting these difficult but necessary impositions. Let these officials never find us suspicious, rebellious or assuming the worst for, “that would be of no advantage to you.” (Hebrews 13:17 ESV)
Submission, not sedition, is the call of Holy Scripture; let us be particularly mindful of that requirement during the course of this pandemic.
4. Connect with neighbours and vulnerable seniors
Now is a good time for us to develop the reputation of being active and courageous in our care toward friends and neighbours. While others are hoarding let us be known for sharing. While others are binge-watching Netflix, let us be known for emailing and calling the seniors and shut-ins on our street.
Seniors have been particularly hard hit by this pandemic. Therefore, let us call everyone we know and offer to buy and deliver their groceries. My wife and I had the opportunity to pray with a senior on our street when we dropped off some toilet paper at her home. While standing 6 feet away, we learned that she had been unable to go to the hospital for her cancer treatments and she was worried that her condition would worsen. With our 8-year-old daughter watching on, we called out to the Lord for this dear lady, who though not a believer herself, as she informed us, was very thankful to be included in our prayers.
Brothers and sisters, this could be our finest hour!
Instead of fearing the loss of our liberties, let us rejoice in the expansion of our opportunities! The Apostle Peter knew that fear for liberty is often a distraction from ministry, so he said to his people: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good?” (1 Peter 3:13 ESV).
The best way to preserve your religious liberty is to demonstrate your social utility. If we are the most eager and obvious servants in our communities, we may find that we have fewer neighbours interested in reducing our freedoms.
5. Give generously to local charities and service providers
Now is a great time for churches and individuals to raise their profile within the community. Most charities are shouldering heavy burdens during this pandemic while suffering the loss of significant revenue. Unemployment numbers are at record levels and many experts are predicting a catastrophic impact on the charitable sector in the coming months and even years. As most people pull back, there is an obvious opportunity for churches and Christian individuals to step forward.
We have done a good job over the last 70 years of giving out of our abundance, but as the story of the Widow’s Mite reminds us, a far greater impression is generally made when we give out of our poverty.
The Apostle Paul made the same point when boasting about the churches of Macedonia.
“We want you to know, brothers, about the grace of God that has been given among the churches of Macedonia, for in a severe test of affliction, their abundance of joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part. For they gave according to their means, as I can testify, and beyond their means, of their own accord” (2 Corinthians 8:1–3 ESV)
Generous giving in a time of severe affliction tends to get noticed. It tends to be spoken of and marvelled over because it gives undeniable evidence of true conversion. Nothing proves that you have died to the world like sacrificial giving.
In the coming months, we’ll have an opportunity to become absolutely indispensable to our local communities. We will have the chance to position ourselves at the very heart and centre of every organization and institution that our fellow citizens hold dear.
Let’s not miss it by hoarding our manna in a jar.
If we really believe that the cattle on a thousand hills belong to God – then let’s show that by investing generously and aggressively in our local communities.
Peter assumed that Christians would stand out in the culture. He assumed that our friends and neighbours would be talking about us behind our backs. He assumed that they would eventually come and ask us to give a reason for the hope that we have in Christ.
If we play our cards right, we might actually get to resurrect that old strategy in the coming days.
Lord make it so – and may it start with me.
Pastor Paul Carter
To listen to the most recent episodes of Pastor Paul’s Into The Word devotional podcast on the TGC Canada website see here. You can also find it on iTunes. To access the entire library of available episodes see here.
 W.S. Plumer, Psalms (Edinburgh: The Banner Of Truth Trust, 2016), 783.