Friday, October 10, 2008

Make Disciples, Not Friends

Back when I was doing ministry in Arvada, Colorado, I met a young man named Ryan. He was a follower of Jesus Christ. He had friends inside the church. He also had friends who were not following Jesus. He felt great comfort when hanging out with believers. These were people who shared the same faith. They had the same worldview. They had the same way of life. Conversely, when it came to hanging out with non-believers, things were a little different. Ryan told me that when he spent time with his non-believing friends he felt like an “alien.” He felt different. He felt a lack of comfort. He felt weird. Further, he said that he had many opportunities to witness concerning his faith in Jesus Christ, but he did not take them. Why do you think Ryan did not take those opportunities? [Give people a chance to respond] The reason was that he was worried what their response would be. He thought things like, “Are they going to feel weird around me? Are they still going to want to hang out with me? Are they going to associate me with the religious right?”

I have lived and gotten to know believers in Arvada, Colorado; Seattle and Bremerton; Washington; and St. Louis, Missouri. It seems that wherever I go I meet Christians who identify with Ryan. Christians wonder, “What are my friends going to think of me when they find out I’m a Christian? Wouldn’t this relationship be smoother if I just didn’t say anything? If I tell them I’m a Christian, are they going to label me?” I want you to think about this for a moment with me. When we ask questions like this what are we revealing? Who is it that we are ultimately trying to please? We reveal that we are trying to please non-believers rather than please Christ. We are worried about what they are going to think of us, instead of being concerned about their eternal destiny. What are we afraid of? Could it be that we are afraid of being rejected? Maybe our fear of rejection is our problem.
As followers of Jesus Christ we believe in a man who was killed for the things He claimed. He told the first disciples that they would be hated in this world just as He was hated. And this is exactly what we see happen in the life of the first disciples. Early in their mission, the disciples Peter and John were arrested for their witness of Jesus Christ (Acts 4:3). This is recorded in the Book of Acts, chapter four. After they were released they came back to be with the rest of the disciples (4:23). When they all came back together they knew that persecution was on its way and they needed strength to continue. They knew that there would be opposition, threat, and danger whenever and wherever they testified to the person and work of Jesus Christ. So the first thing they did was pray for strength. The disciples prayed: “And now, Lord, look upon their threats and grant to your servants to continue to speak your word with all boldness” (4:29). The historian Luke then tells us what happened after they prayed: “And when they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken, and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and continued to speak the word of God with boldness” (4:31). Some of you may be thinking to yourselves: “I have a hard time witnessing to non-believers.” My question to you is: Have you prayed for the Holy Spirit to give you strength? The ability to witness to non-believers is not natural. It is supernatural and comes when you are empowered by the Holy Spirit. Left to ourselves, witnessing to non-believers is a very difficult task. You and I need the power of Holy Spirit to give us strength and boldness. After Jesus was raised from the dead, He said: “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth” (1:8). After witnessing the resurrection, the disciples received the power of the Holy Spirit to witness boldly and fearlessly wherever and whenever opportunities presented themselves.

The title of this devotion that most likely caught you off guard today is Make Disciples, not Friends. Some of you may be thinking: “Now, we don’t want to turn people off do we?” No, but turning people off is better than not doing anything at all. The idea is this: perhaps we are so concerned with making friends, and with what other people are going to think about us, we forget our purpose in our relationships with non-believers. I think that you and I are becoming so timid that we are a long way from going overboard in the other direction. Are you concerned with what people are going to think? Or, are you concerned with making disciples? If making friends is an avenue to boldly witnessing, that is great! But if making friends is all we are concerned with, then are we not committing idolatry? Are we more concerned with worldly recognition than serving Jesus Christ? The Holy Spirit was given to you when you were baptized into Christ. The gift of the Holy Spirit lives in you today because of God’s grace. By the power of the Holy Spirit you and I are now called to pray to speak the word of God with boldness and fearlessness wherever and whenever the Lord gives us the opportunity. If we get rejected that is fine. That is what the Lord told us would happen more often than not. Take one for the team! Our rejection will still not be as bad as the first Christians who were painfully executed for their witness. So what if people think we are weird. We know who it is that we are trying to please. And we know where out eternal home is.

Jesus said that He could come back at any time. And when Jesus comes back there is not going to be another opportunity for non-believers to change their minds. So when we get the opportunity we need to ask non-believers challenging questions. In our post-Christian, post-modern context, telling people what to do is not received well. But can we challenge people by asking them questions? Asking people questions causes them to think. And I think that is one powerful approach. Another way to share our faith is to simply share what the Lord Jesus Christ, by His death and resurrection, has done in our lives. We live in a time where people highly value personal experience. If we tell people how the Lord Jesus Christ has saved and changed us, what can people say? This might be another way we can go about sharing. People are going to respond to us in different ways because everyone has a different experience and background. But we must be ready to respond to critics and skeptics. So that means we must be prepared and ready to give a reason for the hope that is in us.

For this to happen we must repent of our idolatry of seeking recognition from this world instead of asking the Holy Spirit to give us boldness and strength. We know that our ultimate goal in life is not to simply to “be happy.” It is not to be liked. It is not to be free from conflict. But rather it is to serve Jesus Christ. So, now I’m going to ask you to bow your heads with me as we pray together. The only way we are going to be able to share our faith is if we ask Jesus for strength: Lord Jesus Christ, Giver of the Holy Spirit of power, we ask that you would grant to your servants the power to speak your word with all boldness. We pray that you would grant us repentance from our desire for people to simply like us. Rather, we pray that you would give us the words to challenge people. We pray that we would be living testimonies to the work you have accomplished in our lives. Fill us Lord with your Holy Spirit so that we can speak your word with boldness. Amen.


Anonymous Joe said...

An excellent post on the difference between friends and disciples. I just wrote a short article on this topic myself, and I appreciate the insights offered here. We need to make sure we are involved in people's lives the same way Jesus was. Don't make friends with the hope of making disciples. This is like the woman who marries first and then hopes to change her husband. Instead, make disciples, and those who remain are certain to be better than friends.

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