While visiting with new friends in Indonesia in January, the Spirit held our tongue when an opportunity to share the Gospel was apparent. We realized that a relationship starting between a brother in Christ and these men will have greater impact than our fleeting chance to declare the Good News. (Photo by Jordan Rowley)
The Apostle Paul was a man on a mission. Actually, he was a man on a commission – a Great Commission!
Without a doubt Paul knew that he was sent to reach the nations for Christ. “For so the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have set you as a light to the Gentiles (non-Jews), that you should be for salvation to the ends of the earth,” Paul declared in Acts 13:47.
Anyone who has been on a cross-cultural mission understands some of the immense challenges Paul would have faced in his calling. In addition to language and other cultural barriers, how on earth was he going to explain the Gospel to people who had such vastly different religious and world views from his own?
Over the last week we’ve looked at a number of points of contrast and comparison between Islam and Christianity. We’ve even seen a few instances in which the Qur’an itself seems to conflict with Muslim beliefs. We’ve looked at a few barriers and we’ve looked at a few bridges. Our hope and prayer is that God would use all of these parallels and differences and contradictions to prompt questions in the minds of our Muslim friends that would act as stepping stones from faith in Islam to faith in Jesus.
As we witness with the lost, it’s certainly important to know the huge differences between our beliefs. We need to understand where exactly we should draw the line when attempting to find common ground.
That said, it’s also important to know the similarities of our beliefs in order to build relationships and be well-equipped to reason with those with whom God would have us share.
Thankfully, Paul was a man to whom the Holy Spirit had given great wisdom. You and I can learn a lot about how we might best approach other cultures and religious views by following his lead. He wasn’t afraid to use stepping stones similar to those we’ve outlined this past week. We can look at his example to give us a Biblical grounding for reaching out to followers of Islam with the truth, while utilizing their own culture and religion.
Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 9:19-22, “For though I am free from all men, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win the more; and to the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might win Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might win those who are under the law; to those who are without law, as without law (not being without law toward God, but under law toward Christ), that I might win those who are without law; to the weak I became as weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some.”
In this Scripture, Paul shares his Holy Spirit-inspired heart to “become all things to all men” so that he “might by all means save some.” Certainly, Paul didn’t compromise the teachings of Jesus at any point while sharing with others. Rather, he seemed content to meet people where they were, empathizing with their struggles and attempting to understand and speak truth from their cultural perspective rather than his own. No doubt this approach can be difficult and uncomfortable, but it was worth it to Paul, who again desired “by all means [to] save some.”
Another clear and powerful example is from Paul’s visit to Athens. Here, we see him once again meeting people right where they were, even using points from their own religious beliefs and poetry as a bridge to the truth about God.
We read in Acts 17:22-23, “Then Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, ‘men of Athens, I perceive that in all things you are very religious; for as I was passing though and considering the objects of your worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO THE UNKNOWN GOD. Therefore, the One whom you worship without knowing, Him I proclaim to you.’” A few verses later in Acts 17:28 Paul continues, “for in Him we live and move and have our being, as also some of your own poets have said, ‘For we also are His offspring.’”
In light of all of this, I pray that we have hearts that are willing, able and confident to meet Muslims where they are with sincerity, love and patience. I pray that we would simply begin the conversation, allowing God to have His perfect way in His perfect time. Thankfully, He is more long-suffering than we are.
As Paul’s speech to the people of Athens concludes, we see in Acts 17:32 that “some mocked, while others said, ‘we will hear you again on this matter.’” Clearly, Paul’s words had hit home with some of the Athenians. They weren’t ready to become Christians just yet, but they wanted to hear more. That’s our hope for our Muslim friends. Perhaps they’ll be ready to receive Christ immediately or perhaps they’ll reject our message outright. Or, most likely, they’ll want to hear more again. However our friend responds, God is glorified if we will just start the relationship and start the conversation.
In closing for today, Nabeel Qureshi, author of the excellent books Seeking Allah, Finding Jesus and No God But One, was once asked at a Q & A: “What is a good starting point for sharing the Gospel with people of the Muslim faith?” His answer was spot on:
“So, a good thing to do is just talk with people, they’re human. They want people to talk with them. They want friendships and relationships just like everyone else. I remember hearing a story of a student who came to the United States from Saudi Arabia. He brought two suitcases full of gifts to give to people who invited him to their home so that he could give those gifts to them as thanks for being invited. And he went back to Saudi Arabia a year later not having given a single gift away.”
May we be more inviting.
- Lord, may we simply start the conversation. May we listen to Paul, listen to Nabeel, listen to Your Holy Spirit and start the conversation! Open doors and open our mouths. And we pray that You would open the hearts and minds of followers of Islam all over the globe. May many have opportunity to hear the Good News, and desire to hear more, until they bow their knee to the Savior.