One of the first books I was given as a new believer was Josh McDowell’s, Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Truth be known, I have always enjoyed the give-and-take that occurs between two people arguing a point to establish what is true. I guess you could say that I like to debate an issue with other people. That’s a polite way of saying I’m prone to argument, and I like to win!
It is extremely important for Christians to know what they believe and why they believe it. Both Paul and Peter have something to say on this matter. Writing to a largely Jewish audience, Peter said this:
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. – 1st Peter 3:13-16
Paul instructed Timothy, the young pastor of the Church at Ephesus:
Remind them of these things, and solemnly charge them in the presence of God not to wrangle about words, which is useless and leads to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth. – 2 Timothy 2:14-15
Put together, these two passages represent a correspondence of ideas we would all do well to remember. There is a correlation between knowledge of the Word, and how that is reflected in the actions of “doers of the Word”. It is the actions of believers that the unbelieving world takes note of first. Once that has happened, the reasons for our evangelistic lifestyles can be most effectively used to illustrate the “why” of what it is that they have already seen.
All believers should be able to make a presentation of their beliefs in an orderly fashion. But what most of us here today want more than anything else is to have an argument that is irrefutable. We want a defense that is so solid, it simply cannot be defeated. No way, no how!
The Witness of the Earliest Church
I believe that a case can be made that it was the visible witness of the earliest Church that caused the entire world to take notice of what God was doing in the world. What was the composition of the Body of Messiah at that time? Following the conversion of Cornelius, it was made up of Jews and Gentiles who labored together. It was their unified love for their Jewish Master that was so dynamic and compelling.
On the final night of His life, Yeshua told his disciples what was going to happen to Him and what their future would look like. The passage in John 14-17 is known as the Upper Room Discourse. Here is one of my favorite portions from this section.
“Little children, I am with you a little while longer. You will seek Me; and as I said to the Jews, now I also say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” – John 13:33-35
This is the kind of apologetic for our faith that we have all been looking for! Francis Schaeffer wrote in The Great Evangelical Disaster:
“Without true Christians loving one another, Christ says the world cannot be expected to listen, even when we give proper answers. Let us be careful, indeed, to spend a lifetime studying to give honest answers. For years the orthodox, evangelical church has done this very poorly. So it is well to spend time learning to answer the questions of men who are about us. But after we have done our best to communicate to a lost world, still we must never forget that the final apologetic which Jesus gives is the observable love of true Christians for true Christians.”
For Jesus’ first disciples, it must have come as quite a shock that their Teacher expected them to love one another so deeply that it would be the very proof of His Messiahship. Let’s face it, they were still arguing with each other on the night before He gave Himself as the Sacrificed Lamb. They had a hard time loving one another even though some of them had grown up together. Maybe this is why they fought so often. But it wasn’t just the first disciples who fought so fiercely with one another. This is what the world sees when they look at the Body of Messiah today! Yeshua expected more, so much more.
Following His resurrection, Jesus’ closest friends were told that they were to go out into the entire world and make disciples of all the nations. They must have looked at one another incredulously. “Did He say that in addition to loving each other, we are also supposed to go out to the Gentiles and share this mission with them?” Look at the record. That’s exactly what He said.
Remembering “If you love Me, you will keep my commandments,” they obeyed even though it was very uncomfortable for them. Throughout the Roman Empire they went. Paul was the most prolific. He never forgot that he was a Jew, and that it was to the Jews that the Scriptures had been entrusted. Everywhere Paul went, his first stop was at the synagogue. Very quickly however, Paul and those Jews who believed began to make inroads among the Gentiles of Asia Minor and Europe.
The record of Acts is clear. It is undeniable that in those first years of the Church, Jews and Gentiles loved and served the Lord together in common fellowship. So strong was their love for one another that in less than 200 years the power of their love could not be denied, not by Gentiles, not by the Jews. Their unity was the strongest argument for the claims they made concerning Messiah.
P.S. – This posting is part of a paper recently presented at the recent North American meeting of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism. If you would like to read the entire piece, you will find it here.