When you were in kindergarten and first began to write the letters of the alphabet, you probably started by tracing the lines that were printed in your notebook. Tracing helped your brain remember the exact muscle-movements in your hand to create each letter. Over a period of time, you developed what’s called, “muscle memory,” and now you can write each letter without a second thought.
In many ways, the book of Acts is similar to a tracing notebook. God knows that prayer, witnessing, and fellowship do not come naturally to us at the moment of salvation. They require practice and patience— spiritual muscle memory.
Acts includes a template for us—a model—for our evangelism, and it comes from a lesser-known apostle of Christ.
In Acts 8:26-40, there are several keywords that describe Philips’ evangelistic work; keywords that should describe every believer and every church today who desire to obey the Great Commission.
Previously in the chapter, Philip was experiencing extraordinary gospel success. He preached the message of salvation to Samaria, the longtime enemy of Israel. Philip performed miracles, amazed the crowds with his teaching, and saw thousands of people believe in Jesus. In many ways, he was the founding patriarch of the church in Samaria.
By every metric of ministry success, Philip scored high— attendance, conversions, baptisms all skyrocketed.
Immediately following this account, the Bible records, “An angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Rise and go south to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ This is a desert place” (Acts 8:26). God’s command to Philip was to leave a wildly successful public ministry and travel to a desert intersection. He was provided with neither details nor plans. And in humility, Philip obeyed.
If Philip secretly thought that he was the main character in the early church, he would have stayed in Samaria. He was a celebrity there and everybody in town knew his name. But not one whisper of complaint escaped Philip’s lips, not one word of disappointment over the sudden shift from public acclaim to obscurity. The truth is, Philip was never after his own glory, only the Lord’s. So, he obeyed.
We can only glorify God when we approach His calling with the same attitude—valuing His name, glory, and fame above our own.
Philip obeyed and wandered into the desert, as God brought him to the place where an Ethiopian eunuch was passing by in his chariot. Luke tells us in the account that this man “was returning (from Jerusalem to worship), seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah” (Acts 8:28). And God tells Philip, “Go over and join this chariot” (vs. 29).
I can imagine many people would hear this command from God and think, this man is reading, I shouldn’t disturb him; or, I’m not climbing into a chariot without an invitation.
It makes me wonder how many witnessing opportunities we miss because we wait for invitations.
Your college professor is talking about Christianity, and you don’t speak up, because you don’t think they will want to hear what you have to say.
Your coworker asks you what you do on the weekends, and you don’t tell them that you go to church, because they might look at you differently.
Let me encourage you to listen attentively to the voice of Holy Spirit when He prompts your conscience to start a gospel-conversation with someone. Don’t let any excuse deter you.
Had I been Philip, I probably would have run up to this chariot and said, “God just sent me directly to talk to you, so scoot over and listen up.” But Philip didn’t do that. “Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’” (vs. 30).
Just as Philip first sought to understand the eunuch’s point of view, we should take time to understand the perspective of nonbelievers. First, let’s find out what they believe, what they’ve been reading, what they’ve been thinking about concerning troubling questions in life.
Effective evangelism is as much listening as it is speaking. Listening and asking questions helps us find common ground, understand the person’s presuppositions, and personalize our message to suit that specific conversation.
When Philip learned what passage the eunuch was reading from, and was invited to interpret it, he didn’t lead with stories of his own personal interactions with Jesus, or the miracles he saw Jesus perform, or even the miracles he himself had performed in Samaria. He didn’t dazzle the eunuch with his previous evangelistic successes. Instead, Philip did what we all should do as we speak to unbelievers: “Beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus” (vs. 35).
This final part of the template is a simple reminder to keep our gospel presentations focused on God and His Word. Yes, color your presentation with how you’ve changed since becoming a Christian and point out times where you’ve seen the faithfulness of God.
But keep the focus on Christ. After all the seeds are sown, remember—and trust—that He is the Lord of the harvest.