Sunday, August 25, 2013

When to Speak and When to Be Silent

What if openly sharing the plan of salvation with your co-workers would almost certainly result in your termination from that job?  What if sharing the gospel each time you come together causes friends and family to avoid your company completely?  What if you live in a country where the simple act of proclaiming your Christianity will most surely result in your execution?

Is that what Christ asks us to do, this in-your-face type of evangelism?  Is it more effective to share the Word of God those few times? To proclaim one's allegiance to Christ? And then have no more chances to minister to that lost person?  Or is it better to live your life as a witness for Christ, naturally weaving Christ into your conversation and lifestyle that you demonstrate before them but without being confrontational about the question of their lost soul?  

Simply put, what style of witness gives us the most influence for Christ? Bring Him the most glory?

These are difficult questions to answer.  I've heard good, honest debates on both sides.  I've listened to good-hearted Christians criticize other Christians for not fulfilling their definition of what a Christian should be, do, say.  And in all honesty, I've felt the same way about other Christians at times, too, wondering how they could stay silent if Christ were really their Lord.

Yet, the more I read in Scripture and the further I go on my own journey with the Lord, I see that there is a time and a place for everything--for speaking, for being silent, for confronting in love, for biting my tongue...and that I must not judge others who choose silence and behind the scenes influence for Christ. 

Jesus told His disciples, "you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).  He also said, "Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. But whoever disowns me before others, I will disown before my Father in heaven" (Matt. 10:32-33).  

The conclusion one can draw from these verses is that Christians must live unashamed of the gospel, openly being a witness for Christ. In other words, others should see Jesus in me, should know I am different even if they're not sure what's different.  The definition of being a "witness," though, varies, especially when considering how "in your face" should one be when sharing the gospel?   
As I read through the prophets of the Old Testament and even through Jesus' own words, I'm noting how their witness changed depending on the situation. 

1 Kings tells of a man who followed the Lord in secret.  Scripture says, "Now the famine was severe in Samaria, and Ahab had summoned Obadiah, his palace administrator. (Obadiah was a devout believer in the Lord. While Jezebel was killing off the Lord’s prophets, Obadiah had taken a hundred prophets and hidden them in two caves, fifty in each, and had supplied them with food and water" (1 Kin. 18:2-4).

Scripture refers to Obadiah as a "devout believer."  That's saying something right there.  Yet, while one may associate the word "devout" with someone who prays publicly at the window like Daniel, witnesses on the street corners like Paul, or points fingers at the sin of the unrighteous like the Prophet Elijah, this man's devotion to the Lord was a secret.  

Obadiah was in a place of authority in evil King Ahab's palace.  He was quite influential in the kingdom.  Had Ahab or his evil wife Jezebel caught wind of Obadiah's true allegiance, it is likely that Obadiah would have lost his life in addition to losing his position. 

Because of this position of influence, this "devout" man did not confront King Ahab about his sin.  He did not criticize the king for trying to kill all the Lord's prophets.  He simply worked in secret.  In a way, he infiltrated the enemy's camp for the Lord and so he could save the lives of a hundred of the Lord's prophets.

Even with his mouth not speaking of his devout beliefs, he was a witness for the Lord.  We will never know if he advised Ahab towards righteousness even if Ahab ignored such efforts.  What we do know is that Obadiah's actions to save those 100 prophets were a demonstration of his devout faith in God and that this demonstration made his very existence fraught with danger. 

Constantly supplying 100 prophets with enough food and water to sustain them in the desert would not have been an easy task.   First there was the problem of gathering the food and water.  Simply procuring that many supplies in a nation wracked by famine must have been almost impossible.  There just wasn't food or water available for that many people to be fed, especially over an extended period of time--months and months.  It makes me wonder if Obadiah stole from Ahab's own household to provide the needed sustenance, making this ministry all the more dangerous.  

Whatever method God used to provide daily bread for his chosen prophets, Obadiah was the secret hand God used to fulfill His will for His glory. 
Then, there was the problem of delivering the food and water to the prophets.  Surely, Ahab had spies everywhere.  Everyone in the kingdom must have been under suspicion of helping Elijah, especially since Scripture speaks directly of Ahab's man hunt for the prophet. 

Imagine months and months of providing daily bread and water for one hundred people.  Imagine the daily fear of being caught.  This was Obadiah's secret ministry for the Lord.

The Prophet Elijah, though, obviously didn't think too much of Obadiah's commitment to the Lord.  Even after Elijah met Obadiah, he told the people of Israel, "I am the only one of the Lord's prophets left" (1 Kin. 18:22).  It seems Elijah also believed that if you are for God, everyone should know about it.

Pastor R. T. Kendall says, "There is a time to shout out our witness for Jesus, but also a time to protect our testimony by a discreet silence.  In other words, there are exceptions to the biblical principle of acknowledging Jesus Christ and showing openly that we are unashamed of Him" (p. 69).*

No, I don't think God gives examples such as these in Scripture to give us a license to close our mouths and shirk our responsibility to share the gospel with those around us.  Sharing the gospel is importantI do, however, believe God shows us examples like Obadiah's to demonstrate how we should be open to the Spirit's leading in our own lives and how we should avoid judging others whose witness looks different from out own.

Let us not be militant in our belief that the way we witness is how all should witness for the Lord or even that the way we witness is how we should witness for the Lord at all times and in all circumstances.  

*Kendall, R. T.  These are the Days of Elijah.  Bloomington: Chosen P, 2013.

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