In studying the apostle Paul’s first missionary journey, we’ve discovered that the story in Acts 13 and 14 is filled with insights for learning how to sharpen your evangelism skills.
Here’s one that comes through loud and clear: When talking to people about the Lord, try to enter their world.
This was Paul’s superpower. Later on in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul would write the Bible’s preeminent statement on how to do this in 1 Corinthians 9:20-22. “To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews…To those outside the law, I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some.”
It’s the age-old principle of learning how to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. Developing that understanding, even empathy, with another will build bridges between you that will open doors for communication.
We see evidence of Paul doing this right in the story. In Acts 14:9 Luke writes, “Saul, who was also called Paul….” The assumption in Luke’s description is that this is the place where Paul adopts his Roman name Paul, and discards his birth name, the Hebrew name Saul. We don’t know how he came by this name. Jesus did not give it to him on the Damascus Road, as many mistakenly believe. He was born a Roman citizen, so it’s possible that he was given a dual name at birth. Or maybe at some point after his conversion he picked it for himself. (The great 19th century preacher Alexander Maclaren wonders if Paul chose it in honor of his first convert, Sergius Paulus (cf. Acts 14:7ff).
A new life demands a new name. It makes sense that Saul would choose this name. Saul means “desired one”, or “prayed for”, and conveys a sense of importance. Paul means “little” or “humble”. After the reprobate life he led before Jesus’s mercy saved him from himself, Paul would never again think of himself as important. He called himself the “chief of sinners”, and the ”least of the apostles”. The name Paul fit just fine, as if Paul was his way of saying to the world, I’m not great; it’s Jesus who’s great.
And it’s for the world that it makes sense that Paul would change his name. Here at the start of his life’s greatest work, serving as an apostle to the Gentiles, Paul knew that his Hebrew name might create roadblocks. But a Gentile name, not to mention his Roman citizenship, would open doors to conversation. This is Paul being “all things to all people” to win more souls to his Lord.
So without changing our names, what are some ways that we can enter other people’s worlds? It begins with a willingness to seek relationships with unbelievers. Too many Christians live cloistered lives, and we forget our Lord’s example of being a “friend of sinners”. My love of racquetball, guitar, and screenwriting has brought me naturally into communities of people who share my interests and abilities, but not necessarily my faith. Another idea is to host a “Matthew Party” named after the apostle Matthew, who right after his conversion, hosted a dinner party where “many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples” (Mark 2:14-17).
Then take a genuine interest in learning other people’s stories. People are fascinating! Have you noticed that almost every movie or TV show on TV is advertised with a picture of people on it? They say there’s a novel inside of every person, so poke around with those you meet and find out what their story is. (Of course, this requires learning how to listen.)
Be willing to learn from them as well. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make you the smartest person in the room, so don’t act like it. You should be confident in Christ – after all, you’ve discovered a treasure hidden in a field, and a pearl of great price (Matthew 13:44-46). Yet a follower of Christ should always comport themselves with graciousness and humility, attitudes that will draw more people to you than arrogance ever will.
Questions To Ponder
- How many non-Christian friends and acquaintances would I say I have?
- What are some practical things I can do to improve at entering other people’s worlds?
Bear Clifton is a pastor, writer and screenwriter. His blogs and devotionals can be enjoyed at his ministry website: trainyourselfministry.com and his writing website: blclifton.com. Bear is also the author of “Train Yourself To Be Godly: A 40 Day Journey Toward Sexual Wholeness”, “Ben-Hur: The Odyssey”, and “A Sparrow Could Fall”, all available through Amazon.