Prepared to Answer

• Hands up if you have friends or neighbours or colleagues who are not Christians?
• Hands up if you find it easy to talk to your friends and neighbours and colleagues about Jesus?
• Hands up if you find it hard to talk to your friends and neighbours and colleagues about Jesus.
• Don’t put your hand up – but answer for yourself. Would you like to be more confident in talking about Jesus? Would you like to be more bold in your witnessing for Christ ?
So why do we find it so hard to talk about Jesus? There are all sorts of reasons.
“We don’t know what to say.” “We are afraid we might do more harm than good.” “We might not be able to give answers to tricky questions.” “We are afraid we might fail.” Perhaps the most common fear is that of being rejected. We are scared of how the other person might react! We could be laughed at or rejected or worse.
A book I read said (Andrew Kirk) , “(Christians) are afraid of giving offence, causing embarrassment or being met with apathy, misunderstanding or ridicule. They may not wish to risk valued friendships. Perhaps the biggest cause of misgivings is the fear of being made to appear foolish, and thus of betraying their faith.” Mission Under Scrutiny, DLT 2006 p 91
Some are disillusioned from having tried previously and failed. Some are afraid of taking risks. It has become much harder than it used to be to talk about Jesus in the workplace. Recent highly publicised judgments of industrial tribunals and of courts have been disappointing in penalising Christians for sharing their faith. We are understandably fearful of the potential consequences of witnessing for Christ in the workplace or in public places. We recognise that declaring that “Jesus is Lord” and that we are His disciples will sometimes carry all kinds of risks. But the courageous witness of countless believers through history and around the world today is an example we need to learn to follow!
All these fears means that many Christians leave evangelism to the professionals, ministers and visiting evangelists and missionaries. But EVERY Christian has a part to play in evangelism. The Anglican Evangelist Michael Green said, “the good news is too good to leave it to the professionals.” He wrote, “Witness-bearing in some shape or form is the responsibility of all Christians.” In the Early Church, “every man and woman saw it as his task to bear witness to Jesus Christ by every means at his or her disposal.” The Bishop of Chelmsford evangelist Stephen Cottrell wrote, “According to our different personalities, gifts and circumstances each of us has a part to play in God’s work of evangelism.” As Michael Green says, “It is not until church members have the enthusiasm to speak to their friends and acquaintances about Jesus that anybody will really believe we have got good news to share.”
It’s the task of Ministers and Churches to encourage and equip all Christians to talk about Jesus wisely and boldly with anyone, wherever we may be. If you wish you could be more confident and bold in talking about Jesus, the weeks ahead are just for you. That will be the theme of this autumn’s sermon series, “Prepared to Answer. “
In his first letter the apostle Peter is writing to Christians who are understandably scared of talking about Jesus. They are being persecuted for their faith. Peter writes, 1 Peter 3:13 Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? 14 But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.” And then he says in 1 Peter 3:15.
1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect
Be prepared to give an answer. This series will help us to be prepared to talk about Jesus.
In fact Peter begins not with what we say but with how we live.

Set apart Christ as lord in your hearts

Peter assumes that when we are living as Jesus wants us to people will notice the difference
1 peter 2:9-10 God has made us into His people, “called to proclaim the glory of god who called us out of darkness into his marvellous light”
God has made Christians to be the Light of the world. He has made us to be a City set on a hill which cannot be hidden. The difference Jesus makes to our lives will cause people to ask qiestions. Early in the second century the Christian philosopher Justin Martyr wrote about the changed lives of Christians who “changed their violent and tyrannical disposition, being overcome either by the constancy which they have witnessed in the lives of their Christian neighbors, or by the extraordinary forbearance they have observed in their Christian fellow travelers when defrauded, and by the honesty of those believers with whom they have transacted business.”
As people see the difference Jesus makes, we must
Be prepared to give an answer
There are questions about faith we long for our friends to ask. What is a Christian? How can I become a Christian? What difference does being a Christian mean to you? What makes you sure God exists? “We might feel ready to answer those questions, and if we are not already then certainly we will be in a few weeks time. But we probably find in practice that those aren’t the kinds of questions our friends and neighbours want answers to.
Research summarised in Evangelism in a Spiritual Age (editor Stephen Croft Church House Publishing 2005) identified six Big Questions ordinary people want answers to.
1. Destiny? what happens after we die?
2. Purpose? what is the point of life? What values should I live by? Who inspires us?
3. The universe? How did it start? Is it designed or planned or controlled?
4. Does God exist? What is he/it like? Can we know or have a relationship with God?
5. Spiritual realms? What form do they take? Angels, ghosts. Supernatural?
6. Suffering? Why is there so much? What can be done? Concerns about domestic abuse, crime, intolerance and lack of respect.
We need to be prepared to give an answer to those kinds of questions – the questions people are actually asking. And we will be talking about those answers in weeks to come as well.
Some people might think it is unspiritual to think through the kind of answers we might want to give in advance. The word “answer” there means more than just an “off the cuff” reply.
“Give an answer” means make a defence in a court of law. The word is apologia includes the idea of a legal defence before a court, as the apostle Paul did a number of times in Acts 19, 22, 25 and 26. The word embraces not only the testimony a witness might give in court but also the arguments a lawyer might present in their opening and closing statements. We need to “give an answer.”
We may say to ourselves “I am not an evangelist” And it is true that few of us are ever called to preach the gospel to large groups of people. But giving an answer is not about preaching at people. It’s about conversations. Just talking about Jesus. Michael Green: “Personal conversation is the best way of evangelism. It is natural, it can be done anywhere, it can be done by anyone.”
The Book of Acts talks about the first Christians preaching and proclaiming the gospel to huge crowds. But we also read about teaching and explaining and discussions and debates. Often we find Christians simply answering and replying to questions about their faith, convincing and persuading. We find them testifying and being witnesses to what they had seen and heard. We will think more about this this evening.
And in Acts we see that it wasn’t just the apostles and church leaders and the missionaries who shared their faith. It was also countless ordinary Christians who were sharing their faith. The majority of the witnessing of the Early Church was done by people whose names we won’t know this side of heaven.
Acts 8:1 On that day a great persecution broke out against the church at Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. 2 Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. 3 But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off men and women and put them in prison. 4 Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.
Countless nameless believers spread the Word of God with boldness. Gossiping the gospel and chatting the good news not just in the synagogues but also with strangers in the marketplaces and with their friends in their own homes.
Acts 11 19 Now those who had been scattered by the persecution in connection with Stephen traveled as far as Phoenicia, Cyprus and Antioch, telling the message only to Jews. 20 Some of them, however, men from Cyprus and Cyrene, went to Antioch and began to speak to Greeks also, telling them the good news about the Lord Jesus. 21 The Lord’s hand was with them, and a great number of people believed and turned to the Lord.

We should be prepared to give an answer –

We need to start by listening carefully to our friends to discover what they really need to hear. We need to offer an answer which is appropriate for the stage in the journey to faith where our friend is at. If they are lacking knowledge we will want to help them to understand. If they are indifferent to spiritual things we will want to encourage them about how important Jesus is. If they appear hostile we will want to be very gentle.
Our answer may take different forms
We may want to explain why we believe in Jesus
We may need to unpack some aspect of the Christian faith
Sometimes we may want to share a verse from the Bible or a story about Jesus. John 20:30-31 says, Jesus did many other miraculous signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.
We believe that God can speak powerfully through His Word the Bible not only to believers but also to not yet Christians. So often our answer will be to share what the Bible says. That’s why it’s a good thing for us to know by heart some Bible verses and to be able to tell some Bible stories about Jesus. It was C.H. Spurgeon who said, “Defend the Bible? I would as soon defend a lion! Unchain it and it will defend itself.” We need to uncage the lion!
At other times it may be appropriate for us to talk about some part of our experience of God – answer to prayer, ways God has helped us, difference Jesus makes to our lives, the hope or joy or peace Jesus gives us. And it never hurts to think through in advance what true life stories we might want to tell sharing our experiences of God.
In particular when we are giving our answers we will want to avoid using “the language of Zion”, talking in jargon which only Christians would understand. We want to think about other words we can use which our friends and neighbours will understand to share the wonderful truths of salvation and eternal life, faith and peace.
We DON’T need to present the whole gospel in one go – we never could! We just need to say the bit we are led to say at that time. The Holy Spirit can take the whole jigsaw of things we say and things other Christians have said and memories of school lessons and assemblies and bits of the bible and a poster outside a church somewhere and fit together the full picture in the person’s mind. We just have to supply our piece of the puzzle, our link in the chain.
Colossians 4 5 Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6 Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
Use your heads as you live and work among outsiders. Don’t miss a trick. Make the most of every opportunity. (Message)
And of course, how we talk about Jesus is very important. 1 Peter 3:15 also says

Do so with courtesy and respect

We should never be preaching AT people. “Evangelism is one beggar telling another beggar where to find bread.”

The Key is to be prepared!

Prepared, as we need to be ready for the Lord’s return like the wise virgins were. Like the Corinthians were prepared with their gift for the church in Jerusalem ready to give to Paul,. Prepared like Paul to be bound and even to die for the sake of the gospel (Acts 21:13)
It is appropriate and indeed spiritual to prepare our answers !!! To think and pray in advance about what we might say, as a witness would prepare their testimony and answers to questions they expect to be asked. I am sure we all know that the motto of the Scout Movement is “Be prepared.” If it’s a good idea for Scouts to be prepared it is surely even more important and appropriate for Christians to be prepared to talk about Jesus. And preparing ourselves is what we are going to be doing in this series. “Prepared to answer.”
The evangelist Pete Gilbert puts it this way. “Potentially every good deed that you do, every good gift that you use, every good day that you inhabit, every good conversation that you have, every opportunity recognised and taken is a part of effective evangelism.”
Michael Green wrote, “One of the greatest tragedies in the ossifying Western church is that people do not, by and large, talk about Jesus. That is extremely foolish. Jesus is the supremely attractive one. If we exclude from our conversations the only really winning card that we have, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
1 Peter 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect

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