In a Christian bubble replete with books, conferences, and more reminding us to be radical followers of Jesus, it is not long before we realize how short we fall from being “sold out” for the Lord. We think about this throughout our entire Christian life, but particularly when we think about witnessing to others about the grace of God found in Christ Jesus. We get the nerve to turn a conversation toward the things of eternal consequence, only to be confronted with rejection, questions, or even worse, a blank stare. We garner enough courage to go back for more, only to be met with the same results. This is hard, but this is the work of evangelism. The ministry and task call for awkward conversations and confrontations. But we know it is for the good of the person being evangelized. But what happens when the confrontation becomes more than can be handled, when the hearer becomes belligerent and reviling? Should you continue in courage or retreat? May we find comfort from our Scripture text, concerning Paul and Barnabas.
While Paul and Barnabas are preaching the gospel in Iconium, by the instigation of the Jews, some of the people attempt to stone them, but the preaching duo escaped and went to another city (Acts 14:6). By radical Christian standards, Paul and Barnabas could be accused of neglecting the ministry the Lord had given them. They could be accused of refusing to suffer for the sake of Christ. Yet, Scripture does not present Paul and Barnabas this way. Luke simply writes the events in which they flee and continue to recount the story of their missionary efforts. This should give us comfort when our attempts to present the gospel of grace is met with sheer hostility. But our backing away from hostile conversations should never be due to fear. Rather, we can pause a conversation due to wisdom and God’s sovereignty.
First, it may be wise at times to back away from highly unfruitful or aggressive conversations. Wisdom may say that more time praying is what an individual needs. Proverbs 18:2 states that “a fool takes no pleasure in understanding but only in expressing his opinion.” Those who simply get louder with each word have no intention in having a conversation. There may be times when their boisterousness becomes more aggressive and unreasonable. Like Paul and Barnabas, it may be wiser to flee the situation.
Secondly, it is okay to leave at times because we know that it is not our rhetoric that grants entrance into God’s kingdom. Rather we rest on our sovereign God who calls those to Himself whom He wills. To be clear, this does not mean that God’s sovereignty is an excuse for laziness or fleeing from difficult conversations. Instead, it is God’s sovereignty that empowers us to press through difficult conversations as well as grant us the freedom to bow out when wise to do so.
We are called to endure difficulties for the sake of Christ, but we are not called to remain in unfruitful conversations. Just as Paul and Barnabas were free to flee persecution, we are free as well. We are free to proclaim the gospel of our Lord, who draws all those who He has called to believe. May we rest in the goodness of God whether we remain or leave.