(Seventh of a Series)
And when they arrived in Salamis, they preached the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. They also had John as their assistant. Now when they had gone through the island to Paphos, they found a certain sorcerer, a false prophet, a Jew whose name was Bar-Jesus, who was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, an intelligent man. This man called for Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the sorcerer (for so his name is translated) withstood them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. Then Saul, who also is called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “O full of all deceit and all fraud, you son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, will you not cease perverting the straight ways of the Lord? And now, indeed, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you shall be blind, not seeing the sun for a time.” And immediately a dark mist fell on him, and he went around seeking someone to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had been done, being astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
This is what could be called a spiritual tug of war—with the Apostle Paul on one end, Elymas on the other, and Sergius in the middle.
It is also confrontational. The confrontation though is not with Sergius, the object of the witnessing, but with the opponent, Elymas. Here Paul must hurl the law at Elymas who is interfering with Sergius who “sought to hear the Word of God.” In a way this reminds one of the Leipzig Debate where Martin Luther was not so much trying to win over his opponent at the opposite podium as he was seeking to influence those observing the debate.
With examples from Holy Scripture we are trying to learn ways and attitudes which will better enable us to witness to our Lord. These examples, drawn from the four Gospels and from the book of the Acts of the Apostles, are by no means exhaustive.
As with the basketball strategy of one-on-one, we are looking at examples of one Christian witnessing to another individual. We are not considering what was said to individuals already in the faith, though that is also applicable. We are not considering what was said to groups, though that also is applicable as a witnessing technique. We will be considering various situations where it was one-on-one, and the one being witnessed to was living in unbelief….
The ultimate goal in all witnessing is to be like John the baptizer and point to Christ as the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. While we want to try earnestly to develop our skills in this area, we don’t want to forget John’s motto, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
No matter what spiritual gifts we have and how we develop them, we are not looking for glory for ourselves. We are looking to have another soul join us in glorifying our Savior-God.
Sergius was a man of intelligence who truly was interested in Paul’s and Barnabas’ message. Elymas tried to turn the proconsul away from the faith. We, of course, do not have apostolic power to do as Paul did. But we do have the law of God to refute and condemn any modern-day Elymas. There are those times when in a very small group of three or so we may have one individual to whom we are trying to witness, but we may be hindered by someone else. Then it is that we need to turn to that opponent and direct the Word on what he is saying.
I remember small-group discussions back in my college days when I would have to refute someone (such as a Mormon) in the discussion in order to get through to another who was listening.
The beauty of this encounter of Paul and Sergius is that the proconsul did believe, “astonished at the teaching of the Lord.” It was the gospel of Jesus that Paul then preached that won Sergius over after the interference was eliminated.