When you share the gospel and get nothing but stony silence in response, what are you to think? When you call people to Christ and find that they will talk about anything except the key points of the gospel, what should you do?
Lost people are seldom completely silent when we challenge them with the truth. However, we may often find them to be silent on the aspects of the gospel that disturb them the most. Many will make a great deal of noise about things that they themselves do not consider to be important, while refusing to discuss or address the things that convict them the most.
This selective silence practiced by lost people is deceptive in nature. Apparent concern about things slightly related to Christianity is often a technique for avoiding the central truths of the gospel. By refusing to discuss these convicting truths, and by energetically discussing something else (anything else), they are merely avoiding a gospel that calls their lives to account.
One excellent example of this kind of deceptive silence is found in Acts 3 and 4. A man who had been lame from birth was made well by God’s working through Peter. A great crowd gathered almost immediately to see this man who had been made well. Peter took advantage of the opportunity to preach the gospel of salvation in Jesus Christ. The central truth that Peter emphasized in his sermon was the resurrection of Jesus. This is a key feature of the gospel since it proves that everything Jesus said about himself is true, shows that God has accepted Jesus’ sacrifice for sin and demonstrates that Jesus is able to give eternal life. Peter emphasized these truths by boldly asserting the resurrection in his sermon in Acts 3.
His central point of a resurrected Savior was so clear in the sermon that the enemies of the truth understood it, became offended, rallied their forces, and had Peter and John arrested before the message was finished. Scripture says that the reason they took such a drastic step is that they were “greatly disturbed because they [Peter and John] were teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (Acts 4:2).
Peter and John were kept in custody until the next day, when these same religious leaders brought them to trial. These leaders were in control of how they carried out the trial, but never mentioned the thing that they were so upset about. They were completely silent on the issue that was their greatest concern. This fact is particularly striking since most of them were Sadducees, who were very practiced at teaching against the resurrection of the dead.
Instead of challenging Peter on this subject that had infuriated and convicted them, they made a careful attempt to divert attention away from it. They asked by what power and in whose name Peter had healed the man born lame. It was a way of saying, “Who are you?” “What are your credentials?” “What right do you have to be working miracles?” They wanted to impeach the men, or if possible, the miracle. But they did not want to discuss what brought them the most discomfort and conviction.
You have probably met with the same kind of selective silence in your own witnessing. People are always ready to challenge your opinion, your interpretation, your right to speak and your background. They bring up the number of hypocrites in the church, the people in Africa who have never heard the gospel, the differences between denominations, or some list of theological labels that they may or may not understand. Their hope is that by emphasizing something else, they can keep you from talking about the call of the gospel on their lives personally.
Peter does not fall for any such diversionary tactics in Acts 4. He does not even allow the distraction of focusing on the miracle which God had worked. In his defense, Peter uses the miracle as a platform for presenting the gospel to these men, again making the resurrection of Jesus his central point. He went back to the resurrection because it is central to the gospel. He couldn’t avoid it just because the lost didn’t seem to be responding to it.
Those who put too much emphasis on the responses and desires of lost people would not have handled the opportunity as well as Peter did. Had Peter used the approach that is so popular today, he would have concluded that the resurrection was not important since it wasn’t “working.” He would have concluded that the resurrection was not “relevant” to that generation. Had he followed a more mainstream approach, he would have found a subject they were more outwardly interested in, gained their approval and brought reproach on the name of Christ.
The lesson from Peter’s defense in Acts 4 is clear. We must test the emphasis of our ministries by Scripture rather than by what lost people seem to be interested in. The lost world cannot be our gage in deciding what to emphasize. Only by proclaiming the gospel in the way Scripture proclaims it can we be sure that we are saying the right things.