Then an angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Get up and go towards the south[g] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ (This is a wilderness road.) So he got up and went. Now there was an Ethiopian eunuch, a court official of the Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, in charge of her entire treasury. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning home; seated in his chariot, he was reading the prophet Isaiah. Then the Spirit said to Philip, ‘Go over to this chariot and join it.’ So Philip ran up to it and heard him reading the prophet Isaiah. He asked, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’ He replied, ‘How can I, unless someone guides me?’ And he invited Philip to get in and sit beside him. Now the passage of the scripture that he was reading was this:
‘Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter, and like a lamb silent before its shearer, so he does not open his mouth. In his humiliation justice was denied him. Who can describe his generation For his life is taken away from the earth.’
The eunuch asked Philip, ‘About whom, may I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?’ Then Philip began to speak, and starting with this scripture, he proclaimed to him the good news about Jesus.
‘Evangelists’, it is sometimes said, ‘are people who go all out to tell you their opinion but never stop to listen to yours!’ If you believe that, then let me introduce you again to Philip the Evangelist. Learning from him, we see that all the best evangelists have two ears and one mouth and use them in thatproportion.
Many training programmes on evangelism focus on teaching us what to say. They give us an ABC or a 1,2,3 presentation to get through and then send us out to ‘go forth and tell’. But the School of Acts 8 teaches the opposite. It teaches that evangelism begins with listening.
Philip’s first ear was focused on listening to God. He clearly knew God’s word and was versed in the Apostle’s teaching. He had also learned to be highly attuned to the Spirit’s prompting and was ready to act on it. Bible reading and prayer, such as in these daily devotions, may put us in the right place of listening. It’s our choice whether we act on what we hear.
What the Spirit told Philip to do was to walk closely to the man in the chariot. Philip’s second ear, then, became focused on the Ethiopian official. Because he drew close to the man, Philip could hear him clearly. It was this that enabled the conversation to begin (not with a spiel, but with a question from Philip). As the conversation continued, Philip followed the man’s interest and responded to his questions. It seems like a very effective method, to me!
Of course, we do have a story to tell. We have a Gospel to proclaim. But, maybe, this does not need to be the first thing in the conversation? Maybe, it all begins with us drawing alongside and listening. As the relationship grows, there may well come points where our story intersects with their story, and in sharing our story we also share God’s story, if indeed we live in him. Evangelism could be as easy and natural as that.
Lord I want to be able to share your Good News effectively, so please shut my mouth. Teach me to listen. To you and to others. Lead me to walk more closely with people, to be genuinely interested in their lives, opinions, struggles and questions. And then let your Spirit prompt me, so my words may be received as genuine Good News.
The Rev’d Nick Stanyon is Synod Evangelist for West Midlands Synod