We shed tears watching emotional movies. We’re sorrowful when we see a dog stranded on the streets. But do we have a heart heavily burdened with empathy for the lost?
August 5, 2021
Someone sent me an article titled “Getting the Monkey Off Your Back,” which had been published in a respected Christian magazine. In the article the author freely confessed that he had never once witnessed to a stranger, bravely admitting, “I’m chicken.” Then he revealed which came first: “My mom was chicken too. When she was in the last months of her life after a long bout with breast cancer, I visited her in her hospital room late one night. It was quiet, except for the hiss of the oxygen flowing through the tube. I was bent over her bed, holding her hand, when I noticed a silent tear slip down her cheek. I whispered, ‘Hey, what’s the matter? What are these tears for?’ ‘I’ve never talked to anyone about their soul,’ she said with a touch of shame. There was my mom—a selfless, godly, little old lady, not sure she would make it through the night—worried that she had failed at evangelism. She was fighting the monkey on her back.”
He then said that he had heard preachers talk about witnessing to strangers on planes, implying that each of us could share with the unsaved. That left him with a monkey on his own back. Then he said, “Well, maybe you can, but my bet is you won’t. Even more, I’ll bet the guy beside you on the plane will be better off if you don’t try.”
Why would unsaved people be better off if we didn’t try to witness to them? He believes it’s because they have no “felt need” for God. “They thrive on self-sufficiency. They don’t need God, and they don’t have time to think about it.” He maintained that they won’t listen “until there’s a disruption, such as an illness, unemployment, a failing marriage, a child in crisis, or a serious accident.” Therein lies the tragic fruit of the methods of modern evangelism. It keeps quiet until there is a disruption.
Recently, a friend told me that a Christian woman went into her house, closed the door, fell on the floor, and pleaded with God to forgive her. Her fiancé’s father had suddenly committed suicide. There were no warning signs. He wasn’t saved, and she had never bothered to witness to him. A disruption never came.
The “Disruption Theory” is about as credible as the theory of evolution. The monkey on the back eventually evolves into a chicken in the heart. This happens as a natural result of forsaking the proven principles of biblical evangelism.
Wait for the Oar to Break
Think of a man who is rowing a boat that is being pulled downstream by a strong current. He doesn’t know that just over the river’s horizon is a 200-foot waterfall that violently drops onto jagged rocks. You know where he’s heading so you quickly throw a rope toward the boat, and sigh with relief as it falls across its bow. But to your amazement the man ignores it and keeps vainly rowing against the strong current. He is being pulled closer and closer to the massive falls. You know that he will die if he keeps rowing. All he needs to do to be saved is to stop rowing and take hold of the rope, and from there you can pull him to safety. So do you think that you should call out a warning about the 200-foot waterfall? The author of the article says that you shouldn’t. Don’t say a word. Simply wait and hope that perhaps one of his oars will break, or possibly his boat will spring a leak. Maybe then he will consider taking hold of the rope…if he has a mind to.
The article’s author encourages you to keep your mouth shut, which is the exact opposite of what Scripture commands us to do. We are told to “warn every man” (Colossians 1:28) and to “preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15). Paul said, “Woe is me if I do not preach the gospel!” (1 Corinthians 9:16), and he asks for prayer, “that utterance may be given to me, that…I may speak boldly, as I ought to speak” (Ephesians 6:19). Then he says, “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).
God Himself admonished Ezekiel of the need to warn the lost. He said, “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand” (Ezekiel 3:17,18). Paul took that divine warning personally, telling his hearers that he was free from their blood, because he didn’t hold back from declaring to them “the whole counsel of God” (Acts 20:27).
“I know that if the ultimate disruption of death suddenly snatches a sinner into eternity, it will then be too late to warn him.”
Our Bounden Duty
The “monkey” that weighs heavy on my back, pressuring me to speak to a stranger in a plane, is my conscience. It burdens me because I know that if the person dies in his sins he will go to an everlasting Hell. That thought horrifies me. I speak to him because I identify with Paul’s statement, “Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11). I know that if the ultimate disruption of death suddenly snatches a sinner into eternity, it will then be too late to warn him.
Shortly before his death, Dr. Bill Bright, founder of Campus Crusade for Christ, said, “I have never felt the need to focus on telling people about hell. However, as a result of…a growing indifference to the afterlife, I have come to realize the need for a greater discussion of hell…I have thus come to see that silence, or even benign neglect on these subjects, is disobedience on my part. To be silent on the eternal destinations of souls is to be like a sentry failing to warn his fellow soldiers of impending attack.”1 A sentry who fails to warn his fellow soldiers of an impending attack is usually shot as a traitor. A. W. Pink said, “It is our bounden duty to warn sinners of their fearful peril and bid them flee from the wrath to come. To remain silent is criminal…”
“To be silent on the eternal destinations of souls is to be like a sentry failing to warn his fellow soldiers of impending attack.”
The First of Ten Commandments begins with the words, “I am the Lord your God.” Hundreds of times in Scripture we see that same phrase repeated, right up to where an unbelieving Thomas fell to his knees before Jesus and cried, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). Thomas lacked faith in the Savior, but that changed the moment he bowed the knee to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. That’s what happened at my conversion. As an unbeliever, I bowed to the Savior and said, “My Lord, and my God.” From that moment, He became my Lord, and so I do what He commands me to do. That means I will speak to the stranger on the plane.
Sure, the chicken often lifts its ugly and cowardly head, and there’s a temptation to be ashamed. When I am waiting on a plane I often find myself subconsciously praying for the person who is going to sit next to me—I’m praying that he won’t show up. But if I care about the lost, I have to wring the chicken’s neck. I have to deal with my fears by thinking of the sinner’s eternal welfare. I must be a Good Samaritan. I can’t play the hypocrite and pass by on the other side. I am commanded to love my neighbor as myself and so I must warn him of his terrible danger. To do so, I take the time to open up the Ten Commandments, helping him see his sinfulness before a holy God, warning him of the coming Day of Judgment and the reality of Hell. Suddenly he has a “felt need” for God—he understands that he needs the righteousness found only in Jesus Christ.
That also means that when I lie on my deathbed I won’t weep in shame that I buried my talent, and failed to do what my Lord commanded me to do.