Joel 2:1 [ESV] “Blow a trumpet in Zion; sound an alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming; it is near…”
One of the great benefits of being a member of a faithful local church is the opportunity, often through a “Sunday school” type setting, to be taught by faithful men of God other than your Pastor. While the Pastor is of incalculable importance, I cannot put into words the enormous blessing it is to learn from lay-leaders and elders at the church each week. These faithful men speak from the authority of Scripture but bring perspective of one not vocationally in ministry. It was one of these men this past weekend, teaching through the book of Joel, who challenged us to ponder and explore how the Christian should respond to unbelievers in times of crisis.
Though the question seems simple enough, the reality is that it is truly a profound question to ponder.
On September 11, 2001 I was a second-year architecture student at Ball State University. As the tragic events of that day began to unfold, a nation’s eyes were glued to their television screens in search of information, answers, and hope. As I holed up in my dorm room in rural Indiana, increasingly I noticed a trend across all the major networks providing coverage; they were booking and interviewing Pastors and evangelical leaders. In a country that, even 14 years ago, was beginning its sprint away from God, in the wake of the greatest tragedy ever perpetrated on American soil, the people of this country were turning to men of God.
This was an astounding development that permeated the entire culture, all the way down to the campus whereupon I resided. My fellow students were flocking to those of us they knew as Christians to ask questions, ask for prayer, and try to understand why such an evil had occurred. Sadly, as I reflect on those days, I am forced to admit I was spiritually unprepared (and, as I’ve discussed many times on the podcast, a false convert) to Biblically respond to those hurting unbelievers. This should have never been the case, and it’s a story I have in common with too many fellow believers.
We must equip ourselves with the Word of God and be prepared to interact with hurting unbelievers in times of tragedy and crisis.
As followers of Christ, we simply are not surprised when tragedy strikes because our worldview expects calamity (John 16:33). We know evil persists in this world, we know the enemy prowls around looking for one to devour (1 Peter 5:8), thus it does not surprise us when evil strikes. Those who do not share the Christian worldview, however, do not share this eternal preparedness. They think the world is basically good, so they are shocked when these things take place.
So, how should we respond to unbelievers in times of tragedy? Here are three biblical steps we should take:
1) We must show compassion.
Those who have followed my writings and/or social media accounts for any length of time know that I am extremely wary of “friendship evangelism”; the idea that you must earn the right to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with someone. Keep that in mind when I say here that we must show compassion to hurting unbelievers. Colossians 4:5-6 says, “Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.”
Because of Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for us, we are to be gracious and kind to unbelievers as God was patient and kind with us before we knew Him. In all areas of Christian life, the cross should be central, and this is no exception. In spite of the fact that we are attacked daily because of our biblical views on homosexuality, abortion, and sin, we must remain kind, caring, humble, and gentle.
Sometimes people need a shoulder to cry on, to simply be there for them. As those resting in the peace of our Savior’s work on the Cross, we can and should be these refuges of comfort for the unbelieving world. Right or wrong, the world judges Christianity by the way we act and treat others. I’m not saying we must “earn the right” to share the Gospel, but we must take care not to slide into the opposite ditch of losing all compassion in the name of evangelism.
Be compassionate and humble (1 Peter 3:8), sympathetic and loving, know when to remain silent, and conduct yourself with wisdom of the highest order. Then, as v. 5 in the above passage instructs, we are to make the most of our time with unbelievers. Which leads me to point #2…
2) We must warn of impending judgment.
We live in a fallen, broken, dying world and our time here is short. As we demonstrate our compassion and care for unbelievers, we must move into evangelism; it is our duty. Matt slick of CARM.org writes of Colossians 4:5, “Literally the Greek says ‘redeeming the time,’ or ‘buying up the opportunity.’ The sense then would be ‘Do not just sit there and wait for opportunity to fall into your lap but go after it. Yes, buy it.'”
Unquestionably, there is a time to be aggressive in your relationship with an unbeliever and we must never grow weary of evangelism. The truth is that God uses the Gospel to call His people out of this evil world. Ephesians 5:15-17 says, “Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the will of the Lord is.”1
While God does not create evil, in his sovereignty he allows bad things to happen, ultimately for our good. Instruct the unbeliever that nothing in the history of the world has ever happened that has surprised God. Further, Romans 8:28 teaches that nothing has ever happened in the history of the world that was not in some way a benefit for believers.
Jesus, speaking in Luke 13:4 about when the Tower of Siloam fell and killed people, dispels the faulty notion that there is a connection between calamity and iniquity (“worse sinners”). The point He was making was that such a calamity was not God’s way to single out an especially evil group for death, but as a means of warning to all sinners. Calamitous judgment was eventually coming to all if they did not repent. Likewise, in today’s day and age, tragedies are a warning to all that a day of judgment and wrath is coming to all those not in Christ.2
There is no “worse sin”. If you are not in Christ, you will face judgment and the wrath of God. Those who died when the tower fell may have been upstanding citizens. But in the vertical dimension, in their relationship to God, none of them was innocent, and the same is true for us. Jesus was saying, “Instead of asking Me why a good God allowed this catastrophe, you should be asking why your own blood wasn’t spilled.”3
In this point be tender, but firm. If one does not repent, they will likewise perish. But do not, I repeat, do not stop after this point. If nothing else, you must get to the Gospel. Which leads me to point #3…
3) We must share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
The great modern preacher, Paul Washer, in his own testimony said, “He saved me. He saved me when I was such a wretch you would not have wanted to run me down with your car. But my Jesus, he bought me with his blood! He came to me and my Jesus took away my sin and my Jesus took away my shame. All hail the power of Jesus name. Let angels prostrate fall bring forth the royal diadem and crown him Lord of all! That’s my Jesus, and I glory in my weakness!”
Jesus has never failed to save a single person he intended to save, no matter how wretched, starting with the Apostle Paul. We must share the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the hurting unbeliever. Once we’ve been compassionate with them and warned them, we must offer the hope Jesus Christ afforded us on the cross. Exhort unbelievers to repent lest they too perish and turn to the saving work of Jesus Christ on the cross. Use the Law to strip their pride and the Gospel to give them eternal comfort.
Jesus Christ humbled himself to the point of a horrific and excruciating death on a Roman cross in order to offer us eternal life in the presence of our God. Do not withhold this Good News! Fulfill the Great Commission…
Matthew 28:16-20 “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them. And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.'”
When the darkness of the world surrounds us, we need to be the light (Matt 5:14, Eph 5:8). Consider the stars which, during the day, remain in the sky but since there is so much light you cannot see them. However, at night, the stars shine brightly able only to be seen because of the blackness around them. Brethren, be the light for the dark, unbelieving world at all times, and especially in times of great tragedy and crisis.
Terrorism continues to grow throughout the world. We will be faced with times of tragedy and crisis. When your unbelieving friends and family come to you seeking answers, don’t be me 14 years ago. Rather, be prepared to comfort, warn, and share the saving Gospel of Jesus Christ with them.
Soli Deo Gloria.
- Slick, M. (n.d.). Colossians 4:5-6, Proper conduct towards unbelievers. Retrieved November 13, 2015, from https://carm.org/christianity/sermons/colossians-45-6-proper-conduct-towards-unbelievers ↩
- MacArthur, J., Jr. (Ed.). (1997). The MacArthur Study Bible (electronic ed., p. 1541). Nashville, TN: Word Pub. ↩
- Sproul, R.C. (2012, August 1). Ligonier Ministries. Retrieved November 13, 2015, from http://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/when-towers-fall/ ↩