Luke recorded important words at the end of Acts concerning Paul’s teaching: “And some were convinced by what he said, but others disbelieved” (Acts 28:24). This summation was true of all the teaching recorded in Acts whether by apostles or other Christians. Unlike Paul and first century Christians, our tendency is to think we have failed when some reject our invitations or the gospel message.
Bernice and I worked together for over nine years and it would be a mistake to leave the impression that our teaching was always “successful” in terms of conversions. To think that way causes us to put too much weight on our own abilities while disregarding God’s purposes. That was never the Lord’s intention. To illustrate, there was one year in which we had Bible studies with 80 people. To say the least, that was a lot of studies and hard work. What shocked both of us was, only five of these became Christians. I was disappointed, and began to wonder if I was taking the wrong approach in my lessons. However, about halfway through the year Bernice began to notice a trend. When a person either turned down our invitation or terminated the study after the first class, they died within the next six months! It happened over and over. What really spooked us was that at the time of our initial contact with them, they were not aware of anything physically wrong. I considered warning every person we invited that if they refused, they would likely be dead within six months! Was this God’s way of giving them one last chance?
I didn’t know it then, but I ran across a wonderful text this past year that helped explain both that unusual year and the many other years since in which I mistakenly evaluated success in terms of baptisms or my own abilities. Consider Acts 23:11, “The following night the Lord stood by him and said, ‘Take courage, for as you have testified to the facts about me in Jerusalem, so you must testify also in Rome.’” We read those words so easily, but it is the context that brings the Lord’s message to life. In the two days previous, Paul had nearly been torn apart by his own people both before and after giving a moving speech declaring the appearance of the resurrected Lord and his conversion. Then he spoke before the Sanhedrin Council, and again was rejected. As far as we know, Paul did not convert one person in his two attempts to testify about Christ, and yet, Jesus basically gave him a “Well done!” and told him to take courage because he would get more such opportunities, even before the emperor. With that knowledge, we should change our whole view of “success.” The “increase” is God’s department (1 Cor. 3:6). Our job is to testify about him, and as Jesus said, “Take courage!”
By the way, the following year brought entirely different results. This time we taught only 30 people, but 20 of them became Christians. This is what was beautiful about Bernice. Everyone was an opportunity, she never gave up on anyone, and she never let disappointment keep her from sharing the gospel to the next person she met. What drove her was her daily thankfulness that God used a Catholic friend to urge her future husband to go to a church on Easter Sunday. And, as Bernice would often say, “On the day of Judgment, I don’t want to hear the words, “You met me day by day and knew I was astray, but never mentioned Him to me.”