A pastor once told me that he appreciated the ministry of Jews for Jesus but could not invite us to speak in his pulpit. He had what he felt was a good relationship with the rabbi across the street, with an annual pulpit exchange. I have an opportunity to be a witness through this pulpit exchange,” he explained. “By inviting Jews for Jesus, I would be forfeiting that opportunity.”
I carefully pointed out that his opportunity was only an opportunity if he could say something that would truly challenge his Jewish friends to consider Christ. Further, if anything he said or did ever resulted in a synagogue member coming to faith in Jesus, those pulpit exchanges would probably come to a screeching halt. Sadly, I don’t think that pastor was willing to give up the notion that friendship with the rabbi was somehow a prerequisite to evangelism and the fulfillment of his Christian duty.
Many Christians today seem to think that gaining the acceptance of unbelieving Jewish people is the way to gain a platform for the gospel. Unfortunately, things usually do not work out that way.
Some people speak about “earning the right” to witness. While it seems like a humble thing to say, many people fail to see how that statement contradicts Scripture. The Bible teaches that proclaiming the gospel is an obligation to be fulfilled, not a right to be earned. The idea that people must accept us before they can accept Yeshua (Jesus) can actually become a subtle kind of pride that we fail to recognize in ourselves and our fellow believers.
We hear much about relational or “friendship” evangelism, but the Bible says “…Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Whoever therefore wants to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God” (James 4:4, emphasis added).
I’m not saying we should treat unbelievers like enemies, nor should we be “unrelational,” unfriendly or rude! Nevertheless, when we make friendship with unbelievers our first priority, Jesus gets short shrift.
Few Christians intend to shunt Jesus off to the side. Most who never quite get around to giving a clear cut gospel message don’t even realize they are sacrificing their gospel witness on the altar of human acceptance.
Once, when I was speaking at a church, a woman approached me after the service. She was pleased to inform me that her roommate and best friend in college was Jewish, and that she had maintained their friendship over many years. When I asked if she ever talked to her friend about Jesus, she responded, “Oh no, I’d be too afraid of offending her.” I affirmed her desire to remain friends but suggested, “Perhaps what you fear even more than offending her is the possibility that she might reject you.” I’m afraid that woman took offense at my suggestion but I had to do what she was not willing to do: risk being rejected for the sake of an important truth—a truth more important than my being liked or accepted.
It is easy to allow ourselves to believe that our silence is out of respect for those who might disagree with us. It is easy to see our motivation as noble, especially when we see our ultimate intention as positioning ourselves to be a better witness. But unfortunately, too often those intentions come to nothing, and we need to face the truth that sometimes our tact and our long-term intentions are merely masks that cover our natural fear of rejection and our reluctance to position ourselves where God really wants us: in a place of vulnerability.
We need to be honest about our own hesitation to witness, and we need to be realistic about this matter of offending others. God wants us to be loving and humble when we tell others about Him. Yet even the most inoffensive manner cannot guarantee that people will not take offense at what we have to say. Ultimately, people decide the basis on which they will or will not be offended, and sometimes taking offense is their best defense against the gospel.
There is much talk about the virtues of our pluralistic society. From a worldly perspective, tolerance is the greatest good. But today’s society has twisted the meaning of tolerance, making it practically synonymous with relativism. True tolerance is treating people decently regardless of how they may differ from you. The false tolerance demanded by today’s society requires that you accept all beliefs as equally true, or if you can’t do that, you keep quiet about it. The suggestion that someone else’s religious belief might not be true is wrongly labeled as intolerance. If someone believed she could take a street that only runs east and west to go north, would it be intolerant for someone else in the car to suggest a turn? No. Yet, when it comes to spiritual matters, the world insists on a degree of relativism that would spell disaster were we to apply it to the physical realm.
The Christian belief that Jesus is the only way of salvation is perceived as intolerance, even bigotry by the world’s standards. So the pressure is on us to compromise our strong stance and conviction in order to gain some acceptance, in order to avoid being marginalized by the unbelieving world. Yes, we live in a pluralistic society, but pluralism means that everyone has a right to express his or her own opinion. It doesn’t mean that everyone’s or no one’s opinion is true.
Whenever we proclaim that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life, the inference is that all other ways are false, and therefore those who trust anyone or anything other than Jesus for salvation are mistaken. You don’t have to tell people they are wrong; the message itself pronounces them wrong. This will always be viewed as intolerance by those who don’t believe. And those who are considered intolerant can expect to be rejected. That is why the idea that we must be accepted by those whom we wish to evangelize doesn’t work.
Many Jews have risked alienation from family and friends to follow Jesus. We have been ostracized by the wider Jewish community because we have embraced the One who was despised and rejected of men. But we have discovered that He is worth it! “Remember the word that I said to you, ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept My word, they will keep yours also” (John 15:20).
Perhaps you see why we are so disheartened by Christians who seek acceptance within the Jewish community at the expense of a forthright story. It’s as though the very people who should stand with us and encourage us that we are right to suffer rejection for Christ’s sake are telling us just the opposite by their actions. They want to stand apart from us to avoid being rejected by association and sadly, many don’t want to stand up for the gospel for the same reason. More and more organizations represent themselves as gospel ministries to the Jewish people and receive funding from evangelical Christians—yet they are busily building friendships, not proclaiming the gospel. Are they true friends of my Jewish people? Not if they don’t make sure they’ve heard God’s plan of salvation. They have gained acceptance at the expense of Christ and at the expense of people who are perishing without Christ.
As a Jew for Jesus, I know that I will be treated as He was treated—accepted by those who accept Him and rejected by those who do not. While it is natural to desire acceptance, there is a sweet fellowship in risking rejection for Yeshua’s sake. He understands rejection firsthand and His comfort comes from experience.
The author of Hebrews was writing to a group of first century Jewish believers in Jesus who stood at a crossroads. They had suffered rejection and persecution to the point where they were tempted to turn their backs on the Lord. They needed to be encouraged and challenged to endure and be faithful. They needed to hear, “…Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people with His own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore let us go forth to Him, outside the camp, bearing His reproach” (Hebrews 13:12-13).
That call is as real today as it was in the first century—and it speaks to all Christians, not only to those of us who are Jewish. Yet many believers are trying to point to Christ, who is outside the camp, without having to leave the camp (be rejected) themselves. We must not be ashamed to beckon to unbelievers—friends and family, neighbors and business associates—from outside the camp, inviting them to forsake the world for the priceless gift of salvation.
If we belong to Jesus, we must bear His reproach. We can choose to bear it as a burden or as a badge of honor. Pray with us that more Christians will be ready to risk the rejection of Jewish people here and now in order to forge friendships that will last an eternity. And thank you for being among those who are willing to stand with us and bear the reproach of Christ as a badge of honor.