Lesson 12

September 9 - 15

Errors and Setbacks in Witnessing

Sabbath Afternoon   September 9

A MAJOR ERROR IN WITNESSING. In contrasting Paul's experience in Corinth with that in Athens (Acts 17; 1 Cor. 2:2), Ellen G. White wrote, "Instead of indulging in poetic descriptions and fanciful representations, which might please the senses and feed the imagination, but which would not touch the daily experience, Paul sought by the use of simple language to bring home to the heart the truths that are of vital importance. . . . The immediate needs, the present trials, of struggling souls-these must be met with sound, practical instruction in the fundamental principles of Christianity."—The Acts of the Apostles, p. 252.

A major setback in apostolic days was persecution, generally founded on false charges (see Acts 5:28; 14:4; 16:20, 21; 17:6; 17:18; 18:13; 19:26, 27). However, persecution often has motivated Christians to be more committed to the Lord.

God helped the early Christians to overcome errors, setbacks, obstacles, fears, and opposition. As you study this week's lesson, always remember that He gives us the same help.


    I.  Ethnic Divisions (Acts 6:1-7).

  II.  Dissension Among Witnesses (Acts 13:13; 15:37-40).

III.  Lack of Contextualization (Acts 15; 16:1-3).

 IV.  Fear of Criticism (Acts 21:17-25).

  V.  Language Barriers (Acts 2:4-11; 14:8-18).

MEMORY TEXT: "They returned to Lystra, Iconium, and Antioch, strengthening the souls of the disciples, exhorting them to continue in the faith, and saving. We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God'" (Acts 14:21, 22, NKJV).   

Sunday  September 10


Read Acts 6:1-7 to help you fill in the chart below. What conclusions can you draw from this example about how to deal with ethnic divisions?   

The Problem The Solution The Result Conclusions






The early Christian church was bicultural. The Hellenists, or Grecian Jews, were non-native-born Jews whose first language was Greek rather than Hebrew. However, native-born Jews comprised the top leadership of the church.

Luke described the complaint as a class discrimination offense. Neither he nor the apostles offered a defense for it. Instead, they immediately set out to find a solution. The fact that they called a congregational meeting shows that they realized the problem was serious.

Moses' appointment of the seventy (Num. 11:10-16) to better care for the Israelites may have offered the apostles an example. They advised expanding the leadership by involving other church members. Interestingly, all seven people elected to office bear Greek names. These appointments suggest the church's progress toward resolving tensions caused by culture and race.

"The influence of the gospel is to unite God's people in one great brotherhood. . . . Worldly maxims and differences of nationalities are lost sight of in him. The love of God, sanctifying the soul, breaks down the wall of partition between the customs and practices of different individuals and nations. The great principles of Bible truth bring all into perfect harmony."—Ellen G. White, Review and Herald, November 3, 1885, p. 559.

What is my local congregation doing to express to the community that we belong to one great family? How can we improve upon what we are doing? What can I do to help any improvement to occur?  

Monday  September 11

DISSENSION AMONG WITNESSES (Acts 13:13; 15:37-40).

What problem led to a clash among the apostles?

Acts 13:13  _____________________________________________________________________

15:37-40  ____________________________________________________________________  

John Mark, "overwhelmed with fear and discouragement, wavered for a time in his purpose to give himself wholeheartedly to the Lord's work. Unused to hardships, he was disheartened by the perils and privations of the way. He had labored with success under favorable circumstances; but now, amidst the opposition and perils that so often beset the pioneer worker, he failed to endure hardness as a good soldier of the cross. He had yet to learn to face danger and persecution and adversity with a brave heart. As the apostles advanced, and still greater difficulties were apprehended, Mark was intimidated and, losing all courage, refused to go farther and returned to Jerusalem."—The Acts of the Apostles, pp. 169, 170.

As a result of a sharp disagreement with Barnabas over John Mark, Paul chose Silas to accompany him instead and began a mission through Syria and Cilicia (Acts 15:40, 41). The result was that there were now two missions, not just one. The church still understood that they were doing God's work and commended them "unto the grace of God" (v. 40). Thus we learn that we can have unity of purpose even when there is diversity of opinions and strategies.

Mark had the blessing of being close to Barnabas, who worked patiently on his behalf. Eventually Mark developed into a valuable worker.

What principles may have led Paul to reconsider his attitude toward Mark?

Phil. 2:1, 2  ______________________________________________________________________

Phil. 4:2  ___________________________________________________________________  

Is there dissension among members in your church?  How can these principles and what happened to Paul, Barnabas, and John Mark assist in helping to alleviate the situation?  If you are involved in any way in the dissension, how can you apply these principles to your life? 

Tuesday  September 12


DEFINITION: Contextualization is the process of making the gospel meaningful and applicable to a given society. From an Adventist perspective, contextualization is not related to the content of the gospel but to the forms in which it is presented. Any contextualization must preserve intact the twenty-seven fundamental beliefs of the denomination.

"When, as you labor in a place, you see that the scales are beginning to fall from men's eyes . . . be very careful not to present the truth in such a way as to arouse prejudice and close the door of the heart to further light. Agree with the people on every point where you can consistently do so. Let them see that you love their souls, and want to be in harmony with them as far as possible."—Ellen G. White, The Review and Herald, June 13, 1912, p. 255.

A good example of contextualization is found in Acts 15. What was the problem? Why did it exist? How did the church members deal with it? This incident is known as the Jerusalem Council and presents an example for the church today. What conclusions about contextualization can we draw from this example?

Why did Paul circumcise Timothy? Acts 16:1-3.  

At Pentecost, when the gospel was presented in cultural forms appropriate to each group present, God showed that He respects our variety of cultures and languages. Paul, too, was willing to be flexible on issues that would not affect the truths of the gospel (1 Cor. 9:19-22).

Cultural practices vary from country to country. In some parts of the world, it is unthinkable to attend church without wearing shoes. In other parts of the world, church members remove their shoes before entering the sanctuary. Other practices include what color churches are painted, the wearing of ties, sitting on the floor, and which musical instruments may be used. We may vary in such practices, but we must agree on the essential elements of Christ's gospel.

What cultural practices regarding worship exist in your part of the world?  Should you or should you not observe the cultural practices in a part of the world you are visiting?  Explain your answer.  Who should make decisions regarding the cultural practices manifested in a local church, and why? 

Wednesday  September 13

FEAR OF CRITICISM (Acts 21:17-25).

Once again Paul found himself in Jerusalem where the elders of the church received him warmly. How pleased he must have been to inform them of how readily many Gentiles had accepted the gospel as a result of his ministry to them. Yet this news proved to be at the center of a major problem, because "many thousands of Jews" also believed, "and all of them are zealous for the law" (Acts 21:20, NIV). These Jewish converts had heard rumors that Paul had advised Christian Jews who lived with Christian Gentiles to forsake certain traditions of their ancestral faith.

What did the church leaders in Jerusalem ask Paul to do in order to quiet the rumors and the fears of the Hebrew converts? What was wrong with their request, and how did it go against what the Jerusalem Council had decided? (See Acts 15:1, 2, 6-11, 19-21, 28). See also Acts 21:20-25.  

"Paul thought that he was doing a wise thing in being a Jew among Jews (1 Cor. 9:19-23). But actually he was inconsistent here, for he participated, not to reveal his own belief, but to satisfy others who were 'zealous of the law.' "—SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 405.

What happened as a result of Paul's participation? Acts 21:26-39.  

"The Jerusalem leaders believed that the advice they were giving was for the best. There was no intent to involve Paul in trouble, but rather to counteract the prejudice against him, for which they seemed to think he was in some way to blame. . . . They should rather have recognized that God had worked mightily through Paul, and endeavored, themselves, to counteract the opposition to him."—SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 404.

Administrators, teachers, elders, evangelists, pastors, and church leaders in general are subject to criticism and gossip. Attempts to change traditions, try new methods, or alter the establishment may produce bitter reactions. Criticism and false accusations feed on each other and can often create a fire storm that, once started, is difficult to extinguish. Such heat can cause people to draw rash conclusions and make unwise decisions.

What fire storms fueled by criticism exist in your part of the world church?  How can you help to put them out?  List at least three ways we can prevent such storms.  

Thursday  September 14

LANGUAGE BARRIERS (Acts 2:4-11; 14:8-18).

What did the people of Lystra do when Paul and Barnabas did not understand what they were saying? Acts 14:11  

   Paul and Barnabas went to Lystra to flee from an attempted stoning in Iconium (Acts 14:1-7). In Lystra, they found a lame man whose faith was strong enough to respond to God's healing grace and who in turn was healed (vs. 9, 10). As a result, the people shouted praise in their native Lycaonian tongue (v. 11). Paul and Barnabas did not at first understand them (see SDA Bible Commentary, vol. 6, p. 297). Now, as then, language can be a barrier.

It was logical for the Lycaonians to have reacted in their native tongue, because most people who speak more than one language consider their native tongue to be the "language of the heart." They pray and make decisions for eternity in that language. If we witness to others who speak more than one language, we should share the gospel with them in their "language of the heart."

What was God's first solution to language barriers? Acts 2:4-11.  

Some Christians feel that congregations with different language groups are evidence of division. However, on the day of Pentecost, God Himself enabled the Christian community to preach in different languages and still be of "one accord" (Acts 2:1, 44). Paul was able to cross language and cultural boundaries without making reference to either language as a dividing factor. Paul stressed unity, but unity does not mean uniformity.

Many towns and cities of our world are fast becoming centers where people from different countries, cultures, and languages meet and live.  What languages do people speak in your area?  How is your church planning to reach them with the gospel?  Which of the following approaches could help them to understand the gospel in their language?

  ___ A Sabbath School class and Bible Study Guide in their language

  ___ Other literature in their language

  ___ A small group in their neighborhood

  ___ Translation of church services

  ___ A church whose services are held in their language

  ___ Other  ________________________________________________________________  

Friday September 15

FURTHER STUDY:  In Wednesday's lesson, we learned how criticism and gossip can cause setbacks in witnessing. What else does Scripture say about criticism and gossip? Exod. 20:16; Lev. 19:16; Ps. 15:1-3; James 1:26.

Also read Christian Service, "Assurance of Success" pp. 257-265; Evangelism, "Meeting Prejudice and Opposition" pp. 30 1-306; Gospel Workers, "In Relation with One Another" pp. 473-504.  

"Often, as you seek to present the truth, opposition will be aroused; but if you seek to meet the opposition with argument you will only multiply it, and that you cannot afford to do. Hold to the affirmative. Angels of God are watching you, and they understand how to impress those whose opposition you refuse to meet with argument. Dwell not on the negative points of questions that arise, but gather to your minds affirmative truths, and fasten them there by much study and earnest prayer and heart consecration. .

"If Christ had not held to the affirmative in the wilderness of temptation, He would have lost all that He desired to gain. Christ's way is the best way to meet our opponents. We strengthen their arguments when we repeat what they say. Keep always to the affirmative. It may be that the very man who is opposing you will carry your words home and be converted to the sensible truth that has reached his understanding."—Testimonies for the Church, vol. 9, pp. 147, 148.

1. In the early days of Christianity many believed that Gentiles should become Jews in order to be saved.  Should Jews today be required to become Gentiles in order to be accepted in the Christian church?  Or could they still celebrate the ancestral festivals?  Explain your answer.  (See Acts 18:18; 20:16).  
2. List other errors and setbacks that hinder our witnessing. How might we avoid these errors and setbacks?   

SUMMARIZE this week's lesson by listing the errors and setbacks of witnessing that it discussed. How can we resist these obstacles?

How has this week's lesson strengthened your desire to improve upon the witnessing opportunities God gives you?

As you witness to others during the coming days and weeks, remember that the early Christians were not exempt from making mistakes. They learned by trial and error. God, however, gave them wisdom and power to overcome obstacles. In the midst of persecution, they prayed for boldness, and despite their great diversity, they preserved unity.  

The Dream That Would Not Die

Danilo Bada

I was born into a Manobo family in the southern Philippines. We lived in treehouses for protection against enemies.

When a logging company came to harvest timber, it established a school for the loggers' children. I learned of the school and begged my parents to let me enroll so I could learn to read. My parents permitted me to study at the school until it closed two years later.

There was no other school in the region, but I had tasted the sweetness of knowledge, and I wanted to learn more. So when I was 9 years old I set out to find a school without telling my parents. I walked through the mountain forests, staying away from the trails where I might meet someone from an enemy tribe. At night I slept in trees. Finally I arrived in Butuan City. I found a school and asked a teacher if I could study there. When the teacher realized that I was a Manobo and how determined I was to attend school, she let me stay in her home and work to pay my tuition.

During high school I met a colporteur who introduced me to Jesus Christ. I began selling literature to pay my school fees. I eventually completed a master's degree in public health. As the only Manobo in the Philippines with an MPH, I could have any job I wanted, but I was determined to return to the mountains and teach my own people.

I arrived home and found my tribal land unoccupied. I knew that if I did not claim the land, it would go to someone else. I built a simple school, and soon some 60 students enrolled. I needed help; I wrote to Mountain View College and asked for a student missionary to come and teach.

Jessica Hermoso volunteered. She made her way alone into the mountains and found the little mission school. She is a natural teacher, and the children love her. But then rebel soldiers invaded the area, and it became too dangerous for Jessica or the students to remain. She returned to her home, and I remained to farm my family's land.

In 1997 I met Jessica again, and eventually we were married. When it was safe to return, we reopened the school. We have added a second school in a nearby village, and we are erecting more permanent buildings as funds become available. Other villages have asked us to teach their children, but we have no money to hire teachers. My dream for an education refused to die. In fact, it has grown far beyond what I ever could have imagined.

Danilo and Jessica Bada work with the Manobo people in the southern Philippines.

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