Is there ever a time when you give up on someone?
“Are you kidding, of coarse not!” you might be saying, but it all depends on what you mean about give up.
What about that friend who doesn’t believe in Jesus no matter how many times you’ve shared with them. What about the family member who has read something by Bart Ehrman and takes great joy in pointing out how silly it is that you believe the Bible. What does God have to say, when do you walk away, when do you give up on someone?
In Acts 18 Paul is preaching in Corinth in the synagogue to the Jews. He is pleading with them to come to faith in Jesus, but the crowd eventually turned and they began to actively oppose him. He realized that he was no longer getting anywhere.
…Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching, testifying to the Jews that Jesus was the Messiah. But when they opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am innocent of it. From now on I will go to the Gentiles. Then Paul left the synagogue'” (Acts 18:5-7 TNIV)
These are strong words. So it seems that there is eventually a time when you are beating your head against a wall. This seems to be the idea of Jesus’ statements:
“If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town” (Matt 10:14)
We are not called to continue to preach to the same people (or person) over and over again, we’re only called to clearly articulate the gospel. Especially when they begin to become abusive to you, it’s time to give up and move on.
However, and this is a very big ‘however’, we are called to forgive any time someone asks:
“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive someone who sins against me? Up to 7 times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not 7 times, but 77 times.'” (Matt 18:21-22)
To “give up” on someone is not, I repeat ‘NOT’, to close the door. I have no doubt that Paul would welcome with open arms anyone from the synagogue who wished to become a believer. In fact, we see that in the very next verse:
“Crispus, the synagogue leader, and his entire household believed in the Lord; and many of the Corinthians who heard Paul believed and were baptized.” (Acts 18:8)
So what do we do? If you sense that you’re doing no good, and you’ve already clearly shared the gospel several times, you’re not obligated to continue sharing with that person. If someone wants to continually argue with you, even after you have answered their questions, you might even be wasting precious time that you could be using to share Jesus with others.
Give up on them, but don’t write them off. You should be the first person to welcome them into the body of Christ when/if their heart changes.
Every person you know think to yourself “have I shared the gospel with them?’ Not “have I acted like a Christian around them” but have you opened your mouth and told them that Jesus, through his death on the cross, is the only way to God and is available to all who believe. If you have, then you can ease your mind, you’ve done your duty. If you have not, you need to pray and find a way to do so.
It’s a little easier for me. When I meet someone, one of the first things you always ask is “what do you do” – so when I say “I’m a pastor just outside of St. Louis” you can tell by their reaction if they want to talk or not. Carry your Bible around, people who are “closed” will avoid you like the plague.
I guess the main advice is this, plead with people passionately to follow Jesus, but don’t argue with them. When people shut you down, move on to greener pastures and ripe fields, BUT always leave the door open to them. Jesus is always there, just like the prodigal son’s father, to welcome anyone who would come to serve him.
I hope this helps you, and I pray you don’t take it as an excuse to not share the gospel, we need to, we just need to spread it around more and focus on those who have not yet been given the opportunity to believe.