“Lift up your eyes and view the fields, that they are white for harvesting.”—JOHN 4:35.
SONG 64 Sharing Joyfully in the Harvest
1-2. Why might Jesus have said the words found at John 4:35, 36?
JESUS had been traveling through fields, likely of young green barley. (John 4:3-6) This crop would be ready to be harvested in about four months’ time. Jesus said something that must have sounded unusual: “Lift up your eyes and view the fields, that they are white for harvesting.” (Read John 4:35, 36.) What did he mean?
2 Jesus was apparently referring to a figurative harvest of people. Consider what had just happened. Although Jews usually had no dealings with Samaritans, Jesus had preached to a Samaritan woman—and she had listened! In fact, while Jesus was speaking about fields that were “white for harvesting,” a crowd of Samaritans who had heard about Jesus from the woman were on their way to learn more from him. (John 4:9, 39-42) One Bible commentary says about this account: “The eagerness of the people . . . showed that they were like grain ready for harvesting.”
3. If you view people as Jesus did, how will your preaching benefit?
3 What about the people to whom you preach the good news? Do you view them as being like grain that is ripe for harvesting? If so, three things will prove true. First, you will preach with more urgency. A harvest period is limited; there is no time to waste. Second, you will be happy as you see people respond to the good news. The Bible says: “People rejoice in the harvesttime.” (Isa. 9:3) And third, you will see each person as a potential disciple, so you will adapt your approach to appeal to his or her interests.
4. What will we learn from the apostle Paul in this article?
4 Jesus did not write off the Samaritans, as his followers may have done. Instead, he saw them as potential disciples. We too need to see the people in our territory as potential disciples of Christ. The apostle Paul set an outstanding example for us to follow. What can we learn from him? In this article, we will discuss how he (1) knew something about the beliefs of those to whom he preached, (2) discerned their interests, and (3) saw them as potential disciples of Jesus.
WHAT DO THEY BELIEVE?
5. Why could Paul relate to his audience in the synagogue?
5 Paul preached often in Jewish synagogues. In the synagogue in Thessalonica, for example, “for three sabbaths he reasoned with [the Jews] from the Scriptures.” (Acts 17:1, 2) Paul likely felt comfortable in the synagogue. He was raised as a Jew. (Acts 26:4, 5) Paul could relate to the Jews, so he was able to preach to them with confidence.—Phil. 3:4, 5.
6. How were the people in the Athenian marketplace different from those to whom Paul preached in the synagogue?
6 After Paul was forced by persecutors to flee Thessalonica and then Beroea, he arrived in Athens. Once again, “he began to reason in the synagogue with the Jews and the other people who worshipped God.” (Acts 17:17) While preaching in the marketplace, however, Paul now had a different audience. Among his listeners were philosophers and other Gentiles who viewed Paul’s message as a “new teaching.” They said to him: “You are introducing some things that are strange to our ears.”—Acts 17:18-20.
7. According to Acts 17:22, 23, how did Paul adjust his approach?
7 Read Acts 17:22, 23. Paul did not present his message to the Gentiles in Athens in the same way that he presented it to the Jews in the synagogue. Paul likely asked himself, ‘What do these people in Athens believe?’ He carefully observed his surroundings and took note of people’s religious customs. Next, Paul searched for common ground between their form of worship and the truth in the Scriptures. “As a Jewish Christian, he realizes that pagan Greeks do not worship the ‘true’ God of Jews and Christians,” says one Bible commentator, “but he tries to show that the God whom he proclaims is in reality no stranger to the Athenians.” So Paul was willing to adapt his approach. He told the Athenians that his message came from the “Unknown God,” whom they had been trying to worship. Although the Gentiles were not familiar with the Scriptures, Paul did not give up on them. Instead, he viewed them as being like grain that is ripe for harvesting, and he adjusted his presentation of the good news.
8. (a) How can you discern the religious beliefs of people in your territory? (b) If someone says that he has his own religion, how might you respond?
8 Like Paul, be observant. Look for signs that indicate what beliefs people in your territory have. How has the householder decorated his home or vehicle? Does his name, dress, grooming, or even his vocabulary indicate what his religion is? Perhaps he has told you directly that he has his own religion. When that happens to a special pioneer named Flutura, she replies, “I’m here, not to impose my beliefs on you, but to talk to you about this subject . . . ”
9. What common ground can you find with a religious person?
9 What subjects might you discuss with a religious person? Try to find common ground. He may worship only one God, he may recognize Jesus as the Savior of humankind, or he may believe that we are living in a time of wickedness that will soon end. Based on beliefs you have in common, present the Bible’s message in a way that is appealing to that person.
10. What should we try to do, and why?
10 Keep in mind that people may not believe everything that their religion teaches. So even after you discern a person’s religion, try to find out what he personally believes. “Many now mix philosophy with their religious beliefs,” says David, a special pioneer in Australia. Donalta, in Albania, says, “Some we meet say that they belong to a religion, but later they admit that they do not really believe in God.” And a missionary brother in Argentina notes that some people say that they believe in the Trinity, but they may not actually believe that the Father, the Son, and the holy spirit are one God. “Knowing that makes it much easier to find common ground with the person,” he says. So try to find out what people really believe. Then, like Paul, you can “become all things to people of all sorts.”—1 Cor. 9:19-23.
WHAT ARE THEIR INTERESTS?
11. As recorded at Acts 14:14-17, how did Paul in an appealing way present his message to the people who lived in Lystra?
11 Read Acts 14:14-17. Paul discerned the interests of his audience, and then he adapted his presentation. For example, the crowd he spoke to in Lystra had little or no knowledge of the Scriptures. So Paul used arguments that they could relate to. He spoke of fruitful harvests and the ability to enjoy life. He used words and examples that his listeners could readily understand.
12. How can you discern a person’s interests and adapt your presentation?
12 Use insight to discern the interests of people in your territory and adapt your presentation. How can you find out what a person is interested in as you approach him or his home? Once again, be observant. Perhaps he is gardening, reading a book, repairing a vehicle, or engaging in some other activity. If appropriate, why not use what he is doing to engage him in conversation? (John 4:7) Even a person’s clothing may say something about him—perhaps it indicates his nationality, occupation, or favorite sports team. “I started a conversation with a 19-year-old man whose T-shirt depicted a famous singer,” says Gustavo. “I asked him about it, and the man told me why he identified with the singer. That conversation led to a Bible study, and now he is one of our brothers.”
13. How might you offer a Bible study in an appealing way?
13 When you offer to study the Bible with someone, make it appealing to him; show him how a study will fill his needs. (John 4:13-15) A sister named Poppy, for example, was invited inside the home of a woman who showed interest. When Poppy saw a certificate on the wall indicating that the woman was a professor who had studied education, she stressed that we too educate people by means of our Bible study program and our meetings. The woman accepted a study, went to a meeting the next day, and attended a circuit assembly soon thereafter. One year later, she got baptized. Ask yourself: ‘What are my return visits interested in? Can I describe our Bible study program in a way that they would find appealing?’
14. How can you tailor a Bible study to each student?
14 After you start a Bible study, prepare separately for each study you conduct, having in mind the background and interests of your student. As you prepare, decide what scriptures you will read, what videos you will show, and what illustrations you will use to explain Bible truths. Ask yourself, ‘What will especially appeal to and reach the heart of this student?’ (Prov. 16:23) In Albania, a woman who was studying with a pioneer named Flora stated firmly, “I cannot accept the teaching of the resurrection.” Flora did not force the issue. She relates, “I thought that she must first get to know the God who promises the resurrection.” From that point on, at each study, Flora emphasized Jehovah’s love, wisdom, and power. Later, her student readily put faith in the resurrection. She is now a zealous Witness of Jehovah.
SEE THEM AS POTENTIAL DISCIPLES
15. According to Acts 17:16-18, what behaviors in ancient Greece troubled Paul, but why did he not give up on the Athenians?
15 Read Acts 17:16-18. Paul did not give up on the Athenians, even though their city was filled with idolatry, sexual immorality, and pagan philosophy; nor did he let their insults discourage him. Paul himself became a Christian, although he had been “a blasphemer and a persecutor and an insolent man.” (1 Tim. 1:13) Just as Jesus saw the potential in Paul, so Paul saw the potential in the Athenians. And his confidence was not misplaced.—Acts 9:13-15; 17:34.
16-17. What shows that people of all backgrounds can become disciples of Christ? Give an example.
16 In the first century, people of all backgrounds became Jesus’ disciples. When Paul wrote to Christians living in the Grecian city of Corinth, he said that some members of that congregation had at one time been criminals or had lived shockingly immoral lifestyles. And then he added: “That is what some of you were. But you have been washed clean.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11) Would you have seen that those people had the potential to change and become disciples?
17 Today, many are willing to make the changes needed to become disciples of Jesus. In Australia, for example, a special pioneer named Yukina learned that all sorts of people can respond to the Bible’s message. Once, at a real estate office, she noticed a tattooed young woman wearing baggy clothes. “I hesitated for a moment,” says Yukina, “but then I started talking to her. I discovered that she was so interested in the Bible that some of her tattoos were verses from the Psalms!” The woman began studying and attending the meetings.*
18. Why should we not judge people?
18 Did Jesus view the fields as being ripe for harvesting because he expected that most people would follow him? Not at all. The Scriptures had foretold that relatively few would put faith in him. (John 12:37, 38) And Jesus had the miraculous ability to read hearts. (Matt. 9:4) Still, he focused on those few who would believe, and he zealously preached to everyone. How much more so should we, who cannot read hearts, resist the tendency to judge a territory or an individual! Instead, see people’s potential. Marc, a missionary in Burkina Faso, puts it this way: “The people I think will make progress often stop studying. But the people I think won’t go far progress very well. So I have learned that it is better to let Jehovah’s spirit lead us.”
19. How should we view people in our territory?
19 At first glance, it may appear that there are not many in the territory who are like grain that is ripe for harvesting. But remember what Jesus said to his disciples. The fields are white, that is, they are ready to be harvested. People can change and become disciples of Christ. Jehovah views these potential disciples as “precious things.” (Hag. 2:7) If we see people as Jehovah and Jesus do, we will learn about their backgrounds and interests. We will view them, not as strangers, but as potential brothers and sisters.
SONG 57 Preaching to All Sorts of People
How does the way we view our territory affect the way we preach and teach? This article examines how Jesus and the apostle Paul viewed their listeners and how we can imitate them by considering the beliefs, interests, and potential of those we meet.
The series “The Bible Changes Lives” provides more examples of how people can change. This series appeared in The Watchtower until 2017. It now continues to be published on jw.org®. Look under ABOUT US > EXPERIENCES.
PICTURE DESCRIPTION: As a couple work from door to door in the ministry, they observe (1) a well-kept home, decorated with flowers; (2) a home where a young family lives; (3) a home that is unkempt inside and out; and (4) a religious household. Where will you find the person with the most potential?