One of the cardinal principles I teach in evangelism seminars is that from the very moment of our conversion we are all witnesses. That means we all have a story to tell, a verbalizing of our faith. Jesus’ disciples said:“We cannot stop telling about everything we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:20 NLT). Being a witness also involves social concern and action such as showing kindness to the needy. Witnessing could even include suffering and possible death because the original word for “witness”in the Bible is martus from which we get our word, “martyr.” History is replete with examples of heroic Christians who died for their faith in the Savior.
“For you have been granted [the privilege] for Christ’s sake, not only to believe and confidently trust in Him, but also to suffer for His sake”(Philippians 1:29 AMP).
There is yet another very important aspect of our witness that is sometimes overlooked. It is our influence, deeds, and actions that testify of our faith. The Bible says that “You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men” (II Corinthians 3:2 NKJV). Perhaps the best personal example of witnessing through one’s influence can be found on a Sunday many years ago when I visited my home church.
Wow! Has it been over sixty years already since I was part of the teen group there? I see changes everywhere. The little wooden church building has been replaced by a beautiful new edifice miles away. The old upright piano I played on has given way to an electronic organ and a modern console piano. But some things never change! On a poster at the front of the beautiful new sanctuary are those same familiar words we quoted every month when someone had a birthday. I vividly remember the tears welling up in my grandmother’s eyes as she stood one Sunday before the congregation as they quoted that meaningful poem:
Many happy returns on the day of thy birth,
May sunshine and gladness be given;
And may the dear Father prepare thee on earth
For a beautiful birthday in heaven!
You see, I was reared by my grandparents. As a child, I remember the Bible stories she taught me. It was my grandmother who insisted that I take piano lessons. And when the church bus stopped coming by our house she said I would have to choose between two neighborhood churches to attend. When I kissed her goodbye before leaving for seminary, she whispered in my ear, “I taught you to know the Lord.” Without a doubt, her prayers and influence played a significant role in my life and ministry.
As I stood in the pulpit and preached in my home church that Sunday, I remembered my pastor who stood behind this sacred desk. He encouraged me, believing that someday I would become either a doctor or a pastor. He even let me preach my first ten-minute sermon at age 18! He left his mark of influence on me. Having been a pastor, I can appreciate anew the privilege and honor of ministering to God’s people. How I pray that my words and my life will impact the lives of others as I was ministered to in this place.
As I worshiped God in my home church that day, it dawned on me that I was singing and praying with a different generation – the children of those who were my elders when I was younger. The influence and legacy of those who have gone on before me is still strangely present. It is manifested in their children. I miss a certain lady’s fancy hats and those touching children’s stories she often told. Then I caught a glimpse of her enthusiasm as I greeted and looked into the sparkling eyes of her son serving as an usher. I observed some of the meek and quiet spirit of my Sunday school teacher as her daughter served me punch at a reception last night. Finally, how blessed I am because God gave me Thelma, my wife of 63 years, from this congregation. Her faithfulness and testimony have left indelible fingerprints on me for which I am eternally grateful.
Whatever I am today I am because of God’s grace, but people played an important role as well. How about you? Whose spiritual fingerprints are on your life? What is the gospel according to you? Such is the great value of one’s life as a witness. Or, as the apostle Paul put it:
This is a faithful and trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance and approval, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners among whom I am foremost. Yet for this reason I found mercy, so that in me as the foremost [of sinners], Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience as an example or pattern [emphasis mine] for those who would believe in Him for eternal life” (I Timothy 1:15-16 AMP).