(Adapted from “Hurricane Evangelism” by the author)
The word “witness” is a legal term designating the testimony given for or against someone on trial in a court of law. Witness is both a noun and a verb that appears 200 times in Scripture. A witness is someone who gives a testimony. God witnesses to believers about the assurance of their salvation: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God” (Romans 8:16).Throughout history God has not left Himself without a witness (Acts 14:17). The prophets bore witness to Christ (Acts 10:43). Jesus’ disciples were witnesses because they had seen His resurrection (Acts 2:32). Salvation is God’s thing and out of our control. Saving people is God’s part, ours is being a witness. The term ‘witness’ was used at first in the New Testament in a forensic sense to refer to the attestation of a fact or event – primarily the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. From the very beginning it was linked inseparably to the calling – with all its implications and demands – of discipleship. But witness as demanded by Christ and understood by the apostles was not merely a testimony regarding certain observed events. It involved utter commitment to Christ considering the significance of those historic events. It was disciple-witness. Four words that comprise our witness, testimony, and mission to a lost world:
- Speaking: The gospel was designed to be verbally proclaimed. The apostle Peter said, “He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify…” (Acts 10:42). When the authorities tried to silence the mouths of the early believers, commanding them not to speak or teach in the name of Jesus, they could not help but “speak the things that (they had) seen and heard” (Acts 4:20). This was a verbalizing of faith in every area of daily life. The Holy Spirit led them into situations where they could be a witness and opened their mouths that caused them to speak as He “gave them utterance” (Acts 2:4). God can use anyone’s lips and voice and give words to speak for Him. If He could speak through Balaam’s donkey (Numbers 22:28), He could speak through us!
- Showing: The truth of the gospel must become incarnate in the everyday situations of life. Not only our words but also our deeds and actions testify to our faith. We must be spiritually clean and well-connected for God to use us effectively. We are living epistles known and read by all men (II Corinthians 3:2). There must be a transparency about us as Christians that will cause lost people to realize what God can do in their lives. This is exactly what Paul told Timothy: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life” (I Timothy 1:15-16). Witnessing is not just something a Christian says, but what a Christian is.
- Serving: Today we are the hands and feet of Christ. Jesus went about doing good (Acts 10:38), and Micah 6:8 tells us: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God”? Social concern and action are not something witnesses can ignore. The early Christians showed benevolence to the poor and needy as a dimension of friendship, an important aspect of our witness. Franklin Graham heads up Samaritan’s Purse, an organization that serves in more than 100 countries around the world. Its mission is to meet the spiritual and physical needs of people suffering from war, poverty, disaster, disease, and famine, with the purpose of serving the church worldwide to propagate the gospel of Christ. The church today must take a serious look at such problems as abortion on demand, pre-marital sex, alcoholism, drug dependency, pornography, and seek God’s wisdom for ways to address these issues.
- Suffering: Witnessing sometimes involves suffering and death because that is what happened to Jesus Himself (Revelation 1:5). If the world hated Him, it would hate us also. Paul wrote, “For you it has been granted on behalf of Christ, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake” (Philippians 1:29). The word for witness in the original language is “martus” from which our word martyr is derived. A witness sometimes encompasses suffering and death because that is what our Lord promised His disciples (John 15:18-21; 16:1-4; 17:14-18). Stephen’s death was the beginning of martyrdom, something many of Jesus’ disciples would also experience. A casual perusal of the classic volume, Foxe’s Book of Martyrs, reveals that over the panorama of history many Christians have sealed their witness to Christ with their blood. Tertullian, a church father of the second century, is credited with the renowned words, “The blood of the saints became the seed of the church.” Truly we are living in a day of unprecedented persecution against Christians in America and in many nations of the world.
A great example of a witness is in the life and ministry of David Livingstone, a Scottish medical missionary who, with his wife Mary, served in Africa under horrible conditions of scorching heat, the rainy season, sickness, hunger, and deprivation. Their youngest child died, Mary’s health failed and died, and David was crippled because of an attack by a lion. He explored Africa, opposed the slave trade, told people about Jesus, and planted the seed of the Gospel for others to water and harvest. He died on his knees in prayer at age 60. Beloved by the people of Africa, Livingstone is one of God’s greatest servants.
What sort of witness are we with our lips, our lives, our service, and our sacrifice for Christ?