Paul Young, Maesteg, Wales [SEE PROFILE BELOW]
Recently I have read some very disturbing statistics: "It is estimated that eight people in every hundred go to church. An extra one person in every hundred attends special evangelistic meetings. A further one person in every hundred listens to a 'religious' broadcast". Such figures should sadden the Christian, for it means that 90% of the people of Britain have no contact with even a nominal Christian witness and are altogether missed by the usual forms of evangelistic outreach. How are these hundreds and thousands of people to be reached ? The answer can only be that you and I must act as personal witnesses for Christ. But are we meeting this great challenge of witnessing to our unsaved family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues? Is it not true that in general we hesitate and hold back from real, enthusiastic gospel witness?
In John 15 the Lord Jesus explains three relationships. Firstly, our relationship with Himself, vv. 1-11 ; we cannot witness and bear fruit unless we abide in Him. Secondly, our relationship with fellow believers, vv. 12-17; this must be characterized by love. Thirdly, our relationship with the world, vv. 18-27. If the world hates and persecutes us because it did the same to Him, we are still commanded to witness to the world. "And ye also shall bear witness . . .", v. 27. It seems that today we have lost sight of this great commandment. Often we do not witness as we should because we do not want to be considered too extreme or fanatical. We have unfortunately developed a very comfortable philosophy which says : "We must not ram it down their throats". Whereas there is an element of truth in this, we have often used the idea as an excuse, and have become so hesitant that we bear little testimony for Christ at all.
This is so different from many of the saints of God in South America, who are seeing, it is said, "The Church growing three times as fast as the population". There is nothing comparable in Britain today. What are the reasons for such a moving of the Spirit of God in South America ? One speaker has said, that one of the reasons is that the South American Christians are not embarrassed by evangelizing and bringing people to a decision for Christ. "Unlike you, (people of Britain), they don't feel horrible for ramming it down people's throats." This is, of course, the other extreme, but we can certainly learn a great deal from the aggressive evangelism of these believers.
As God looks down upon us, what does He see? A stubborn; fearful Jonah-like people fleeing from the situation He wants us to be in? A company like Moses at his call, so full of excuses? Moses said in effect, "What if the people won't believe me?", Exod. 4. 1 ; and then pleaded his lack of eloquence as an excuse. Are we, too, using a variety of excuses for not witnessing? It is easy to say, "I can't argue convincingly", "I stutter", "I haven't the education or the brains", "I can't present things simply". We can be excuse-makers like Moses. Does God see us as self-centred Christians "doing our bit" by attending meetings and that is all? Indeed they attended all the meetings in Acts 2. 42, but the 5,000 mentioned in 4. 4 did not believe by hearing the Word in meetings ; such testimony was quite public, and that is why the authorities' wrath fell upon the disciples. Hence are we looking after self instead of, actively witnessing for Christ? Let us leave our excuses and self-centredness behind, and go and tell someone how to be saved.
Why should we Witness? The
Bible gives us many reasons why we should witness. We will only concentrate upon three of these.
1. The Commandment of the Lord. "Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature", Mark 16. 15; "Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost", Matt. 28.19; ". . . and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth", Acts 1. 8. This is an all-inclusive commandment to every believer, and obviously does not restrict itself to formal, pulpit teaching and preaching, as not all are gifted in such a way. It refers rather to informal methods of witnessing, such as discussion and conversation.
2.The Example of the Early Church. "Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word", Acts 8. 4. The persecution (allowed by the Lord) of the church at Jerusalem unleashed one of the greatest forces ever to hit the world. It scattered believers, full of a new-found faith, to all parts of the Roman Empire. They were enthusiastic, lively, keen, and everywhere witnessed for Christ. Hundreds and thousands were saved in those early years of church history. There seem to be many dormant, inactive, non-witnessing believers in Britain today. If only they could capture a spark of the enthusiasm of the early church. Why cannot we all get on the spiritual attack with confidence, instead of being continually on the defensive? The gospel was preached by the apostle at Thessalonica with "much assurance", 1 Thess. 1. 5. If only we followed his example, what a great force would be unleashed upon this country—a force for spiritual good, a force for God. Why do we not copy and imitate that great example set us by the early church ?
3.The Reality of Hell. As the believer reads in the Bible about the awfulness of hell, it should stir him or her to renewed efforts in witnessing. Hell is pictured as: darkness, misery, pain, sorrow, weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. As Christians, our eyes have been opened to see the mass of humanity rushing headlong down the broad road that leads to destruction. Our call is to warn them to flee from the wrath to come. Are we so indifferent to that from which we ourselves have been saved, that we will not witness? Remember that our witness is a warning, and who knows when given opportunities may be the last? People are taken from time to eternity so quickly that we ought to sieze every chance to witness.
How Can we Witness? We can only learn the art of personal witnessing by doing it. Books, manuals and courses on "personal witnessing" may be helpful in some cases, but they are no substitute for actual experience. However, I believe that the following four points, if borne in mind, will be of some help.
1.Love. I remember a dear Christian telling me that "unless we love them (the people we witness to), it is a waste of time". The Scriptures likewise say, Without love it profiteth us nothing, 1 Cor. 13. 2, 3. The Lord Jesus often "had compassion", and there fore so must we. Our hearts must go out in love to those people we witness to. Our hearts should bleed for their plight, for they are poor and wretched, and need salvation. Our witnessing must not be of a hard, assertive or self-righteous nature, but always loving and kind.
2.Prayer. "Pray without ceasing", 1 Thess. 5. 17. Continual prayer for the people we witness to is a measure of our serious intent. We can pray for a loving attitude to be displayed in us. We can pray for the spirit of wisdom to be given us. We can also mention our contacts at the assembly prayer meeting, so that more and more prayer can be brought to bear upon those to whom we witness. Prayer changes things, and is a pre-requisite for real, live, spiritual witnessing.
3.The Word of God. "The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God", Eph. 6. 17. To be effective witnesses, we must be well acquainted with the Bible. We must know the truths of our faith, the gospel we preach and the scriptural answers that will counter spurious arguments. We do well to recall that the Lord often used the words of Scripture in His ministry.
4. Holy Life. "We should be holy and without blame", Eph. 1. 4. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which isyour reasonable service", Rom. 12. 1. The unbelieving world sets a high standard for Christians, and a verbal testimony can be rendered null and void by an unholy way of life. Unfortunately, many testimonies have been ruined by the lack of holiness in Christian living. We must first abandon sin, and then witnessing will flow naturally from a life lived in close fellowship with the Lord.
Many Ways of Witnessing. There is no single method that can be adopted in personal evangelism. Each individual needs to be approached in a different way. In the early chapters of Johns Gospel, the Lord Jesus used many different methods with the various people reached there,
(i) Andrew and another disciple of John the Baptist heard him say, "Behold the Lamb of God". This involved sacrifice for sin, and for Andrew to perceive his own sin and need, he had to abide with the Lord "that day" evidently to receive quiet counsel and teaching, John 1. 35-39.
(ii) Peter, having been brought to Jesus as the Messias, required his name Simon to be augmented by "Cephas ... A stone". In other words, his character had to be transformed from changeableness and waywardness to steadfastness and reliability, 1. 40-42.
(iii) Philip needed nothing more than the simple command, "Follow me", 1. 43. His heart must have been already prepared so as to follow immediately, acting then as an evangelist by finding Nathanael.
(iv) To this religious man, the Lord showed Himself as the One knowing the thoughts of men's hearts when far from them. His needs were met by the Lord's words, "Hereafter ye shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man", 1. 45-51. (v) Nicodemus required his ignorance to be demonstrated, "Art thou a master in Israel, and knowest not these things?", 3. 10. Religious conviction without Christ needed the complete exposition of the gospel of the love of God in sending His Son, 3. 16. (vi) The Lord made the woman of Samaria realize that He knew her sin, and that He was the Messiah, 4. 17-26.
All these six people had different backgrounds, so the Lord acted differently towards them all. We would do well to remember this as we seek by God's grace to witness to those whom we meet in daily life. Our aim must ever be to glorify the Lord Jesus and to win others for His kingdom.