|Great Themes of the Bible (#7-Witness)
"But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander."
Many of you remember the tragic death of golfer Payne Stewart in the fall of last year. The man who dressed in knickers and a tam o'shanter cap won the U.S. Open in June of 1999 and earned a coveted place on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. He and his wife Tracey were members of First Baptist Church in Orlando, Florida, and serious about their faith. "He'd read the Scripture from [two devotional books given them by Orel Hershiser] every night before he went to bed," Tracey says. He took the books with him on tour. They became effective tools in the spiritual growth everyone around Payne Stewart was observing in him. Tracey later wrote this:
Payne never claimed to have great knowledge of the Bible. Nor did he try to tell anyone else how to live. "I'm not a Bible thumper,' he said. "I can't get up there on a rock and tell you what it all means because I don't know. But I'm learning, and I like what I'm learning."
As humorous proof that Payne was no Bible scholar, his wife tells about an incident at the Christian school their two children were attending at the time when someone gave him a card with a Scripture reference on it. The abbreviated citation for the verse gave "1 Thess" for 1 Thessalonians. Her husband read the verse, was touched by it, and said, "Look at that First Theologians . . ." Nobody had the heart to correct him.
At about that same time, the Stewarts' son Aaron came home from school with several "W.W.J.D." bracelets. They were extremely popular then among Christian teens and some of us adults too and were worn to remind their bearers to ask "What Would Jesus Do?" in every circumstance of life. "Here, Dad," said Aaron. "Why don't you wear one?" According to his wife, Payne put it on and never took it off. "He wore the bracelet everywhere," she says, "during golf tournaments, out for social occasions, wherever he went; he wasn't ashamed to be seen with the W.W.J.D. bracelet on his wrist."
When Payne Stewart died in a tragic plane crash on October 25, 1999, the private jet he was in spiraled into the ground at about 600 miles per hour. There was no body to be retrieved from the crash site for burial. Among the few items that were retrieved and sent to his wife were his wedding ring, a gold pendant he had worn around his neck since the day after he and Tracey got engaged in Singapore in 1981, his W.W.J.D. bracelet, and the daily devotional books he read so faithfully.
Tracey later leafed through the books and found the pages Payne would have read the night before the crash. Based on Acts 26:18, the intercession for that day was as follows: "Grant that I may be used to open the eyes of others and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Jesus." Tracey found great comfort in the bracelet, the books, and this thought about them: "It was as though God were saying, Even in the midst of this tragedy, I will have a witness.'" More than 3,000 "W.W.J.D." bracelets were passed out to the people who attended the memorial service for Payne Stewart on Friday, October 29, 1999.
How does a Christian's life bear witness to his or her Lord? Payne Stewart wasn't a teacher, theologian, or Bible scholar. He was still in the words of his wife a "work in progress" for the Lord. But his memorial service allowed the gospel to be shared with thousands in that church building in Orlando and with millions via the television broadcast of that same event.
His friend and fellow-golfer Paul Azinger closed his remarks in front of their peers in professional golf and millions of people tuned in to that moving service by saying that he knew what his friend would want him to say to the group. Then, in a very bold yet gentle way, he said:
Whoever you are, wherever you are, whatever you have done; if you feel the tug of God's Spirit on your heart, do not turn away. If, like Payne, Robert [Fraley], and Van [Arden], you want to know the happiness and peace that only Jesus Christ can bring, I invite you to confess your sins and receive him as your Savior. Regardless of what your life has brought you, his love is enough. And his peace is for real.
On the same day that Payne Stewart died, my friend Leathers Maddux died. Five pieces of art work that he did expressly for the Woodmont Hills Church are permanently displayed here as a gentle witness to the Lord. And his funeral service also allowed the gospel to be shared with many, many people. Don't you want your daily life to count for Jesus? Don't you want your character, work life, and characteristic behaviors to bear witness to him? When you die, don't you want the people who love you to have the comfort of knowing you are saved so that not only Tracey Stewart and Ann Maddux can talk confidently of being with someone they love again in heaven but the believers who are important in your life can know the same thing about you?
Evangelism: A Gift to Some
If my understanding of the New Testament is correct, evangelism is a spiritual gift given to some members of Christ's body for its faithful and effective function (Eph. 4:11; cf. Rom. 12:7). No more than every part of the human body can be an eye, a foot, or a hand can every saved person be an evangelist or teacher. The church also needs people with the gifts of administration, leadership, philanthropy, and so on. This is not an original thought with me. It is Paul's extended argument at 1 Corinthians 12:12ff. Perhaps the most critical verse for my purpose right now is verse 18: "But in fact God has arranged the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be."
There are times and places where some of us have been made to feel guilty that we had neither the personal charisma, teaching skills, nor Bible knowledge to go out and teach someone what to do to be saved. But should you feel guilty that you are not a charismatic leader or that you cannot be a wealthy benefactor to this church? Should I feel guilty that I am not gifted or suited to be an administrator in the life of this body?
If God had wanted me to be an administrator or CEO-type, he would have given me the natural gifts, training, and opportunity to be one. He gave those gifts and challenges to George Miller, Ron Joyner, and Mark Thompson. If he had wanted them to do what I do, he would have given them different gifts and life tracks. If he had wanted you to have the gift of evangelism, he would have given it to you. If you have that gift, it is our responsibility to help you surface it and to help you find a place in the life of this church to use it for God's glory.
Evangelism as with every other spiritual gift ranging from healing the sick and raising the dead in the first century to showing mercy to the sick today is a gift that God bestows by his sovereign grace. It is not everyone's gift, not everyone's calling, not everyone's assignment in the church.
Witness: The Opportunity for All
Christian witness, on the other hand, is the opportunity God provides every Christian. Company CEO or man losing his middle-management position when the company downsizes, single woman on her career track or full-time mom in charge of the neighborhood car pool, country music star in the public eye or greens-keeper on the golf course he plays with his buddies, journalist or occasional headlines-reader, well- trained physician specialist or confused-by-the-medical-language patient, Golden Anniversary celebrant or person reeling from a failed marriage, never-had-a-drop-in- my-life teetotaler or struggling-to-get-my-recovery-off-the-ground alcoholic, your present life situation gives you the opportunity to bear witness to the power of God to stabilize and empower, give direction and establish self-respect.
The noun witness refers to someone who is in position to provide or serve as evidence about a matter. A witness attests a fact, statement, or event. Someone is qualified to be a witness who has seen or heard something relevant to what is in question. The verb witness means to testify to a thing. It is to provide or serve as evidence for something. It is to attest the authenticity of a matter.
In the first century, a few people were in position to be witnesses of and to bear witness to the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. "God has raised this Jesus to life," Peter said, "and we [apostles] are all witnesses of this fact" (Acts 2:32). In that same first century, many more people were soon able to bear witness to the life-changing power of Christ to give them personal peace, to make them part of a new spiritual experience, and to generate a new lifestyle for them (Acts 2:42-45). Some people were attracted to Christ through the spoken testimony of the eyewitnesses, and many more were brought to him by the lived testimony of the redeemed community.
In the twenty-first century, some people will be won to Christ by a book Max Lucado or Chuck Colson writes. Many more will be won to him by the compassionate, supportive presence of some friends who help them through the trauma of a divorce or a child's death or a job loss. When a woman discovers that her friend is helping out of Christ's presence and strength, that can open the door for the gospel to touch her heart. Some will be converted by the preaching of Billy Graham or Mike Cope. More will be converted by having a Christian who chooses to be there when his life is falling apart and he is desperate to find hope, find meaning, find God. In cases like these, someone has stepped up to bear witness to God's love or to offer his or her own testimony about the relevance of Christian faith to get one through such a time. In doing so, they have been witnesses for Christ.
Somebody will have to be a teacher or evangelist to the people whose attention is gotten through love and compassion, for saving faith is ultimately based on the testimony of the Word of God. "Faith comes from hearing the message," wrote Paul (Rom. 10:17a; cf. 10:14-15). So somebody has to speak the true message about Christ to people who are lost. But the soil of that person's heart will almost surely have been prepared for the good seed of the Word of God by faithful, gentle witnesses to the transforming power of Jesus Christ through someone in his or her world of family, work, or friendship.
The New Testament Epistle of 1 Peter was written to Christians scattered throughout what is today Turkey. (It is called Asia Minor on maps of the New Testament world.) A few were Jews who had once lived in Palestine, but many more were Gentiles who were living in familiar geographical territory but in new spiritual territory. Although they were "at home" in Asia Minor, they weren't really. They had been given a new citizenship and a new calling on their lives, and they were increasingly feeling like they were "strangers" among their non-Christians neighbors, friends, and family. So Peter addresses them as the "Diaspora," a term that means "scattered" or "spread out."
In every generation, Christians are away from home. So long as we are in this world, we are away from God. Paul confessed that when he wrote: "I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body" (Phil. 1:23-24). Heaven was his new home, but he was stuck on Planet Earth for a while yet. Me too!
As long as we are in the world, we are "scattered" or "spread out" among people who don't know Christ. We live among non-Christian people and work with unsaved folk. We're not superior! We're not smarter or more loved by God! But we have responded to Christ in repentance and faith. We have been baptized and have affiliated ourselves with a church. We have pledged ourselves to honor God above pursuing or own pleasure. And that pledge sometimes creates discord or even harassment. Here is what Peter said to some of his spread-out-among-unbelievers readers:
You've already put in your time in that God-ignorant way of life, partying night after night, a drunken and profligate life. Now it's time to be done with it for good. Of course, your old friends don't understand why you don't join in with the old gang anymore. But you don't have to give an account to them (1 Pet. 4:3-4, The Message).
While still living among unbelievers, what should those of us who are believers be doing? How can we be a positive presence among the people who don't understand our new commitments and behaviors? In the paragraph just before the lines above, Peter had written this:
But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander (1 Pet. 3:15).
You don't have to preach to them. Just let your life keep bearing witness to what you've found in Christ! You don't have to be a "Bible thumper." Just be steady in your newfound faith! Know what will happen? Eventually somebody will come up and say, "I wish I had the peace I see in you. Can you tell me how I can find it for my life?"
If you've learned enough of the Bible by that time, sit down and have a Bible study. If you aren't gifted or equipped to teach, just say, "It comes from Jesus. What about going to church with me Sunday?" Or you say, "My life has been changed by the power of God. And you know I'm not a teacher or preacher, but my preacher or somebody from my church who can help you understand the gospel will be glad to get with you. Do you want me to call somebody and be there with you?"
The How-To of Witnessing
Bearing witness to Christ in your daily lifestyle won't make you an evangelist. But your preliminary work is critical. The best teacher in the world can't get far with somebody who can quickly hide behind the "defense" of a hypocritical Christian she knows or cold, uncaring church that turned him off.
Have you ever thought about the fact that when God came among us to save us he spent more than thirty years in relative silence? He was one with us in flesh and blood. He lived among ordinary people. He worked in Joseph's carpentry business. He attended the synagogue. He modeled goodness and joy and concern for others. Only then did he preach to anybody.
Words are seldom ever the best starting point to lead somebody to Jesus. Words may only generate arguments and defensiveness. You seldom "argue people to the truth." You love them. You model a new lifestyle that looks increasingly like Jesus. You create hunger and thirst for the truth. But we somehow fool ourselves into thinking that words can replace kindness, self-control, and love. Evangelism is unproductive if it can't be done on the foundation of gentle witness. We need credibility in the eyes of the people we want to teach.
Pay attention to one more text from Peter's letter to those first-century Christians who were spread out over the world that just wasn't their real home any more. He gave this counsel to Christian women married to unbelieving husbands: "Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives" (1 Pet. 3:1-2).
The how-to of witnessing for Christ or being a witness to Christ's presence in the world is a rather simple, three-step process.
1. Practice your faith. Read your Bible and pray. Be a participating member of this church. Be present for every assembly you can attend. This much should be obvious.
2. Live your faith. This is the part that seems not to be so obvious to some of us. In families, classrooms, offices, and neighborhoods, people are less inclined to be looking for lectures on Christianity than for demonstrations of it, less for books than for friends. Without actions in our lives that look like Jesus in their midst, they will consider our words to be hollow and without value and will have no interest in hearing them. I think it was Francis of Assisi who encouraged one of his pupils to tell everyone he met about Jesus but to use words only when necessary.
3. Acknowledge your faith. When you have lived your faith before a friend or given compassionate help to a classmate, he may ask you, "Why do you care?" or "Why are you willing to try to help me?" Don't just blush or pass it off or mumble something about wanting to do the right thing. Say something like, "I'm a Christian, and this is what I think Jesus would want me to do." Or maybe you can say, "I'm trying to follow Jesus in my life, and I know he'd care about you and try to help you with this." You'll be surprised at the doors opened by so simple an acknowledgment of Jesus. That person just may ask to come to church with you or to talk with you about your faith. And the door is open for God's presence in that heart!
When the soldiers in Operation Desert Storm swept through Saudi Arabia and into Iraq back in 1991, one man rushed out to greet his American captors in Bermuda shorts, a T-shirt, and a Chicago accent. "Where have you guys been?" he asked. "We've been waiting for you!"
The man from Chicago had been visiting his grandmother in Baghdad when the war broke out, and he was drafted into the Iraqi army. And he'd been praying for the Americans to get there and take him back where he belonged.
Some people you know have been drafted and pressed into service under the Prince of Darkness. Their lives are out of control and in pain. They are captive to addictions. They are scared to die but don't know how to live. Know what they would like to see more than anything else? They'd like to have someone to whom they can surrender so they can be taken back to God's camp, take a cleansing bath, feed their starving souls, and feel safe. You are someone's best hope for that happening in his or her life.
Hear our text for today one final time. This time, from The Message, listen to the words and take them to heart for yourself:
Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you're living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick. They'll end up realizing that they're the ones who need a bath.
Our goal as Christians is not to run away from and insulate ourselves against the world. It is to be salt, light, and leaven to it. It is to build bridges and make friends. Friendship, someone has said, is "the language the deaf can hear and the blind can see." Then our presence can be a gentle, faithful, unobtrusive, welcome witness to the Lord Jesus Christ. And he will use that witness to draw someone else to him. That is a spiritual service all of us can render.
Tracey Stewart, with Ken Abraham, Payne Stewart: The Authorized Biography (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2000), p. 261.
Ibid., p. 263.
Ibid., p. 311.
Ibid., p. 308.
"Iraqi from Chicago surrenders in desert," Tennessean, Feb. 27, 1991, p. 5A.
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