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TEXT: Proverbs 29:25
SUBJECT: Gospel Changes #24: Witnessing
Have you been witnessing much lately? I hope you have, but I suspect haven't been. And neither have I. I have known many Christians in my life, and only a few of them have excelled in personal evangelism.
We all believe in witnessing, and we ought to, because it is plainly commanded in the Bible. The last thing Jesus said to His Church was-
Go, therefore, and teach all nations.
Go into all the world and preach the Gospel to every creature.
Repentance and the remission of sins should be preached.
The Apostles were not perfect, men, of course, but they understood these words perfectly well, and, starting on the Day of Pentecost, they acted on them. On the Temple grounds, crowded with thousands of people from all over the world, Peter stood up and said-
Men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth.you have taken by lawless hands, have crucified Him and put Him to death.whom God raised up.Repent and baptized for the remission of sins.
This was not an impulsive move on Peter's part; he spent the next thirty years, more or less, preaching the same message to his countrymen and others, many of whom did not want to hear it. Peter was a witness for Christ.
He wasn't alone. As we read through the Book of Acts, we find Stephen urging the Rulers of Israel to stop resisting the Holy Spirit and believe in Jesus. Philip takes the Gospel to the Samaritans whose religion was a mockery of one God gave Moses. They were a hateful people and deeply prejudiced against the Jews. But a Jew took the Gospel to them. Stephen and Philip were witnesses for Christ.
A bit later in the story, Paul is converted, and three days later, he's in the synagogue preaching 'Jesus is the Son of God'. He spent the rest of his life preaching the same message, mostly to people who had never heard of Jesus before. Paul was a witness.
You might say that these men had special callings, and that's true, they did. Peter and Paul were Apostles; Stephen and Philip were Evangelists. Of course, clergymen ought to preach the Gospel, but what about the rest of you?
Has the Lord called 'laymen' to witness? Sure He has. The first churches heard His call, because when they were scattered by persecution-
They went everywhere preaching the Word.
These were not the leaders of the Church, the ministers of one rank or another; they were the church itself-men, women, and children, many of whom were illiterate, but inflamed with love for Christ! They didn't mount pulpits, they spoke to their neighbors, to the people they worked with, and to their families. JB Phillips said-
They went everywhere gossiping the Word.
You know how gossip starts: 'Did you hear about Tom? 'Do you know what Becky's up to?' I suppose these dear people began their sentences in the same way. But instead of running people down, they glorified God! 'Did you hear about Jesus? 'Do you know what God's been up to?'
Their example ought to inspire us to witnessing zeal. But if it doesn't, we can turn to the New Testament and find commands for personal witnessing. The one I always think of first is I Peter 3:15-
But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and be always ready to give a reason for the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.
This is not an office-specific verse. Peter is not telling pastors to do this or men or older people, but all of us. We ought to live in such as way that we catch people's attention, and when they ask us about why we don't worry, let's say, or why we're cheerful or generous, we answer-not with what mom and dad taught us when we were kids-but with the Gospel.
Other Bible verses make the same point, my favorite being Psalm 107:2-
Let the redeemed of the Lord say so;
Those He has redeemed from the hand
Of the enemy.
Our duty, therefore is clear: We ought to be witnessing, and not because I say so, but because God says so.
The authority of God is the first reason to witness, but not the only reason. Think of the need for witnessing. People are really lost, and without Christ they will remain lost in this world and in the world to come. I do not believe in 'hellfire and brimstone' preaching, so let me say it to you as sweetly as I can: 'hellfire and brimstone' are real, and every lost man, woman and child will suffer it if they do not repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ.
What will cause them to repent and believe? Only one thing: the Gospel-
Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.
When I was a boy most Americans went to church; not every Sunday, of course, but at least twice a year, and many far more often than that. At Christmas, they heard of the Incarnation of God and why He came-
To save His people from their sins.
At Easter, they heard about the death of Christ and how He rose from the dead victorious over death, hell, and the grave.
The Bible had a bigger role in society at large; it was more deeply imbedded in the culture. In other words, most people had a general idea of God, sin, the Gospel, heaven and hell. Most didn't believe it in a meaningful way, but they had heard it.
This is no longer true. A great many people, including your neighbors and friends and co-workers no know more about the Gospel than you do about nuclear physics. They are totally ignorant. Though they don't have the vocabulary for it, they know there's a God and that they're sinners, but they have no idea of how they can escape His judgment. Only the Gospel tells them how. And they're not likely to hear it unless they hear it from you!
The human race is under the wrath of God, and not just the Hitlers of the world, but nice people, kind and friendly and generous people are under the wrath of God-and they'll stay there unless they hear the Gospel!
THE WITNESS OF CONSCIENCE
With the commands so clear and the need so grave, you know you ought to witness, and when you don't, you feel guilty. I've done plenty of bad things in my life, but nothing makes me feel worse than having a good chance to speak up for Christ, and not doing it. There's a hymn that never fails to convict me-
Jesus and shall it ever be,
A mortal man ashamed of Thee?
Ashamed of Thee whom angels praise,
Whose glories shine through endless days!
THE FAILURE TO WITNESS
We know we ought to witness, but we don't witness, not very often and not very well. Why don't we? We're busy for one thing; we're shy; we don't know what to say; maybe, deep down, we don't really care that much for other people. These are reasons to not witness. But they're all secondary to the real reason.
We don't witness because we're afraid. We're afraid of looking like a fool; we're afraid of being rejected; we're afraid of being stumped; we're afraid of losing something that is dear to us-a friend, a reputation, a job; and in some parts of the world, even your life.
When it comes to witnessing-
The fear of man brings a snare.
This is one of my biggest temptations, and I'm not alone. Maybe you feel the same way. This fear of witnessing is not unique to cowards. No, a person can be very bold in other areas of life, only to blush in this one. Charles Bridges writes-
Many would be bold to front danger who would shrink from shame. They would fearlessly face the cannon's mouth, but be panic stricken at the ridicule of a puny worm.
Peter stands out here! When Jesus was arrested, he took on the whole mob with one sword. A few hours later, a young girl's question makes him deny the Lord three times!
He was afraid to stand up for Jesus Christ, and when the cock crowed, he knew what he had done and-
He went out and wept bitterly.
Have you felt this way? I have, many times. How ashamed I am to be ashamed of Christ!
WRONG AND PARTIAL APPROACHES
We need to do something about it. When I was a boy, my church put a big emphasis on witnessing-and that's good-but what wasn't so good is how they moved people to do it. If memory serves, about 90% of the motivation was guilt. Pastors and Sunday School teachers shamed us into doing it. For the more outgoing people in church, this worked, for awhile, at least. But for shy and sensitive people (like me) it had the opposite effect: it pushed me deeper and deeper into my shell.
Shaming people is the approach of the Law, and for all it's truth and glory and beauty, the Law doesn't get the job done. It tells us what to do, but it doesn't enable us to do it!
Training people in apologetics is a better approach. A friend of mine does this, and I admire him for it. The fear of 'not knowing what to say' keeps many people from witnessing, so my friend teaches them what the likely objections are and how to answer them. This is good work, but it assumes the fear of being stumped is the main or only fear. It isn't.
The only thing that's going to free us from the fear of witnessing is.the Gospel.
Number One: The Gospel relieves the fear of rejection by reminding us that we are not rejected; we are-
Accepted in the Beloved.
We don't want to lose friends, of course, and we shouldn't lose them by being pushy and obnoxious in our evangelism, but if a loving and wise witness alienates a good friend, we still have-
A Friend who sticks closer than a brother.
The same thing goes with family. The most delicate Gospel witness will rupture some families; Orthodox Jews disown the members who come to faith in Christ, going so far as have a funeral for them! Muslims who turn to Christ suffer an even worse fate. But when you father on earth hates you for Christ's sake, your Father in Heaven loves you; and in losing three biological brothers you gain millions of spiritual brothers.
You don't have to crave acceptance and do bad things to have it: you already have it! Nothing can separate you from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord-
When my father and mother forsake me,
The Lord will take me up.
Number Two: The Gospel relieves the fear of being stumped by telling us God's power is not in our answers, but in the Gospel itself-
For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.
Paul was a man of great learning, but do you really think he answered every question? That no Jewish scholar or Gentile philosopher could ever stumped him? That would take omniscience, and he didn't have it. But even if he knew every answer, his speech was weak and his appearance was contemptible. In other words, he didn't make a good impression; he didn't bowl people over; they were more likely to sneer at him than to sit at his feet. But for all this, he won the Empire to Christ. But not on his own power or wisdom or eloquence, but on God's foolishness which is wiser than all human wisdom!
Let me add a line here from one of the UK's greatest preachers of last century, Martyn Lloyd-Jones. He was a doctor by training and a man of immense learning. But he said in one of his books that intellectuals are rarely won to Christ by intellectual arguments. In other words, the astrophysicist is more likely to be won by his maid's humble faith than by his colleague's brilliant apologetic.
If the aim of the Gospel is to prove how smart you are, you'd better hit the books! But if it's about the power and wisdom of God, do the best you can, and leave the results to the Holy Spirit!
Number Three: The Gospel relieves the fear of looking like a fool by getting us out of ourselves and on to the things that matter most: God and neighbor.
What are we thinking about when we witness? Usually, I'm thinking about myself-how I'm doing, whether I'm coming off smart and hip or stupid and countrified! But by meditating on the Gospel, it occurs to me: witnessing is not about me! It's about God, And, it's not about my needs, but the needs of the lost.
Number Four: The Gospel reminds us that suffering for God is not that bad; in fact it is good because it puts us into fellowship with Christ and the saints.
Why shouldn't you be laughed at? Why shouldn't I be rejected? Jesus was; Paul was; Stephen was. Why are we above them? We should be proud to be in their company, as people who have been-
Reviled and persecuted and charged with all manner of evil for Christ's sake.
Why do we want to fit in to a world that hates God and loves sin and is hell bound for eternal damnation? Let us be like Moses who-
Esteemed the reproach of Christ greater riches than all the treasures of Egypt.
Finally: The Gospel enables us to witness by filling our hearts with joy and hope and love for God and His lost sheep.
The Law can tell you to love God and your neighbor, but only the Gospel empowers you to do it. It can command you to witness, but only the Gospel can make you want to do it.
Let us, therefore, quit beating ourselves up, and start meditating on the Gospel, and as we do, it will free us from our fears and do for us what it first did for the Apostles, and that is to make us witnesses for Christ.
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