Last week, we considered the ‘I’ for invest: the giving of our money and resources towards the community of faith we are a part of and for the spread of God’s kingdom. Investing is an essential act of worship that must soon be taught in the life of a new disciple of Jesus. Today we consider the S in our PROMISE acronym: Share, which must also be taught early in the discipleship process. I am referring specifically to the priority of sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with others.
Witnessing is a forgotten command today, one many Christians do not give much thought to. We expect those gifted as evangelists and ‘professional’ Christians workers like pastors and missionaries to be doing the work of making Christ known, while the rest of us are fed, cared for, and busy with other ministries of the church. This is a defective, not to mention unbiblical, view of the witness of the whole Church. We cannot so easily ignore (or delegate to only a few) the evangelistic purpose and responsibility of the whole people of God (1 Peter 2:9; Mark 16:15; 1 Peter 3:15; 2 Corinthians 5:20).
Just prior to his ascension, Jesus instructed the disciples he had trained and commissioned to wait in Jerusalem, till they were cloth in power from on high. After the Holy Spirit empowered them, he told them that they ‘will be His witnesses’ from Jerusalem, where they were, to the uttermost parts of the world (Acts 1:8). ‘You will be witnesses’ is an imperative statement, not a ‘could be’ or even ‘should be’ but a ‘shall be’, and this was one of the explicit outcomes of the coming of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus expected them to be witnesses. He expects us who are the spiritual descendants of the first apostles to do likewise.
We each have our own Jerusalems (those closest to us relationally), our Judeas (those culturally alike to us), our Samarias (those who are geographically near but culturally more distant) and our ends of the earth (those who are geographically and culturally distant to us). No place is to be out of reach of Gospel witness.
What does it mean to ‘witness’? A witness is someone who testifies to what he has seen and heard, who is able to recount to friends and strangers or a court of law, his first-hand experience of an incident he observed or participated in.
When a person is born anew by repentance from sin and faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, they immediately have a story to tell, of what they now know, however elementary: that God by his great love and mercy has rescued them from their sin and its eternal consequence of hell and separation.
We need to help new believers to know 1) they are called to be witnesses of their Risen Lord and 2) how to tell their stories.
In our work in Bangkok, Thailand, we have tried to teach those we disciple to write down and memorize their story or testimony of how they came to faith, and to be able to tell it in 3 minutes. Their story would consist of three parts: 1) what life was like before they came to faith in Jesus, 2) how they came to faith in Him, and 3) the difference that has resulted.
Additionally, as part of disciple-making in our groups, we have them make a list of 5 people they know who have not yet become followers of Jesus – whether family, neighbors, colleagues, or friends. They then commit to praying as a group and individually for each of the people in their list, asking God for opportunities to witness to them, inviting them to their discipleship group or bringing them to the leaders if they have questions or are interested or responsive to their stories. Every so often, the list is to be updated.
We make it a practice in our disciple-making relationships to regularly ask each other for updates about those on our lists, and to share encouraging testimony of people we’ve been able to witness to for Christ. In this way, we help disciples witness as a first step to becoming disciple-makers.
If hell is real and lost people without Christ are headed there, we cannot keep silent. If Jesus is Risen Lord, we must tell it home and abroad. If the Gospel is true, then we must bear witness to it.
On the morning of his execution, the English murder convict Charles Peace was read to about the fires of hell from the book The Consolations of Religion by the prison chaplain. Peace reportedly silenced the chaplain with these words: ‘Sir, if I believed what you and the church of God say you believe, I would walk across England if it were covered with broken glass from coast to coast, even on my hands and knees, just to save one soul from the hell you so glibly speak about!’
Indeed, if today we found the cure to cancer, would we keep it merely to ourselves?
George Whitefield, the great Anglican clergyman and evangelist once said, ‘God forbid that I should travel with anybody a quarter of an hour without speaking of Christ to them.’ May God give us the same evangelistic zeal to witness by our words and lives.