This blog post first appeared on the RFPA blog and is part of a series on church membership.
Echoing the Word
For many of us, one of the more daunting responsibilities that we face as church members is the calling to witness. Just the thought of doing so might make our heart race, our anxiety level shoot through the roof, and our mouth feel like cotton.
Yet, this is our calling. There are many passages of God’s word that make this plain. 1 Peter 3:15 is well-known: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”
In 1 Thessalonians 1:8 Paul commends the saints in that church because “from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak any thing.” The words “sounded out” have the idea of an echo. Think of the sound of your voice or the crack of thunder that echoes in a cave or in the mountains. Paul’s voice was like a trumpet or like a summer thunderstorm rolling through Thessalonica, proclaiming the word of God. That powerful noise was then received by the saints there and echoed off of them to those around them. This indicates that the saints there were zealous in personal witnessing. When given the opportunity, they were bold to speak of their faith in Christ. The scriptures give this as an example for us to follow.
But this calling is often very difficult for us. It’s easy for us to get excited about doing mission work in a faraway land, but it’s hard for us to witness to our next-door neighbor. Someone once quipped that early Christians had to be told not to speak, whereas modern believers often have to be told to speak.
There may be many reasons why this is so difficult for us, but often we are simply too afraid to say anything when the opportunity arises. A coworker takes God’s name in vain day after day. Someone stops us at the grocery store and says something crude about the number of children that we have in tow. A neighbor tells us about the fornication that they have committed, or the drunkenness, or the Sabbath desecration. And we all know the feeling. Fear cripples us. We say nothing. We laugh nervously and change the subject. We know that we ought to say something, but our mouth stays shut and the opportunity passes.
Despite how uncomfortable it makes us, we are called to witness.
That witness will show itself in two ways. First, we are called to witness with our words. We hear the preaching of the gospel every Sunday, and we receive and embrace that word by faith. Our calling is to be echoes of that word, to reflect the powerful thunder of the gospel to those around us. That means we speak that word to family members, friends, coworkers, neighbors, and all others whom God brings into our lives.
In the second place, we witness with our actions. We live lives that flow out of our faith in Christ, lives that harmonize with the word of the Lord. We live in such a way that we are different from the world around us. When we back up our talk with our walk, others will take note. The life that harmonizes with the gospel is itself a powerful sermon.
It is possible, of course, for us to leave a negative witness. We may say all the right things, but when we live like the world, when we speak blasphemously or cut others down, when we bicker as husband and wife and have a quarrelsome, rebellious family, we leave the wrong kind of witness. When we live like the world and do the things that the world does, we do not stand out.
One powerful way in which we witness by our actions is by the way in which we handle adversity and affliction. When a loved one dies, when we are given a cancer diagnosis, when we have a disability that needs constant medical attention, when we have a child with special needs, and we respond in patience and trust in God, we give a powerful witness to others who see us.
The calling to witness does not mean we must say something every single day to every single person we meet. We are called to speak this word when God gives us an opportunity during the ordinary course of our day. And we must have a certain regard to appropriate circumstances. We are not called to say something to our coworker every single day when we are supposed to be working or to our neighbor every single time we see them outside working in their lawn. However, I don’t think this is the bigger danger for us. The bigger danger is that we do not speak the word when the opportunity does present itself.
The motivation to witness is the grace which God has shown to us. We have been graciously delivered from the darkness and brought into the light of life. What joy fills our hearts! So thankful are we for what God has done, that we cannot keep quiet about it. We can’t keep it in. We want everyone we meet to know this.
God may be pleased to use our witness to gain others to Christ. While some may be hardened by our witness, others may be brought to faith in Christ and the fellowship of the church.
Witnessing takes courage, courage which God alone can supply. Pray for that courage, and in the strength which he supplies boldly echo forth the Word of the Lord.