“Then they called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, ‘Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard’” (Acts 4:18-20). “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” (1 Peter 3:15).
By John David Hicks
In the last two newsletters, we have looked at the Lord’s priorities for your life and His church. The first priority is always God and our relationship with Him. We are to glorify and enjoy Him forever because we were created for intimate relationship with God. Out of this personal relationship with God, the other priorities will come.
The second priority is others in the church. This is Christ’s body and we are to build up one another in love. Recognizing that we were made for divine and human relationship, we understand that we really do need one another.
Priority 3: Mission
Now we will look at our relationship to the broader world—our community, workplace, school, friends, and neighbors. This is the world for whom Jesus died. What is our relationship to it? What are our responsibilities? How can we best work, serve, and witness? This is our third priority.
“Christian” means follower of Christ. Jesus asked men not only to believe in Him, but also to follow Him. We are to follow the example of Jesus. Christians have also been given the title of Christ’s “ambassadors.” An ambassador is a person who represents his/her nation to another land. Similarly, we are Christ’s representatives to people. We need to represent Him in the culture of the world. You need to ask yourself, “If Jesus were here, what would He do or say to the world in which I live?” Let’s think about this for a few moments: Suppose Jesus moved into your town, into your neighborhood. He dressed and looked like any 30-year-old. How would He act and what would He do? How long would it be before the entire town knew He was there?
Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John give us an in-depth example of what Jesus would do today. At times He would be alone with His Father, praying and studying Scripture, but more often you would find Him with people. He would soon know the people around Him by name. He also would know what was going on in town.
On Sunday, He would go to church and worship His Father with His disciples. This would not be just another activity to work in if there was time. Regular attendance at worship would be one of the defining characteristics of His life. There He would praise, pray, and teach.
During the week you could envision Jesus about anywhere. He might be at a factory talking with workers, weary from the day’s labor. Perhaps He would be in conversation with businessmen on the street, encouraging them. You might find Him mixing with people in a restaurant, at a shopping center, or meeting in a home with friends. Enjoying the company of others, He could be attending a wedding, a party, or a picnic. Wherever Jesus was He’d always have time for people in need and those who wanted to talk.
Because He cared about people, He would listen carefully to what others were saying and also to what was being communicated in other ways. His conversation would always be relevant to the person hearing His words. He would see that individual as unique and special to God. He would converse naturally about God His Father, the joys of heaven and the perils of hell, God’s plan of salvation, and the excitement of walking with God.
As in New Testament times, people would respond differently. Some would accept what He had to say and commit their lives to follow God. Others would resent His message because it ignored their religious traditions and preconceived ideas of God’s workings. Others would be angered at Jesus’ insistence that intellectual assent to the Scriptures is not enough; you must put it into practice as well.
Jesus would show a genuine concern for all people. His openness and transparent honesty would cause even little children to climb on His lap. All would be welcome—the rich and poor, aged and young, black, brown, and white, the outcasts and the town leaders. His arms would be open to everyone.
If Jesus were in your town, how long would it be before everyone would be talking about the lives He touched and changed? If Jesus visited you and examined your priorities and activities, would they be in line with His concerns?
In fact, Jesus is here. He is walking the streets and mixing with people—with His new body, the church, the ones who call Him Lord and Savior. He is doing it through you.
You are a Christian, Jesus’ follower, His ambassador. Will you let God the Holy Spirit work through you, as Jesus’ new body? Will you be an extension of Jesus’ life and ministry? Will you go where people are, listen to their heart cries, and minister Jesus’ love to them at their point of need? All the things you would expect Jesus to do if He were here in the flesh, He wants to do through you.
Your Witness in the World
Your witness in this world starts with your work, your vocation. The word “vocation” is originally from the Latin and meant a calling. Too often we regard our work as just the way we get money so we can live. If we look on it as a calling, however, we can find meaning in even the most tedious of occupations. For this is where we proclaim the message of our lives. Our work is our place of ministry.
Our vocation may be paid work or unpaid. When we are young, our vocation is that of student. As we grow older, we may work inside the home or outside. Later in life, volunteer work may become our vocation. It makes no difference. It is our vocation—the place we are called to in order to show God’s love to our world. We are to take it seriously. “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men” (Colossians 3:23).
William Carry, the father of modern missions, was once asked what was his vocation. “I am a missionary,” he replied, “but work as a shoe cobbler to pay expenses.” He had caught the vision that the purpose of his job was to make money to pay expenses, but also to fulfill his ministry.
You need to catch a fresh spiritual vision of your work and recommit yourself to your vocation. Learn to see it as a calling of God to be a blessing to others. “The value of our work,” says Oswald Chambers, “depends on whether we can direct men to Jesus Christ.”
Your Witness in the World Involves Caring for People
People tend to withdraw into their group of friends. For many of us, our friends are our family members and the fellow Christians we are with at church. Outside of that, we are not involved with our community or the world. We ignore the larger community around us.
The biblical vision, however, takes in a ministry and compassion for the whole world. Because God loves people and His love is in your heart, you will love others. This love is not concerned with national origin, sex, color, language, customs, or any of the other things that divide peoples. Just before His ascension, Jesus said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Do not the ends of the earth take in all people everywhere? This power is a witness of love and caring (Romans 5:5).
Our concern for the world starts in our local communities, our “Jerusalem.” Reaching out to others might involve joining an organization, like the Boy Scouts, a garden club, or the Red Cross. Schools and children’s sports teams are always looking for volunteers. A community organization offers you the opportunity of establishing relaxed friendships where you can gradually share Christ. Find a place where you can team up with another Christian to have fun, help others, and be the salt of the earth. It’s easy to make friends with people with common interests or goals.
Several years ago, I injured my ankle. During my recovery I had to go to the city pool three days a week for therapy. During that time I made new friends and had opportunities to share my faith. I met people I would have met no other way. A pastor friend goes every Tuesday to McDonald’s for breakfast. He meets with about 15 men from the community and over the years has led many to Jesus Christ.
But what about our larger community, the nation and world in which we live? Do we not have a responsibility to care for others everywhere in the world? The temptation is to feel there is nothing one person can do to change the powers of evil. But that is to limit God to our small world and deny His power in the broader arena. Can we not reflect God’s concern for the poor by working for better low-income housing? Can we continue to spend our money on our own pleasures and comforts while God’s children around the world are literally starving? Can we be faithful to biblical principles and continue to ignore the growing gap between rich and poor? If God is concerned about justice, and the Bible certainly states that He is, our concern for social justice is an integral part of a faithful witness.
Your Witness in the World Involves Sharing Your Story
A witness is a person who knows something by a personal encounter. It follows then that if a Christian is a person who has had an encounter with God, he then can testify and give evidence of what he has seen, heard, and experienced. He witnesses by the grace and power of God as to what Jesus Christ has done in his life. If God has not changed your life, you have never really met Jesus Christ.
Jesus told us, “Go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). This is the Great Commission, not the great suggestion. Jesus repeated it on several occasions, for it reflects God’s purpose to bring all people everywhere into relationship with God and with one another.
Jesus’ life demonstrated God’s love for this lost world. His mission was to heal, deliver, and save sinners. He trained His disciples, sent them out, and commissioned them. But the commandment applies to you, too. “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (John 20:21).
Jesus wants you to get involved. We are to go and make disciples, first, because “Christ’s love compels us…that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5:14-15). We often do things in service to God because we love Him and want to serve Him. But an even greater motivation is the realization of how much God loves us. It is Christ’s love that compels us.
We also need to remember that sin is serious business. Because of Adam’s fall, man is in rebellion and sins against God. But God has sent a Savior, Jesus Christ, to bring us into right relationship with God. If man does not repent and seek the Lord, he will be condemned and eternally lost. Jesus has the answer to man’s sin and bondage.
As a Christian witness, you are to testify of God’s forgiveness and your new life in Christ. You have been brought into fellowship with God by the cross of Christ. You are to witness to what the Lord has done for you. This is the Gospel proclamation.
Hindrances to Witnessing
Perhaps the biggest reason that people don’t witness is fear: What will others think? No one wants to “look bad.” Jesus said the Pharisees “loved praise from men more than praise from God” (John 12:43). They wanted man’s approval more than God’s approval. On the other hand, witnessing needs to be done with discernment. Wait for natural opportunities, for God to open doors, rather than cornering people to preach to them and tell them that they are wrong and you are right.
The other extreme, however, is never witnessing at all. Do the people you work with even know that you’re serving Jesus? Is your life and speech consistent with a believer’s? Are you ashamed to admit to anyone that God rules in your heart? “If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels” (Mark 8:38). That is a serious consequence. Jesus will be ashamed of you before the Father, if you hide your testimony and do not take a stand for Him. How can you be ashamed of the One who loves you and gave His life to save you?
As opposed to the fear of man, however, is the fear of God. “Fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 111:10).
“Fear of the LORD” expresses a quality of relationship with God in the Old Testament. The implication in the Hebrew is that you care more for God’s approval than for man’s approval. Your desire is to keep His commandments, to listen to His voice, to love and to serve Him. “Fear of man will prove to be a snare, but whoever trusts in the LORD is kept safe” (Proverbs 29:25).
No wonder the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom and the first principle of all knowledge. For the disciples of Jesus, their fear was dealt with at Pentecost. From that day on they wanted God’s approval without regard to man’s approval.
Another reason for lack of witnessing is a neglected relationship with the Lord. Like the church at Ephesus, “You have forsaken your first love” (Revelation 2:4). This church, which had several good things said about it, fell seriously short of God’s standards because its people had neglected their relationship with Jesus. He was no longer first in their affection.
Many good things can rob you of the relationship. You may have good intentions, but your wrong priorities have robbed you of the power and joy in your Christian life. Remember that it is only out of the relationship with Jesus that the life and fruit come. “Remain in me, and I will remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:4-5).
When relationship with God is everything, you can say with the apostle Paul, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes” (Romans 1:16). Then we will carry the message that God loves you just as you are, and only His love can forgive you and only His power can make you as you ought to be.
“The things that are closest to our hearts are the things we talk about, and if God is close to your heart, you will talk about Him,” said A. W. Tozer. Your life’s message will be one of reconciliation: “that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19).
Not long after I had been saved, I started attending a church in Anaheim, California, where I met Bob Russell. An outstanding witness for Christ, Bob was an alcoholic living on the streets of Los Angeles when he committed his life to Christ. His business was painting cars from a van he owned. He established many social contacts outside the church and was used of God to lead numerous people to Christ.
He took an interest in me, worked with me, and discipled me. “John, if God has called you to preach,” he told me, “that means now, not when you finish college.” He took me to services at the mission in downtown Los Angeles, at the county jail, and at a boy’s ranch for delinquent teens. He taught me how to share my faith and got me involved in working with others. Bob’s idea of a good time was to witness to anyone who would listen.
Bob’s life and walk with God taught me many things about sharing my faith. First of all, Bob really loved the Lord. I am sure that love came from his gratitude for all that God had done for him. He spoke with tenderness and earnestness about a personal relationship with God.
Then, because of his relationship with God, Bob was a man of prayer. He prayed about everything and for anyone who needed it. He prayed for opportunities to witness, and God answered his prayers.
Bob involved the church, the body of Christ, in his life and ministry to others. He made it a point to introduce people to his pastor and others in the church. He invited people to his home so older Christians and new converts could get together and learn from one another. He often put people in touch with other Christians to help somebody out. He knew that when new converts saw Christians in love and fellowship, they would be drawn to Jesus Christ.
Bob recognized the importance of weekly small-group meetings for winning others and establishing new Christians. He had times of prayer, Bible study, and accountability with others. Bob’s success was based on his determination to build his life around biblical priorities.
Jesus is here, walking the streets and mixing with people. But He is doing it with His new body, the church, you and me. He is in our hearts. Will you let God the Holy Spirit work through you, as Jesus’ new body? Will you be an extension of Jesus’ life and ministry? Will you go where people are, listen to their heart cries, and minister Jesus’ love to them at their point of need? All the things you would expect Jesus to do if He were here in the flesh, He wants to do through you.
Could I challenge you to refocus your life priorities to agree with God’s priorities?
1. Is God first in your life? Will you seek to have a daily devotional life? Will you seek His kingdom above all else? Will you deal ruthlessly with sin in your life?
2. Will you rededicate yourself to your local church body? Will you recommit yourself to the body of Christ, His church? Will you get together weekly in a small group or with a friend?
3. Will you recommit yourself to your work and witness in the world? Will you seek to win one person to Christ and bring that person into membership in the church?
These three priorities are meant to prod you, challenge you, and balance you. Don’t mix up the order, because they won’t work in any other order: Jesus, His body, my witness in the world.