James Naismith

Basic Studies In Christian Living for Young Believers #8

An important aspect of our service for the Lord Christ is the witness we give for Him amongst our fellows. While there are many other ways in which we can serve Him, witnessing is of such importance and so frequently mentioned in the Scriptures that it merits special consideration.

Reasons for Witness

It should not be difficult for those who have been redeemed by the precious blood of Christ, saved from an eternal hell to which their fellows are hastening, and brought into eternal association with the Son of God as Saviour, Lord and Friend, to find abundant reasons for bearing witness to their fellows for the One who has done so much for them. Yet how few of us are really faithful witnesses unto Him in a world that still despises Him but needs Him desperately! Here are two reasons for witnessing that include many others:

(1) Love for Christ. A witness is a person who gives evidence in a court of law because he has had a certain experience or acquired special knowledge. In the world’s courtroom, the Name of our Lord is being dishonoured, His Person despised, His claims disowned. A wrong verdict is being given against Him by a great majority including many of our acquaintances. Surely it is our responsibility, who profess to love Him and have had personal experience of Him and come to know Him, to defend Him by faithful and fearless witness. His last words to His own ere He was taken from them into Heaven were, “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me… . unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8). If we love Him, we should gladly keep His words (John 14.23) — particularly His last words. The record of the Acts of the Apostles shows that His disciples then took Him at His word and boldly witnessed for Him despite fierce opposition and bitter persecution. Do we, in circumstances much more favourable? Note carefully His words: “witnesses unto Me” —He should be the central theme of our witness; all else should lead to Him. Their witness was to begin “in Jerusalem” — and it did — at home where opposition could be expected to be greatest in their case. It was to extend — and it did — to earth’s remotest bound. Here, too, is an example for 20th. century disciples.

(2) Compassionate Love for men. As our Lord “saw the multitudes He was moved with compassion on them” (Matt. 9.36)—a compassion influenced by the physical and spiritual needs of suffering and sinning humanity. Moved with the same compassion towards the multitudes as needy now as ever, we will witness to them of Him who alone can meet their need as He did in the days of His flesh. At least two motives should inspire us: (a) the great blessings Christ provides; like the four lepers who found unexpected supplies in the Syrian camp (2 Kings 7) if we fail to tell others, “we do not well: this is a day of good tidings and we hold our peace” while our fellows starve for lack of the Bread of Life; (b) the great danger from which Christ delivers. Like Ezekiel, we have been set as watchmen unto the world to give warning from the Lord (ch. 3:17, 18). Woe is unto us if we preach not the Gospel, if we blow not the trumpet to warn the people (ch. 33:1-9).

Requirements for Witness

Certain essential qualifications are necessary in a person who is called to stand in the witness-box: these are no less necessary for a Christian witness who stands before the world in defence of his Lord.

(1) Experience. A witness can only present evidence if he has had an experience, e.g. seen an accident. The closer he has been to the incident and the more experience he has had, the more weighty will be his evidence. The testimony, for example, of an observer of an automobile accident will carry more weight than that of a witness who arrives at the scene even seconds later. It is perfectly clear that only those who have had a personal experience of Christ in their lives and know Him as Lord and Saviour can be true witnesses unto Him. Compare Luke 24:48, “Ye are witnesses of these things,” with Acts 1:8, “Ye shall be witnesses unto Me.” It was because of their experience that the Lord called these disciples as witnesses — and they frequently expressed this in the evidence they presented — see Acts 4:20, 5:32,10:39, etc. The impression they left on their enemies was “that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13), so effective was their witness for Him. The more we are with Him, the better we know Him, the more we experience His power in our lives, the more faithful will be our witness for Him.

(2) Power. How nervous and trembling we might feel if called to give evidence in a court of law! With many of us, too, there is a natural reluctance to witness for Christ to others; perhaps through fear of what they might say (or think) or of being unable to give satisfactory evidence or meet the arguments, and answer the questions presented to us. God has, however, provided power for effective witness. The Lord intimated that the Holy Spirit was to be the source of this power — see Acts 1:8, John 15:26, 27. What a transformation took place in the fearful, timid disciples when He came in mighty power at Pentecost! How effectively did Peter witness that day to the resurrection and ascension of the Man he had denied and they had crucified! The secret of our power is prayer. Consider the effects of the first described prayer meeting of the early Christians in Acts 4:24-33. In our personal witness for Christ, we should never cease to pray (a) for ourselves, that we may receive guidance, courage, wisdom and help to witness faithfully; (b) for our contacts. Prayer for them should be particular — specifically mentioning each by name before the Lord; passionate — not half-hearted but fervent and sincere, for such prayer “availeth much” (James 5.16); and persevering — continuing until God in His mercy is pleased to save the one for whom we are concerned, and still persisting as we seek their growth in grace.

(3) Evidence. A witness is required to “speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.” The evidence which we present as Christians comes from our experience of Christ and from the Scriptures which declare the “whole truth” — “all the counsel of God” (Acts 20:27). Good witnesses must first “hear the word at His mouth” in order to “give warning from Him” (Ez. 3:17). We must, therefore, be diligent readers and students of the Scriptures, acquainting ourselves with their teaching, able to turn without hesitation to passages bearing on different subjects, and memorizing verses and passages of special importance. Only thus will we be able to “give an answer to every man that asketh us a reason of the hope that is in us” (1 Pet. 3:15).

Means of Witness

One of the best scriptural examples of witness is that of John the Baptist. The Apostle John has given to us in his Gospel a very instructive account of the record he bore. Study chapters 1:6-8, 15, 19-37; 3:23ff; 5:32-35; and note the frequent recurrence of the words “witness” and “record.” We are left in no doubt as to the subject of his testimony — “that Light” (1.7), “the Lamb of God” (vv. 29, 36), “the Son of God” (v. 34); nor were those who heard him —3:26. The Lord Himself was pleased to acknowledge and commend his witness (5:32-35). The effectiveness of his witness is stated in chapter 1:37 — two of his disciples were attracted to the Saviour through his testimony; this surely is the great objective of all witness for Christ.

It is interesting to compare John’s description of himself (1:23) with that of the Lord (5:35). “A light,” said the Lord — to shine, to show. “A voice,” said John — to speak, to shout. The two words summarize the two important phases of our witness — by our lives and our lips, our walk and our talk. We, too, should “shine as lights in the world,” and be voices “holding forth the word of life” (Phil.2:15, 16); showing Christ and speaking of Him so that others like John’s disciples, may “follow Jesus.” (a) Our Lives: The witness of our lives cannot be over emphasized. “You are living a Gospel, a chapter each day, by things that you do, by words that you say; men read what you live, whether faithless or true — Say! what is the Gospel according to YOU?” In a world where the Scriptures are read with diminishing frequency, the message of the lives of Christ’s witnesses assumes ever-increasing importance. We are living epistles “known and read of all men.” May we be truly “epistles of Christ” (2 Cor. 3:2, 3), and may the words of Emerson, the essayist, never apply to us: “What you are stands over you that I cannot hear what you say.” (b) Our Lips: Even if our lives were perfect, we should still be responsible to proclaim Christ with our lips. Day by day, we meet with many who know Him not and may never come to know Him except through us.

Our witness for Christ should not be confined to the personal testimony which we bear individually before others. In company with other believers in a local church, we should “strive together for the faith of the Gospel” (Phil. 1:27). This collective witness can take several forms, e.g. (a) Baptism is an act of public confession of Christ whereby we declare that we have been identified with Him. (b) In partaking of the Lord’s Supper week by week, we proclaim the Lord’s death and witness to the fact that He is our Lord. (c) By our presence at the gatherings of the local assembly and by our efforts in support of its Gospel activities—e.g. inviting others to the Gospel meeting, welcoming strangers, and taking part in any way — we are contributing to the witness of the local church and so carrying out our Lord’s last command.