“Witness”…Making Personal Things Public

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ws“My religion is a personal thing, deeply personal, but it’s not private.” – J. Mack Stiles in Speaking of Jesus, p.13

There is a belief out there that deeply personal beliefs should be kept private. The thought is, they should be kept private because deeply personal beliefs often have a lot of strings attached. When someone presents these types of beliefs we either have to stand our ground on any differing beliefs we might have or be changed by what we see and hear. Deep seated, deeply personal beliefs, when presented demand a response…some sort of action. Many people don’t want to have to be faced with someone else’s belief system and then have to examine their own life in light of what that other person believes. If you believe in moral relativism and all belief systems are equally good, then why be bothered with that kind of friction?

When Jesus gave his disciples the great commission in Matthew 28 and then again in Acts 1:8, Jesus was commanding them to take the most profound and personal areas of their life and make it public. There is a word in Acts 1:8 that I have read dozens of times but never really unpacked. Jesus told the disciples, “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.”

A witness is someone who experiences an event and is willing to talk about what they saw and heard. The word witness is a legal term. We see it in the legal requirements laid out in the Torah in verses like Numbers 35:30 & Exodus 23:1 in regard to witnesses needed to convict someone of a capital offense. But in the New Testament the term witness is used almost exclusively about what people saw and heard Jesus do. 1 John 1:1-4 lays this out really well,

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.”

In John’s Gospel he tells us that the very idea of witness started with Jesus himself. He came to be a witness to us about what he knows about the Father (John 1:1-8). Jesus bore witness through his words (things people heard…telling us what he knows about God) and through his actions (things people saw…showing us something about God through his compassion, miracles and even his judgment).

What we hear and see in Jesus’ teaching is that he bore witness to the world about the Father so that his disciples, in turn, bear witness to the world of what they saw and heard from Jesus. So in Acts 1:8 Jesus tells them that they will be his witnesses. In Acts 2, Peter preaches (a public pronouncement of what he has seen and heard from Jesus) to several thousand people. He tells them in 2:29-33 that David bore witness of the Christ because he saw what was ahead and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ (2:31). Peter goes on to say that the resurrected Christ, “has received from the Father the promised Holy Spirit and has poured out what you now see and hear.” Now they are witnesses of the power of the Holy Spirit that also bears witness that Peter’s testimony (another legal term) is true. They have experienced something deep and personal. Will they tell someone about what they saw and heard and how it all came from the power of the resurrected Lord?

Another instance of this is in the very next chapter of Acts where Peter and John heal a crippled beggar. The crowd has experienced the power of God and Peter tells the crowd this, “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead. We are witnesses of this. 16 By faith in the name of Jesus, this man whom you see and know was made strong. It is Jesus’ name and the faith that comes through him that has given this complete healing to him, as you can all see.

What does this all mean for us? If we have any experience with the resurrected Lord, any transformation through the Holy Spirit, or any blessings that we have received from Christ or through Christ…we have a story to share as a witness to these things. What is more, we can point people back to the original eye witnesses of these events that testify to who Jesus is and what he has done so that people can see and hear for themselves so that, like with any good eye witness testimony, they can conclude that these things are true and find life through Christ. But it starts with us having the willingness to make some very personal and often private views public.

5 Responses

  1. Matt, I am surprised no one has yet commented on this post. I, personally, think that it pulls in a subject that plays a large part in how a person shares his or her faith; and that is the subject of personality or temperament.

    The call to “…always be ready to give a reason for the hope that is within us…” finds its answer in our individual personalities. I understand that there are people who say their faith is private simply to cover up a lack of conviction, and this can describe many who are “faithful in attendance” of any church. But, to be fair and just, there are many believers whose faith runs deep and strong, yet see their faith as private simply because they do not have the personalty of someone who “compels those on the highways and biways to come to the feast”. However, when finding a fertile opportunity, usually in converstion, they speak their heart.

    In the church, and I’m speaking of most evangelical churches, the extrovert is credited with having a zeal for Christ, while the introvert, or the quiet, are treated like a “middle child”, being told, “You should be more like your brother or sister”. When the truth is the disciple who gently plants a word into just the right moment may be moreso, to an outsider, the genuine article. These people may never quote verses or tracts like they just walked out of an evangelism class, but their lives will simply be the “gentle whisper” of God, which is usaully heard over the wind, the earthquake and the fire.

    1. Good points there…what you are describing is the “body of Christ” that Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 12 where there is one body, many parts, varying functions and not all parts look alike, function alike, etc. One part is not to look down on another part because it is different. There is beauty in diversity as well as increased effectiveness and functionality.

    1. I appreciate what Donald has written there. There are many people, including myself, who need to consider what he is saying in that post. We do live in a world where everything (including what you are having for dinner) is made public and it really waters down what is most important. On the flip side, Donald Miller is going to be public about matters of faith. It is what he does for a living and I wouldn’t expect him or want him to stop doing that.

      I am really glad to read this coming from him. It makes me wonder if he has changed his views on self-promotion. Back in March of 2012 I had a twitter conversation with him about whether or not we should be self promoters which was immediately followed by his post entitled, “Some Thoughts on Self Promotion and Why Arrogant People Think it’s Wrong” – https://storylineblog.com/2012/03/29/why-i-self-promote/

      Was that post directed at me? I don’t know but it sure felt like it. My point to him was that there is a difference between promoting what God is up to and getting on board with it and the actual promoting of myself. It all went south and I was probably a lot to blame for that due to my own attitude in the conversation. I would love to here some new reflections on that by him.

      Last, here is a piece by Mark Driscoll that is related and worth a read – How Can I Sell a Godly Message Without Selling Out?

      [HT Wes Woodell]

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