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The Fears and Joys of Witnessing

Building a rapport with a person we are talking to will help us faithfully witness the hope of the gospel.
By MARTIN WEBSTER
Read Time: 10 minutes

The book of Esther is not one you would expect to find in the Bible. In its ten chapters, there is no mention of God and nothing about praise or worship. It is all about a young Jewish girl who won a beauty contest and was exalted to become the wife of the “all-powerful” king of the Persian Empire. She would enjoy a charmed life of prestige and opulence.

Having been strongly cautioned not to reveal her true identity, the situation that developed was potentially catastrophic! All Jews in the empire were under the threat of death! Esther, being queen, was in a position to help, but the stakes were high!

The “crisis” of the story is when Esther risked her position and her life, yes, everything to go to the King, uninvited, and appeal to him to spare her people. She was the one person able to be a “witness” for her people and save them from annihilation. The consequence of the king not accepting an uninvited person was death! 

The record tells us that before going to see the king, she asked all the Jews in Susa to fast for three days, including herself and her maids, in this request. There is no indication that they prayed, but fasting and prayer typically go together. Probably every Jew in Susa would be praying for the King to accept Esther. 

Was there fear in Esther’s heart when she waited for the king to hold out the scepter? It is hard to imagine there was not. Everything depended on this one young woman in that one moment! Then, when she was accepted, she needed wisdom to fulfill her task.

None of us today are required to be witnesses to our faith as Esther was, but we may feel that the challenge we do have, although not life-threatening, is too great. 

It is crucial to appreciate that Esther’s story is about the LORD God Himself, silently working behind the scenes, a principle that applies to us today as members of our ecclesias and as living witnesses to the Hope of Israel. 

Times Change!

The 21st century is quite different from the 19th century when our community was established and grew rapidly. That growth came not from members’ families but from the few members witnessing the faith they had recently found. Today, there is little interest in the Bible, so conversations about the Bible with those we meet are more complex. So, how do we initiate a conversation? Current events are a good start, but what do we say? 

Alternatively, what do we say to another Bible believer, for instance, a Jehovah’s Witness or a Mormon who comes to the door? Do we say we are uninterested or let them leave because we feel inadequate in “defending” our understanding of first principles? If it is not a convenient time when such a call occurs, set a date to meet. Then prepare!

Yes, perhaps that‘s the challenge! We do not feel we are prepared. We are not so well grounded in first principles and feel unable to “defend” our understanding of them. We are probably comfortable with the covenants to Abraham and David, but what about the devil, or the Deity of Christ, or his death as a representative and not a substitute? 

In a conversation about Biblical topics, it is helpful to appreciate that relationships are important. Building a rapport with a person we are talking to will help us faithfully witness the hope of the gospel. Also, it is often better to ask questions than make statements. For example, in a recent discussion I had about the devil with a Jehovah’s Witness, he went to Job 1:6.

“Now there was a day when the sons of God came,” the comment being that this was a “meeting” in heaven. “That’s interesting,” I said, then quietly asked, “Is there day and night in heaven?” Suddenly, the conversation stopped! “I hadn’t thought of that,” he said. Then the following question: “So if there is no day and night in heaven, what is that part of the story telling us?” There was no clear answer. Discussions with this Jehovah’s Witness continue with more questions to be asked in this endeavor to witness to the truth of the gospel. 

After many experiences of preaching over the years, I have learned something important: none of us has all the answers, and humility in our discussions with others is essential. And it may surprise you that we may even learn something! This approach will certainly help us to reduce our “fear” of being a faithful witness to what we live for.

Fear Versus Love

Why do we feel fearful and timid, thinking we cannot find the “right” words? But it might be simpler than that. Sometimes, a six or ten-word comment will stimulate interest in another person. And although that interest does not develop immediately, it is remembered, and years later, a harvest from the seed sown bears fruit. Moreover, we may not even realize we have spoken the right words. 

Our love for the faith we hold can be a strong motivation for witnessing in a different but highly effective way; it is in our deportment. How do you behave with others at work or school? How do you respond to their off-color humor, swearing, etc.? Appropriate discretion and wisdom are what Paul called a “good advertisement for the Christian faith.” (Titus 2:5 J. B. Philips). 

There have been times when brothers and sisters in school or at work have been observed doing the right thing. A colleague says, “There is something different about you.” “Your language is different, and your comments about things are thoughtful.” What is our response to such a comment?

This situation is an excellent opportunity to explain the reason for this “difference,” that our hope of the gospel is the foundation of what we are. But there may be something more profound. The apostle Paul talks about “the gospel of peace,” and if there is a sense of peace with God in our heart, then that peace is perhaps what shows and prompts the question.

This “peace” is something we should seek because having it will be reflected in our relationship with others. When such inquiries are made, we can confidently convey our clear sense of knowing how things will work out in the world and that there is an answer to the growing unrest among nations and societies. When that happens, somebody has indeed seen a “good advertisement for the Christian Faith.” Are you a single brother or sister? Consider this: your deportment could be the thing that attracts your “perfect” spouse. That kind of witnessing is indeed a joy!

There may be times when others ask us how Christadelphians are different from other churches. Instead of saying, “We don’t believe in going to heaven,” or “We don’t believe in the Trinity,” perhaps a better response is: “We don’t have a “head office,” and each congregation is at liberty to run their services based on a common set of beliefs that we all agree with. We don’t have a paid ministry, so all talks at services are given voluntarily. We have a reading plan that enables us to read the entire Bible in one year.” We believe Christ will return to the earth to set up a Kingdom. The earth will be cleansed, and wars will cease. This kind of answer is much more inviting than “We don’t” and may result in more questions. 

The power of love can conquer so much.

Can we embrace Paul’s comment to Timothy? “For God has not given us a spirit of fear and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline.” (2 Timothy 1:7 NLT). The power of love can conquer so much. Can caring for those we meet who are unrelated to the covenants of promise stimulate us to say, “a word in season”? Like Paul, we have all been “entrusted with the gospel” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 NKJV), and that means we must use it! 

Only One Talent? 

However, it is all too easy to feel that we do not have a” talent” for preaching. We do not know why the “one-talent” man put his talent in the ground. Perhaps he was timid, or he could not conquer his inability to use that talent profitably. Is this how we feel? Some of us are naturally bold and find it quite easy to speak about the gospel. Some of us are shy and retiring, finding it very difficult. But what is “a word in season?”

What will give us the strength and wisdom to say the right word at the right moment? Never forget that preaching starts on our knees and not on our feet or with our tongues! Although we may not experience what the apostles experienced when Jesus declared: “It shall be given you in that same hour what ye shall speak” (Matthew 10:19), there is a measure of that truth in the lives of believers today.

We could never imagine the Apostle Paul finding it hard to preach, but did he? He asked the Ephesians to:

Pray for me also, that I may be given the right words when I begin to speak—that I may confidently make known the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may be able to speak boldly as I ought to speak. (Ephesians 6:19–20 NET). 

Is this request because there were times when he felt unable to be a witness for Christ?

In a dramatically different situation from Esther’s going before Ahasuerus, Paul was to stand before Nero to be a witness for his hope in a King—one that the emperor would typically see as a challenge to his own deity and authority. Was Paul nervous? Was there a feeling of timidity in his heart? When he stood before Nero, he risked everything!

That “everything” was not just for himself; it was for the entire body of believers! We do not know what Paul said at that first appearance, but it was successful. His desire was granted, and he was given his liberty for some time. He continued proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom of God to all who would listen. However, on the second occasion before Nero, the result was different. He was condemned and joined the “great cloud of witnesses,” dying in faith, with his eyes “fixed on Jesus the pioneer and perfector of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2 NET).

Do not be discouraged that sometimes you missed an opportunity to speak “a word in season” or think you spoiled such an opportunity, being rebuffed or laughed at. We will often meet people who will never change, regardless of what we say, but occasionally, we run into someone eager to listen and learn. That person will hear the gospel of salvation through the voice the LORD gives us at that moment. We should never forget that preaching starts on our knees! As a saint with immortality given the task of preaching to the world, will you be as timid then as you are today?

Have you ever wondered about Mary Magdalene? In New Testament times, the testimony of women was counted for nothing. Women were never involved in any judicial procedure; they were simply considered unreliable. But Mary was the first to take the news of the resurrected Lord to her friends, the disciples. What did they do when she told them? They treated the news as an “idle tale.” But what prompted Mary to bring such news to the disciples, regardless of what their reaction might be? It was her joy. Yes, ecstatic joy! That joy would have overcome any concern she may have had about being laughed at because she was a woman! There is a lesson here for us!

“Here Am I. Send Somebody Else!”

Then there is Moses. When he thought he was ready to lead the Israelites out of Egypt, God said, “No.” When God considered him ready, Moses said, “No.” He asked that God send somebody else! Moses was afraid of facing Pharaoh! However, with God’s help, he conquered that fear and was a powerful witness to the God of Israel. How many Egyptians left their country in the exodus because Moses was such a mighty witness to the God of Abraham? We don’t know, but perhaps some of them were faithful all the way to the Promised Land. 

It is easy to leave outreach to the “preaching committee,” but this is not a substitute for personal witnessing. Being a witness is like reading the Bible. It is all about being observant. Look for opportunities to speak, and have in mind the kind of comment that can be wisely made if someone mentions social unrest or wars in the news. Do you feel you will not have the right words? Then, in a quiet moment, imagine the conversation and write down something you could say. Have the comment in mind because it will help at the time. 

On Saturday, May 5, 1951, in the South London (England) ecclesia, a man with no previous strong Christian convictions was baptized, and almost immediately, he felt the need to spread the good news to others. He started (at his own expense) to put small advertisements in the “personal columns” of newspapers in several African countries.

The advertisements were brief, inviting readers to take a Bible correspondence course. He received many replies and brought in other brothers and sisters to handle the increasing volume of correspondence. In due course, baptism requests were made, and visits were made to those countries. Then, the word spread to East Asia, Russia, etc. As a result of one man’s dedication, hundreds have heard the Faith, who then, in turn, preached the Faith to their family and friends. 

Think of all those “foreign” countries where the Truth is flourishing. How many have become saints through the desire of one person to be a witness of the faith they had in their heart? 

Then there is Sis. Mabel Briggs. In retirement, she advertised a Bible correspondence course in the Farmer’s Almanac. Responses came from dozens of people across Canada, and she answered them all. Some correspondents completed the course but were content with their own church, so there was no further contact. Where possible, plans were made to visit some of these correspondents. Out of it all came one baptism, then two, then four.

But what about those who had the full gospel presented to them but indicated they were content with their church? We do not know the long-term effect that correspondence course had on those people. Perhaps the fruit of that work will only be seen when the Lord returns.

For all of us Christadelphians, witnessing is being a “light to the world” and “a city set on a hill” (Matthew 5:14), and we are expected to “occupy until I come.” 

Witnessing to our hope may be as simple as wearing a cap, which is the idea of a Canadian brother. He had some made, as illustrated, and yes, people do notice and comment!

And on the back: 

We all report to the same Master, but there will be only one performance evaluation for all of us at the same time! We are laborers in the Lord’s harvest. Let’s go out carrying the seed of the gospel, spreading it everywhere we go.

Martin Webster,
Kitchener-Waterloo Ecclesia, ON

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