I have been thinking a great deal about the toll that witnessing for Christ has taken upon Believers throughout the ages. For many years I have written about and taught on witnessing techniques to help Christians win those lost in the cults. But in studying out the Greek word most commonly translated into witness I recently came to a whole new perspective on what it actually means to be a witness.
If one was to survey evangelicals most would define witnessing as telling someone about and/or winning them to the Lord. Most Bible-believers would correlate Matthew 28:19-20 (the passage which is often referred to as the Great Commission) with this. And most assuredly this is a valid aspect of being a witness. However, to accurately define what a witness is according to Scripture well need to go deeper.
Though most evangelicals would give a hardy amen to anyone exhorting them to be a witness for Jesus, when it comes to actually carrying out this activity themselves there is a large disparity in numbers between the sayers and the doers. We all agree it should be done but then attempt to excuse away why its not our ministry.
Not only are Christians at odds as to what it means to be a witness but we are also in conflict about what to convey when we do seize the opportunity to witness to others! There indeed exists an ever widening chasm that separates Christians (evangelicals included) on what actually constitutes salvation. Some would say just believe while a markedly smaller number would respond repent and believe. (Jesus taught the latter.) These disagreements of doctrine and practice should come as no surprise when one considers many of the accepted popular trends in the Church today. More on this at a later time.
What is a witness?
The biblical definition of the word witness may surprise you. You wont hear any of the preachers from what is today commonly referred to as the feel good church movement mention it. But you need to understand what God is asking of every one of us who name the name of Christ.
- We are all obligated to be witnesses for Jesus Christ.
- We need to be missionary minded wherever we are.
- Witnesses focus on the meaning of Christs life, His death, His resurrection, His saving power and on the promise of the Holy Spirit.
- Our witness to others should avoid being ultra condemnatory but should bring conviction of sin, righteousness and judgment and be aimed at seeing people brought to authentic saving faith and repentance.
- Christian witnessing must be escorted by a holy lifestyle.
- Our witnessing must be completely controlled and dependant on the leading and power of the Holy Spirit.
- And lastly, we must be aware that being a witness for Jesus Christ may be accompanied by a price.
Now lets examine the word witness
The word witness in English comes from the Greek word martureo. It appears 64 times in the King James Version of the New Testament and is defined:
Witnesses appears 24 times in the King James, comes from the Greek word martus and is defined:
Did you catch that last part? To be a witness is to be a willing martyr for Jesus Christ! This is the depth our witness must take on to be worthy of the biblical definition. Witness is what we are to do and witnesses is what we are to become regardless of the outcome. It is certainly not that we must die to be a faithful witness, only that we are completely willing if need be.
To explain how totally intertwined being a witness and a martyr are consider that five times in the book of Revelation the word martus appears in the Greek. Three times it is translated witness (1:5, , 11:3). However, in Revelation 2:13 and 17:6 this same word martus is translated martyr implicating the death of His Saints for the name and cause of Jesus.
When one considers the correlation of witnessing for Jesus Christ and losing your life for doing so it is no wonder that martus translates to both witness and martyr. Here is a short list of early Christians, including some of the Twelve, who died martyrs deaths because of their faithful witness for Him.
Peter crucified upside down
John the Baptist beheaded
James, the brother of John killed by sword
Matthew killed with a halberd (ax)
John died of old age but was
Most of us will probably never
experience intense persecution let alone martyrdom because of our faith yet martyrdom is
anything but extinct. Estimates are that more people died for the cause of Christ in the
last century then in the preceding nineteen centuries combined. One reliable estimate
indicates that currently a minimum of one thousand Christians lose their lives in
martyrdom each day. Some estimates are considerably higher. However, without a
powerful spiritual awakening it is clear that should persecution break out in
Most American Christians simply cannot relate to the test of martyrdom. We dont want to believe that our prosperity and safety could come to an end. We seem to be of the opinion that God would never require us to give our lives for Him by boldly witnessing that He alone is Lord of all. We perversely believe that we are somehow special. No, the word anemic actually fits far too many western Christians today. Imagine telling the freshly martyred saints who today died for their faith somewhere in the world that if they would have just gone through the 40 Days of Purpose they could have avoided such a death. Will the amoral, here-and-now, do-anything-to-attract-a-crowd pragmatism of the modern church growth gurus somehow spare the martyrs spoken of in the book of Revelation? Will all of our great success in finding earthly purpose or building worldly kingdoms induce a Holy rewrite of history eliminating the need for future judgments? I think not. Instead, the response of the martyrs to all such ideas might be that our foolish pride and unscriptural ideas have convoluted our thinking and our faith. The martyrs ability to first be a witness and then to be able stand for the Lord in the face of death comes only from the power of His Spirit and the strength of His Word. They read their Bibles and had faith firmly grounded in God. They were found unshakable and were thus spared the worst fate eternally.
And they (Saints) overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their
testimony; and they loved not their lives unto the death.
Comforted to Silence
Dont misunderstand me. I am a
generally positive, joyful person who is enjoying life and is grateful for the peace and
freedom that living in
Because of the current preoccupation with self in todays Church most Christians dont engage in witnessing because it takes them outside their comfort zone. Though few would admit it, witnessing is just plain too uncomfortable and inconvenient. Shouldnt those who operate their lives in this manner be concerned with the reality that someday they will each stand before God knowing they have traded away the blessing and privilege of proclaiming His truth in hopes of acquiring acceptance among men instead?
I suspect the reason we often fail when it comes to witnessing is because (1) we havent really considered or have simply taken for granted the complete sacrifice Jesus Christ made for us and (2) we want all of the benefits of salvation but without the cost of crucifying the flesh. Truly without an abiding awe and respect for what He endured on the Cross and the determination to deny sin a place in us wed never be able to stare down death for His names sake.
Amazingly, Christians who do make the effort to witness are often subtly pressured by other Christians who dont share their faith because the one who witnesses makes the slackers around he or she feel uncomfortable! The truth is that if we really care about the eternity of others well be constantly talking the talk and walking the walk of Christianity in hopes that they might be saved too.
Dear friend, I know these have been strong words, perhaps even harsh to many ears. To unmistakably equate martyrdom with witnessing certainly does not resemble the way most modern Christians define the terms. Nevertheless, I pray that those who are genuine in their desire to serve and glorify the Lord will take this as instruction and not rebuke. We should each regularly examine our faith and this study certainly made me probe, inspect and yes, repent of what has previously been a fairly shallow view of what witnessing is and what it may cost.
As I close I pray that it is certain that our witness needs to be more than a bumper ornament or a Scripture printed on our checks. Our witness needs to be more than just occasional as well. It must be a lifestyle of word and deed that together presents Christ to a lost and confused world. I encourage you, lets be about our Fathers business and together work for as Jesus warned the night cometh, when no man can work. (John 9:4)
© 2005, Eric Barger
For more on witnessing to the Cults
please see Jesus Paid the Cost...So We Could Reach the
Lost! - How to win the Cults for Christ (by Ed Decker & Eric Barger)
Also, Breaking the Seductions of Satan (Winning the Cults for Christ) seminar video presentation by Eric Barger
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