I was attending a dinner for college students and their parents on the night before these students would be leaving for a two-week mission trip to Russia. It was a time for parents to meet each other, to receive last-minute instructions and to pray.

The college students then began giving their personal witness as to why they would go on such a mission trip. Each one was inspiring. One especially captured my attention as this handsome young man said, “I just finished reading Dawson Trotman’s biography. One day someone asked him: ‘What’s on your mind?’ He replied, ‘The world.'”

This young man said, “I want the world to be on my mind. I want to make the kind of witness that can help people live most effectively in this world and live eternally in the kingdom God has prepared.”

These young college students had the vision to make a positive witness to our world. They caused me to ask some questions about how that witness can be made locally and globally.

The last command of Jesus was to go into the world and make disciples. The last command of Jesus ought to be the first concern of the church today.

The world has changed drastically during the past 2,000 years. The witness is still the same. While we live in a changing world, an unchanging element is the witness that is made.

The methodology of the witness changes, but the message and mission of the witness never changes.

A good insight comes from Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth in 1 Corinthians 2:1-5. It was a first century witness that is valid for the 21st century world.

Our Witness Requires Proper Perspective
First, look at the perspective. Paul said, “I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, but I came proclaiming my testimony of God” (v. 1). Paul’s witness was not made in a manner that used difficult words or a hard-to-understand theological position or a display of knowledge. It was not a witness that was made down to people. The best witness is made when we communicate with people on their level.

Look at the witness of Jesus. He didn’t use big words. When He taught, He used parables. He used object lessons. He spoke so simply even children could understand Him, yet what He said was so profound the greatest mind couldn’t totally comprehend it. Jesus spoke simply.

In Acts 4:13, Peter and John had healed a man. The people couldn’t understand how people such as them could do that. They were described as being uneducated and untrained, yet they were demonstrating the power of God. The best witness isn’t based on being extremely articulate or utilizing superior words but is one that communicates, “Let me share my testimony of God with you.”

My father was the greatest preacher I ever heard. He preached until he was 94 years old. One of the greatest compliments I’ve heard was from a gentleman who recently said, “John Ed, your daddy is the best preacher I ever heard. He knows how to put the hay down where the horses can get it.”

I read recently about a commercial for a soap with which most of us are familiar. The first draft of that commercial came from a rookie. The first draft read: “The alkaline element and fats in this product is blended in such a way as to secure the highest quality of saponification along with a specific gravity that keeps it on top of the water, relieving the bather of any trouble and annoyance around it so you don’t have to fish around for it at the bottom of the tub.” An experienced ad person reduced all of that to two words: “It Floats.” Simplicity communicates.

Paul’s most effective witness as recorded in the Book of Acts is when he simply shared his Damascus Road experience. That communicated. It happened to him. He told it in a simple manner.

One of his most challenging times to witness came at Mars Hill. Because everybody there enjoyed an intellectual debate, Paul initially started to debate with them. Using that strict academic approach was not nearly as effective as his personal witness. Read Acts 22 and Acts 17 and see the difference.

The presentation of my witness in simple terms is the unanswerable argument. People can argue with theology and philosophy, but they cannot argue with a person who shares what that person has experienced.

I read once about the free thinker of England, Charles Bradlaugh. One day, he went to the papers in London and challenged a minister to debate him publicly. The young minister he selected was Hugh Price Hughes. The debate centered on the existence of God.

Hugh Price Hughes was investing his life in the poor people of London. He had gone to those who were alcoholics, who didn’t have a place in society. He started homes for women who had been abused. His ministry was to those who were down and out. Because Charles Bradlaugh challenged Hughes publicly, he had to respond.

He did not feel competent to debate Bradlaugh in the conventional debate. After praying about it, Hughes accepted the invitation to debate the existence of God. Because Bradlaugh was a lawyer, Hughes said that in a court of law you are always allowed to bring witnesses. He agreed to debate Bradlaugh if he could bring 100 witnesses of people who, because of the existence of God, their lives had been changed. Bradlaugh would be challenged to bring 100 witnesses of folks who lives had been changed because there was no God.

Of course, Charles Bradlaugh said he couldn’t debate on those terms. The debate ended before it started. The unanswerable argument of a first century witness to a 21st century world is the simple presentation of what God has done in the life of a person.

Our Witness Focuses on a Person
The second ingredient is the Person and is found in verse 2. Paul said, “I have determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.”
This is the message the Christian faith has to offer. Jesus said in John 12:32, “If I am lifted up, I will draw all people unto Me.” In John 14:6, Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”

A 21st century world is open to a lot of alternatives that can be offered. There is much discussion today about different alternatives. The first century witness was to lift up Jesus Christ. Paul’s focus was on Jesus.

The Methodists were the last major denomination to come to American soil. The Methodists were many years later than the Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Anabaptists, etc. When John Wesley sent the first witnesses to America, he commissioned them with these words, “Offer them Christ.” The early Methodists came with a passion to offer them Christ.

While the Methodists were late in coming to America, by the mid 1800s the Methodists had become the largest denomination. At one time, it was said one of every four church members in America was Methodist. I believe the important ingredient to that was the priority of offering them Christ.

When I was in seminary at Candler School of Theology, we had the privilege of having Dr. E. Stanley Jones preach in chapel one day. I think he was one of the greatest missionary communicators of our generation. While he was preaching in chapel, he reached under the pulpit, took out a scroll and opened it. It was about four feet high. He held it up and said, “What do you people see?”

You could see very clearly the picture of Jesus standing with arms outstretched. He said, “What do you see?” People answered, “Jesus Christ.” He said, “There is no picture of Jesus Christ on this scroll.” He said, “This is the New Testament.” He then explained that a lady in India had taken time to write out the whole New Testament on this scroll. She darkened some letters and lightened some others so that from your position in the pew you didn’t see the words of the New Testament, but you saw the Person of Jesus.

This great missionary looked out at a group of future preachers and said, “When you present this book and its message, people must not simply see words and ideas, but the Person of Jesus Christ.”

The first century witness was not a program, but a Person. Paul said, “I know Christ and Him crucified.”

Our Witness Depends on Our Posture
Verse 3 is the third aspect of that first century witness. It is the posture of our witness. Now this is critical. Our witness is not made from a posture of authority or arrogance but from a posture of humility and weakness. Paul said in verse 3, “I was with you in weakness and fear and much trembling.”

Proverbs 1:7 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” If we come to folks simply from a posture of being authoritative or arrogant—if we try to beat people over the head with the Bible—all we do is drive them away. God has given us the rare privilege of handling holy things. We do that with fear, trembling and much humility. Jesus never approached people from a posture of overpowering them; His posture was love, humility and service.

I can learn from the comic strip “Peanuts.” One day Lucy said to Linus, “You know I am quite an evangelist. I ought to get the Evangelist of the Year Award.”
Linus said, “Why is that?”

She said, “Because I converted the boy who sits in front of me in school from his religion to my religion.”

Linus looked at her and said, “Well, how in the world did you do that?”

She said, “Oh, it was easy. I just hit him over the head with my lunch box until he said he believed like I believed.”

Sadly enough some folks approach witnessing that way: “I want you to believe as I believe, and I am going to overpower you religiously, politically, socially or whatever it takes.” Paul said, “I came in weakness, fear and trembling.”

People today respond most to a witness of word and lifestyle that are consistent. People listen to someone who not only talks the talk but walks the walk. I read about Robert Fulghum, who was attending a course on the Isle of Crete. It was a course concerning the culture of Italy. A renowned professor by the name of Alexander Papaderos was teaching. Many scholars were part of that course.

One day after class, the professor looked at the participants and said, “Does anyone have a question?” Nobody asked a question. Finally someone raised a hand and said, “It pertains somewhat to what you have said, but what would you say is the meaning of life?”

This brilliant scholar, rather than giving some great philosophical answer, said the meaning of life is in sharing God’s love with other people. Then he reached in his billfold and took out a little piece of glass and held it up to the sunlight. The glass reflected the light.

Dr. Papaderos said that when he was a boy, a German motorcyclist was in a wreck, and this was the mirror from his motorcycle. He took it and rounded off the edges and kept it with him as a reminder of a very basic principle the meaning of life. This mirror cannot generate light. This mirror cannot generate anything. All it can do is reflect it and send it to other people. He then said, “The meaning of life is experienced when my life can reflect God’s love into the lives of other people.”

This is how we relate a positive witness to today’s world. We don’t originate the message. We don’t initiate the message. We don’t improve on the message. What we do is reflect the witness into the lives of other people. The apostle Paul’s life was a reflection of that witness.

Our Witness Demonstrates Power
The fourth aspect of that witness is the power as found in verse 4 when Paul said, “My message and my preaching were not persuasive words of wisdom but in demonstration of the spirit and of power (v. 4).

Too often in witnessing, we think the essence of the witness is in our creativity, ability or grasp of the theological and biblical understanding of witness. Ultimately, the effectiveness is in the demonstration of the power of the Holy Spirit.

When a few frustrated, frightened fellows were listening to Jesus just before the ascension, He told them in Acts 1:8, “You shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you and you shall be My witnesses.” A few verses later in the Book of Acts, those people received that power, which transformed them into a fearless fellowship. The church was born. The purpose of that power to those people was to be witnesses.

I believe in training sessions for evangelism, and we need to stay up on the latest trends in methodology and ministries for witness; but ultimately it is the power of the Holy Spirit that enables us to be effective witnesses.

One Sunday evening, we had about 400 children preparing for a special musical presentation. The electrical power went off. The teachers were trying to keep all the children calm. One little fellow came up to me and grabbed my hand and said, “John Ed, please pray for God to put the power on in our church. We need the power on, or we can’t do the program.”

Our Witness Has a Purpose
The last aspect of this first century witness is purpose which is found in verse 5. It is the purpose for making a witness. Paul said, “Your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.”

We live in a world that seems infatuated with human wisdom. As Christians and ministers, we often get caught up in trying to satisfy the wishes and desires of people. It is easy to fall in the trap of becoming people pleasers.

The purpose for making an effective witness is that people rely on the power of God, not the wisdom of men.

Paul wrote to his young friend Timothy, “Holding to a form of godliness although they have denied its power and avoid such men as these” (2 Timothy 3:5). The danger about a Christian witness is that it can be cleverly disguised, and many people accept it as a form of godliness. Form does not have power. The witness of the early church had power.

John Wesley often was quoted as saying, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should even cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power.”

When Paul wrote to the church at Philippi, he said, “That I may know Jesus and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10).

I believe the effectiveness of the church in the 21st century will be based on the ability of the church to make the kind of witness to our world that leads people to put their trust in the power of God and not in human wisdom. Every member is a witness. A church does not have an evangelism committee; every member of the church is a member of the evangelism committee as each person makes a positive witness. The DNA of effective 21st century churches reveals the practice that every member is a witness.

As I served a church that was growing rapidly for many years, people asked, “What’s the secret of the growth of the church?” There was not any secret. It was simply “People bring people to Christ and the church.” The church grows not because of advertising, location, pastoral leadership or exceptional staff. It grows because people make a first century witness to 21st century people. People bring people.

A first century witness for a 21st century world is one that comes from a perspective—not from superiority of speech or wisdom—but the personal testimony of the experience with God; from a presentation of a Person, of knowing nothing except Jesus Christ and Him crucified; from a posture of humility that exhibits itself in witness and fear and in much trembling—in a power that is not based on persuasive words of wisdom, but a demonstration of the Holy Spirit; and for the purpose that people will not place their faith in human wisdom but in the power of God.

I believe a first century witness for a 21st century world is our guide for the church of tomorrow. 

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