The following message was preached from Acts 1:1-8 and 1 Peter 3:15 on January 31, 2010 at the Central Schwenkfelder Church in Worcester, PA
They say that there are two things you must never talk about with strangers or in mixed company. They are religion and politics. Why is that? They contain the most interest and the most passion for many of us. Is it because they tend to be controversial in nature? Or is it because we don’t know how to express ourselves concerning them?
We are finally to our last installment on the present series which I’ve entitled: “Living a Life of Purpose.” There are five purposes that everyone has. They are to love God, to be a part of his family, to become like him, to serve him and to tell others about Him. We now focus on the last of those five purposes: our mission, which involves introducing people to God.
Mission is found in the idea of “sending.” Every Christian is sent into the world as a representative of the Lord Jesus Christ. This really is a very important but often overlooked or avoided role in our lives. Rick Warren states: “You are the only Christian some people will ever know, and your mission is to share Jesus with them.”
What I’d like to do today is inform and disarm. I’d like to give you some important information in order to equip you for being a witness for Jesus, as well as disarm some of your fears and apprehensions of talking with others about your faith. First of all…
I. JESUS WANTS US TO BEAR WITNESS OF HIS WORK IN OUR LIVES.
Acts 1:6 Therefore, when they had come together, they asked Him, saying, “Lord, will You at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” 7 And He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons which the Father has put in His own authority. 8 “But you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be witnesses to Me in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” This verse reminds us of our mission in this world. Your ministry is your service to believers and your mission is your service to unbelievers.
Sometimes there is an unhealthy infatuation with the end times. This usually plays out with date setting and estimation of when the world will end. Although the second coming of Christ is a legitimate topic for theological exploration, we must leave the “times and dates” up to the Father, as Jesus says here. And yet, we should live as though it was soon, right around the corner. But verse eight really gives us the plan of business that should occupy us until that time. It is divided up into a few things that are noteworthy.
For one, the Holy Spirit empowers us for our mission. Jesus gave this instruction to the early disciples, shortly before His ascension. He was leaving them, yet they would not be alone. He promised the Holy Spirit as a physical replacement of His ministry. At the time, the disciples were concerned with the end times and the consummation of the age. One of the things thought to be promised with the coming of the Messiah was a political redoing. When was Jesus to return to show these harsh Romans who’s really in charge!
Secondly, we are Jesus’ witnesses. Every one of us who has named Him Lord and Savior, we are His witnesses. The Greek word can also denote “martyr.” The idea is someone in court, speaking of what has happened to them. When you think about it, this bit of instruction is very similar to the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20, instructing the early disciples to “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Both of these commissions were made to the apostles, so both have unique apostolic application. They laid the foundation. And yet the mission Jesus spoke of carries on. So there is a secondary application for you and me. We are their successors. The Holy Spirit carries us, assists us in it! We are Christ’s witnesses in the present age! Christian witness is not just going over a gospel tract with a person. It can also mean sharing meaningful things from your own faith.
Witnessing for Christ is really the greatest thing that we can do for someone. Rick Warren states: “We have the greatest news in the world and sharing it is the greatest kindness you can show anyone.”
On a fairly regular basis, we need to ask: “God, who have you put in my life to tell about Jesus?” But first we need to determine what we might say to that person that is genuinely interested in our Christianity. This involves your life message or testimony. Warren suggests dividing your testimony into four parts. They are the following:
- Your testimony: the story of how you began a relationship with Jesus.
- Your life lessons: the most important lessons God has taught you. Warren encourages us to write down the major life lessons you’ve learned so as to share them with others.
- Your godly passions: the issues God shaped you to care about most.
- The Good News: the message of salvation.  Do you know the four spiritual laws? There are some pamphlets on the bulletin tables for your interest. Every Christian needs to know those four things! God loves us and has a plan for our lives; sin separates us from God and keeps us from realizing that plan, Jesus came as our only sacrifice for sin. You must decide to commit your life to Him, receive Him by faith and ask His forgiveness, turning from your sin.
Jesus wants us to bear witness of His work in our lives. Secondly…
II. THERE IS ETIQUETTE TO WITNESSING.
1 Peter 3:13 tells us: “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? 14 But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. “And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.” 15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; 16 having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed.
Edwin Blum states: “One of the distinguishing marks of Christians is their possession of hope. Christian hope is so real and distinctive that non-Christians are puzzled about it and ask for a “reason.” This could take place in official governmental interrogations or informally with a neighbor. But in any case, listen to Blum’s explanation of the believer’s mindset: “Christians should respond with care. “Gentleness,” is the quality that trusts God to do the work of changing attitudes.”
Now I know that the subject of witnessing can be coupled with fear and apprehension. Some try to dismiss the obligation to tell others by stating: “We don’t want to push our religion off on others.” The last time I checked, one of the beautiful things about this country is religious freedom. We can choose which church, denomination or religion that we wish to be a part of. If you’re sharing something vitally important to your life, there is no harm in that. To blow-off this opportunity because of apprehension or self-consciousness is simply not good enough! Jesus said: “You will be My witnesses!” There’s nothing to be afraid of!
Now that I’ve addressed the fear factor, let me talk about the obnoxious factor. Peter tells us that our Christian witness ought to be done “with gentleness and respect.” This usually does not mean forcing others to listen to you, or bringing up the subject without grace. I have a relative that makes it his point to talk to everyone in the family about their faith. This can be refreshing, but also stifling. We must pray for inroads and opportunities; not force the issue. But most of us don’t have issues with forcing the subject of faith; rather we simply don’t bring it up. It is lumped in with politics as the top two subjects to avoid.
Maybe you have been a regular influence on someone and they are either tuning you out or continue to seem ambivalent to your prodding. My suggestion would be to pray. I heard a saying several years ago which struck me as pretty powerful. It goes: “When you get tired of talking to your friend about God; try talking to God about your friend.”
It behooves the church to listen to society, while avoiding the sacrifice of God’s counsel. Frost and Hirsch call the church to be: “…much more sensitive to the cultural forces, the patterns and structures and energies, of the people we were trying to reach.” The authors refer to this as interpathy- the ability to feel and experience life the way that the host community does- almost by becoming one of the members of that community. In other words, we would do unbelievers a tremendous service by putting ourselves in their shoes. What can we do as a church to appeal to their needs? What can we do to build relationships with them?
Maybe this means being sensitive to that neighbor who has just lost their son or mother to an illness or tragedy. Or what about that coworker that needs a word of encouragement or loving direction? Or maybe it means that we, as a church, use our outreach efforts to state that we are a church that honors and glorifies the Lord Jesus by providing not just a presence, but a uniquely Christian presence in our community. How can we show the public who Christ is, by deed and word!?
Today, we’ve discovered Jesus wants us to bear witness of His work in our lives. And secondly, there is etiquette to witnessing for Christ. Is witnessing just about the guy with the rainbow-colored hair showing the John 3:16 sign at televised sporting events? Or is it about the people you touch? I’m a big football fan, so forgive the following illustration. Kurt Warner, the quarterback for the Arizona Cardinals, retired on Friday. Not only was he an outstanding player, but he was a known Christian. For instance, he carried a Bible with him to every news conference. This is what he said this at his retirement speech: “It’s been an amazing ride,” Warner said. “I don’t think I could have dreamt it would have played out like it has, but I’ve been humbled every day that I woke up the last 12 years and amazed that God would choose to use me to do what he’s given me the opportunity to do.”
It also involves how other people see you. His coach said: “”He’s one of the best quarterbacks in this league,” he said, “and I think it’s well noted that he’s one of the best people I’ve been around.” Another reporter stated: “Some athletes give their life to Jesus Christ as a PR move; some are ripe with hypocrisy; some just say offensive things. Warner always expressed his faith without trivializing it or us. And his humility: “Warner has been as open as any superstar player. He signs every autograph. He has time for every interview, even the tough ones. I remember talking to him in 2003 when I was doing a story about the quarterback who replaced him…. Warner was his usual accommodating self, singing the praises of a rival who would turn out to be a fraction as good. When Warner sat (on the bench), he just waited his turn.”
Why do we make it complicated? Billy Graham once said: “I recall an old Methodist preacher who came to Harringay Arena in London in 1954. “I have come here every night for ninety-three nights,” he told us, “and I have heard only one message.” He meant it as a compliment, for he knew as I did that there is only one Christian message.” You were made for this message! You were made for this mission!
 Rick Warren, The Purpose Driven Life, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 282.
 Ibid, 283.
 E.H. Trenchard, “The Acts of the Apostles,” A New Testament Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1969), 295.
 Warren, 284.
 Ibid, 290.
 Edwin Blum, “1 Peter,” The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1981), 240.
 Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch, The Shaping of Things to Come, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2003), 63.
 Story found at http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/news/story?id=4870096.
 Seth Wickersham, “Hailing Warner’s Unique Story,” story found at http://sports.espn.go.com/nfl/columns/story?columnist=wickersham_seth&id=4869772.