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Letters to a New Believer

D Newell, Glasgow

SOME THOUGHTS ON WITNESS

Although my year of letters has come to a close I see no reason why I should not continue writing on an occasional basis. The process is, I have little doubt, more useful to me than it is to you; for a start, it keeps me out of mischief! But I trust that reading a few scattered thoughts now and then will not be entirely unprofitable.

Hearing what you had to say over the phone the other night about speaking to your workmates for the Saviour set me thinking about witness in general. I am so glad you have a concern for those with whom you have contact. This in itself is a token of God’s work in our lives. We are by nature thoroughly selfish people – but when the love of God touches our hearts it kindles a burning desire that others might also be brought into blessing. You mentioned giving your colleagues some suitable literature – an excellent idea. I would strongly urge that you make it a point always to read first what you pass on to others. It is, I think, best to use books and leaflets which we know to be Biblically reliable and which have been a real help to us.

A few years ago an American Bible teacher named (improbably) Warren Wiersbe wrote some very readable popular commentaries called the "Be" series because each title began with that word. Thus his exposition of Romans was called Be Right, Galatians Be Free, Ephesians Be Rich, and so on. Taking a leaf from his book, here are five guidelines on witness each beginning with "Be".

First, be accurate. That is to say, we must have a real understanding of the good news we seek to pass on so that we get it absolutely right. There seems to be an odd idea going about that gospel preaching is a trivial responsibility which can be entrusted to the young and inexperienced, whereas the ministry of the Word is reserved for the mature. This is a misapprehension. Nothing can be more serious than to present Christ to the unsaved, and the task asks of us the very best we can give. The gospel of God is not some simple three-point message like a recipe which can be communicated without exertion. Glib formulae like "God loves you; Christ died for you" are misleading. One only has to read the book of the Acts (the historical record of New Testament preaching) and Romans (the great exposition of the good news) to see how shallow and superficial such ideas are. Now I am not trying to discourage you from evangelising; far from it. The early believers (and in context these people were significantly not the apostles) went everywhere preaching the word (Acts 8.4), and so should we, as the Lord gives us opportunity. But let us make sure we are communicating God’s news accurately, neither adding nor diminishing. It is, after all, His Word.

Second, be honest. In their anxiety to win souls some people tend to soft-pedal the tougher aspects of the gospel, promoting a seeker-friendly message which downplays the awfulness of sin, the reality of hell, the necessity of repentance, and the costliness of the Christian life. But no one will truly be won by disinformation. Naomi made sure that Ruth knew what she was letting herself in for if she followed her mother-in-law back to Israel (Ruth 1.10-18). Yet, far from deterring Ruth, her candid words actually provoked a statement of resolute determination. Salvation promises all the blessings of eternal life but it equally promises persecution in this world (note the "when" in Mt 13.21). The honest messenger will faithfully tell the truth.

Third, be kind. You mentioned to me that you were giving out some Positively Pooh booklets to your contacts, and although I confess I had to laugh (as A A Milne is not quite in the same league as John Blanchard or George Cutting) I can see what you are doing – showing common human interest and kindness. And that is lovely. Keep at it. My mother was wonderful at getting neighbours to come to gospel meetings – and this she did by being thoughtful, conversable, friendly, and practically helpful at every opportunity (Gal 6.10).

Fourth, be patient. Do not expect immediate results. Rarely is anyone saved on hearing the gospel for the first time. There is usually a history of God’s dealings with his soul going back over many years. The Lord Jesus likened the preaching of the word to sowing seed – picture language which is taken up in the rest of the New Testament to describe the different but complementary responsibilities of God’s servants. As Paul puts it: "I have planted, Apollos watered; but God gave the increase. So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase. Now he that planteth and he that watereth are one: and every man shall receive his own reward according to his own labour" (1 Cor 3.6-8; see too Jn 4.37-38). All this implies the passing of time. If you do not see an instant response to your efforts do not lose heart – just keep on sowing the good seed and pray, remembering Psalm 126.6 and Jonah 2.9. In the final analysis, our business is not to save (we cannot anyway) but to be faithful.

Finally, be yourself. In the quest for some short cut to successful evangelism, it is all too easy to copy unthinkingly the methods of others. Young preachers can fall into the same trap, parroting their platform heroes. I well recall (with rising colour) a salutary experience in my late teens. A series of meetings had been held in St Albans designed to encourage saints in personal evangelism. I attended, gripped by the rhetorical prowess of a rather emotional speaker. Among the many tales he told us was one about an American gentleman who used to approach people in the street and ask to be directed to heaven. When (as was usually the case) his polite enquiry was met with stunned silence or a confession of ignorance, he would then produce a huge Bible, open it at various gospel verses and say, "Well, will you allow me to direct you?" Apparently he had in this way led many to the Lord. As an impressionable teenager I was held spellbound by the prospect of seeing folk saved by my words. One evening a few days later I therefore ventured forth zealously along the city centre’s main street and accosted a young man standing at a bus-stop. "Excuse me," quoth I, "but can you direct me to heaven?" Without a moment’s hesitation he replied, "Yes. Just cross the road and wait for a 330 bus. They come every 30 minutes". I was totally dumbfounded. Surely no one could be so calmly self-possessed? Eventually, feeling he must have misheard me, I stammered out the question again. "Heaven", I said, pointing vaguely upwards so as to remove all possible doubt, "heaven". It was his turn to be surprised. "Oh, I thought you said Hemel". Hemel Hempstead is a town a few miles outside St Albans. A look of anxiety passed over his face, such as one might display when encountering an escaped lunatic, and he slowly backed away. "No, I can’t direct you to heaven". By this time I was utterly demoralised and wanted only to escape so, thrusting a tract into his hands, I croaked, "Read that", and fled into the night.

There is a lesson in all this. In our service for God it is best to be what He has made us to be. Some saints are extrovert, fluent, at ease in all situations, blessed with a ready wit; others are shy, diffident and often at a loss for words. Yet the Lord made the one as much as the other. What we should do is surrender ourselves to Him that He may use us as He pleases. Peter was a rugged, impetuous fisherman, Paul a respected intellectual, but God had a role for both because He had uniquely equipped them for their particular spheres of labour. May He continue to help you as you live for Him at home and in the workplace.

Affectionately as ever in Christ Jesus.

David

To be continued.

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