The key to understanding what Christian witnessing is all about is Peter’s words in I Peter 3:15: “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.” It is the key also to understanding the relation between Christian witnessing and the antithesis.
The text does not promote “door-to-door evangelism.” Nor does it find real Christian witnessing in arbitrarily approaching people with questions concerning their salvation, or their personal relation to Christ. The text takes an entirely different approach and gives us a viewpoint to witnessing that we frequently forget.
We must always be ready for a defense of our hope when others ask us for an explanation of it. The text talks about an explanation or a defense of our hope. Ah, there we have the key to it all.
We are really talking about the antithesis. It was in an earlier article that I mentioned the fact that the antithesis is really the life of one who is a stranger in the world and, therefore, a pilgrim. Even from the viewpoint of our natural life here in God’s creation, we always prefer home. We enjoy traveling, for there is always a certain allurement about foreign countries and exotic places on the globe, and to learn how other people live is always interesting even to the most jaded of travelers. But the fact remains that, as people are wont to say, “There’s no place like home.” Indeed, the longer one stays abroad, the more desirable home seems; and the nearer he comes to the date scheduled for his return, the more eager he becomes to start homeward. That kind of eagerness is increased greatly if the citizens in the country in which the stranger lives are hostile.
So it is with the Christian pilgrim. The Bible calls that longing to go home “hope.” He hopes for the day he will be home. There is, after all, no place like home. The “hope” to be home becomes more evident in his life. He may even pack his bags three or four days early; or, at least, begin to pack them. The Christian who hopes for the day he will be home will show this hope in his life. It will be impossible to hide. Others will say to him, “You are eager to go home, aren’t you;” and he will have to admit it.
That hope that becomes evident in a Christian’s life is what is called an antithetical life. The world about him becomes increasingly drab and dull; he understands more clearly that the “pleasures” of the world are not pleasant at all and cannot make a person happy and content. The accumulation of many possessions are a drag for a pilgrim who is on a journey—at best; and they tie him down so that he cannot travel at all, should they become too dear to him. In other words, he says “No” to sin and “Yes” to God. And that is what the antithesis is all about.
But the more he lives out of hope, the more odd he becomes. To those with whom he comes into contact he seems extremely strange, somewhat titched in the head, unaware of reality and one who does bizarre things. The worldly people find it impossible to comprehend such conduct. He is not “out for money.” Partying on weekends is all that many live for, but here is someone who longs for weekends so that he can go to church. To others drunkenness (along with its hangovers) is “fun” and we all are having a good time drinking our beers and becoming increasingly idiots who gradually sink into a stupor; but this guy over here drinks milk or pop, and that is about all, except maybe coffee. He stays married to his wife. He spends thousands of dollars on Christian education for his children when he could go on expensive vacations. He doesn’t sit hours in front of the TV inviting the devil and the world’s whores into his living room and mind. And you should see what he reads: dry, dull, incomprehensible books on things people talked about 500 years ago, but which no one reads today.
And so it goes. The child of God is an odd character. I was still going to college but working for the Grand Rapids Park Department with a fellow church member when such a simple thing as praying before we ate our lunch at noon elicited questions from our co-workers: What are you doing? Why do you do that?
These are the things that people notice. These are the things that are important to Scripture. Jesus defines letting our light shine before men as doing good works (Matt. 5:16) and not as accosting people in a hurry to get to work and inquiring about their salvation. Others are, in God’s good pleasure, turned to Christ by the witness of our good works. That is, good works become the occasion for witnessing. The order is important: good works; then witnessing.
The man who goes door-to-door to hand out tracts and then goes home to his second “wife,” because he divorced his first one does harm to the gospel, not good. The man who corners busy people to discuss salvation with them while disinterested in going to church or studying the Scriptures is a fake. The man who has religion on the tip of his tongue, but is a grasping, grabbing miser is worse than a fool. The man who makes a lot of noise about religion, but will not live the quiet, overlooked, dedicated life of humble service to God in the place God has placed him is useless in the kingdom.
I recall that many years ago a man came to see my father, quite agitated. He claimed that he had been persecuted for Christ’s sake because he had been fired from his job on a GM assembly line for witnessing. A bit of additional questioning brought out the fact that the man had been neglecting his work to go up and down the assembly line to talk to others about Jesus. He was told rather emphatically that such conduct was not witnessing, but sinning against the fifth commandment; and that his witness was to be faithful, hard and diligent work in his place on GM’s assembly line.
There are many in the last day who will tell the Lord, “Lord, Lord, did we not distribute tracts in thy name, and speak of our religion with every one we met?” But the Lord scathingly says to them, “I never knew you. Go away.”
When our “life-style” attracts the attention of others so that our good works become the occasion of our witness, such witnessing has the added advantage of witnessing to those whom God sets on our path.
We do not do missionary work in a willy-nilly way. We do not throw the names of fifty cities in a hat and then, blindfolded, pull one slip out to see where we are going to do missionary work. We make it a matter of principle to go where the Lord directs us by some obvious and unmistakable way. Many years ago when I was on the Domestic Mission Committee a request came to the committee from a man whose name I have forgotten. He asked the committee and our churches through the committee to take over the work of caring for churches he had established in Jamaica. The committee, inexperienced in that kind of mission work, leering of assuming responsibility for such an undertaking, and not convinced that our churches had the resources for Jamaican missions, tried desperately to decline the request. I no longer remember the chain of circumstances, but it soon became obvious to the committee and to Synod that we could not get out of the responsibility of doing the work even when we wanted to do so. That began many years of commitment to Jamaica. The Lord set Jamaica on our path. We could not get around it.
Something like this must happen also in Christian witnessing. God knows which people in this world ought to hear the witness of a Christian, for God has his own purpose in each case when the calling to witness is forced upon us.