Can I Get a Witness?

Originally published in HiCall, Gospel Publishing House, June 16, 1993

Originally published in HiCall, Gospel Publishing House, June 16, 1993
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Can I Get a Witness?

By Richard Tatum

So, you want to be a witness, right? I suppose a question on a lot of people’s minds these days is, "How do I witness?" That’s a fair question, it really isn’t bad at all. But, have you ever stopped to wonder whether it might be the wrong question?

Really, how many people do you think would stand in the witness box in a court of law and declare, "Yes, Your Honor, that’s exactly right! I know what that attorney says is true because I just took a special course that told me everything about witnessing crimes and such!" I can see it now, the bemused jurors would be shaking their heads as the witness declares "But wait! You’ve gotta believe me! I just read this book on how to be a witness! Wait!" Despite obvious sincerity, a jury won’t buy the story, no matter how skilled the "witness," unless that person really did witness something — then the jury would sit up and listen when they heard words like this, "I was there when it happened. I saw it myself, and I remember."

So, shouldn’t the real question instead be "What have I witnessed?" Do you know the frustration of trying to shake and squeeze a little hair shampoo out of an empty bottle? No matter how skillfully designed, no matter how cheerfully and brightly packaged, no matter how promising the label, and no matter how rave the reviews — an empty bottle is next to worthless. Unless there is something of substance inside, nothing will come out.

Now imagine a Christian who is conversant and familiar with every doctrine and aspect of theology, who has whole chunks of the Bible tucked away in their memory, who sits in church Sunday after Sunday, and who reads everything in sight on how to be a witness. Is there anything missing from this picture besides a handful of tracts? Aw, go ahead, throw a handful of those in too. Now, is the picture complete yet? Remember that shampoo bottle? All the externals, the labels, and bright packaging, are important only when there’s something of substance inside.

It’s the same with being a witness for Christ. No matter how well trained and knowledgeable I am — unless I have a real and active relationship with Christ, my witnessing will be dry and empty. Oh, sure, I might see some results at first — even an empty shampoo bottle will produce something if you add a little water and shake it real hard — something’s bound to come out! And besides, if God used a donkey before, He could certainly use dry, empty Christians too. But that’s still not the best solution for witnessing.

Think about the Great Commission. What did Christ say, really? Did He tell us to simply "go witness?" Look it up in the various gospels and in Acts. Examine His statements closely. Among other things, Christ told His disciples to go, to preach, to teach, and to disciple. Does He tell them anywhere "to witness" — or does He tell them to "be witnesses?"

What can we observe about the Great Commission? First, Christ was talking to His disciples, not some Joe on the street corner. He wasn’t speaking in a church. He wasn’t even standing before a crowd of anonymous Christians in a huge auditorium. He was talking to a handful of people who knew Him best. He was talking to a few people who really loved Him, who would follow Him anywhere. Knowing Christ, being His disciple, must be the starting point for anyone who wants to be a witness.

How about another observation? What a person does results from what that person is. "Hunh?" Well, look at it this way — suppose you needed your appendix removed — fast! Who would you rather see peering down at you from behind a surgical mask and a sharp scalpel — a doctor who took his calling and profession with utter seriousness, who spent his childhood dreaming of one day being a surgeon, who spent nearly a decade in school preparing himself for this moment? Or would you rather be at the mercy of someone who was an expert on scalpels, threads, and needles, even though he or she didn’t have the foggiest idea of what being a surgeon was all about? I know which one I’d choose — I think I’d run the moment a doctor spread his textbook open on my chest, muttering to himself, "Hmm, the appendix, now was that on the right side, or the left? Let me see …"

But isn’t it interesting that this is what we sometimes do. We try to witness by relying on methods and diagrams when our first duty is to know Christ — then to make Him known. Remember how people marveled at Christ’s disciples? (Acts 4:13) They said, "Wow! These guys haven’t even been to school! Look at them! Listen to them talk! The’ve obviously been hanging out with Christ!"

On the other hand, trying to witness without first being a disciple is like trying to introduce a distant relative you hardly know to someone you just met. You wind up with an embarrassed relative and a confused stranger who just might remember a name, but nothing more. It’s important to be careful not to embarrass Christ and leave our friends confused, remembering only His name but not tasting the substance of a relationship with Him.

Do you realize that in all of the New Testament, there are only a handful of verses which actually deal with the Christian’s duty to witness? Why? Perhaps it’s because the entire New Testament is concerned with first developing Christian character and producing the fruit of the Spirit in our lives. Anyone can witness effectively and powerfully. You can witness. I can witness. We just need to remember to keep our priorities straight.

So, tell me … what have you witnessed lately?