Let’s talk about being Christian witnesses through the lens of what witnesses do.
Ideally speaking, witnesses:
- See something happen
- Change their lives based on what they see
- Are questioned about it
- Tell others honestly about it
- Are scrutinized for honesty and caught if they lie
- May still be unreliable
- Are not the jury
- Are not the judge
- Are not the executioner
I think it’s really easy for us as Christians generally (and certainly specifically for myself) to think that somehow we need to do a lot more than we’re actually called to do. I have many times put more responsibility on my shoulders than God ever wanted me to have, thinking if I don’t do this or that or if I screw up someone is going to Hell or I’m not doing enough or something along those lines. I feel like this is truly not God’s intention for us. We are called as witnesses, so let’s dive real quick into some of what I think that means. If you disagree or think I’m missing something, please let me know! Let’s make this a discussion!
We see something happen
If God moves in our lives, it’s our job to witness it. This means being aware and sensitive to noticing when His presence is with us, when He steps in to rescue or protect us (even from if not especially from ourselves!), when He blesses or provides for us, when He disciplines us, when He gives us peace or comfort, and certainly when He speaks to us. God is everywhere all the time. We cannot go a day without seeing something His hand has touched (Romans 1:20). So witness it! It doesn’t have to be some big profound experience. It could be as simple as snowflakes or a phone call from a friend.
We change our lives based on what we see
Someone who has witnessed a robbery may be more likely to take a course in self defense or not walk alone at night. Someone who witnesses a random act of kindness may hold open a door for the next person they see when normally they wouldn’t wait. It changes the way they see the world and therefore, usually, in some way, their behavior. Likewise, when we see God move in our lives, it changes the way that we live (Romans 12:2, 2 Corinthians 5:17, 2 Corinthians 3:18, 1 John 3:2). It broadens our understanding of the world around us, of Him and of ourselves, and naturally will change our daily behaviors. I know this is true because I used to be a misanthropic cynic who was mean and cutting to other people, thought there was something innately wrong or broken about me as a human being and despaired of being alone, and am now a radically changed person through my relationship with Christ, who taught me to love and delight in others, to show kindness in my words and actions and to know that no matter where I am, I am never alone. And it doesn’t have to happen overnight or in some big blast of understanding, as someone who is sheltered from harm until a robbery might be changed, but may come through small day by day changes as a child shown daily the manners of their parents may one day learn to say please and thank you of their own accord.
We are questioned about it
When people know we’ve seen something important and/or when they see the way our lives change, they will notice. It’s the same as in a police case. Eventually, if you’re not trying to hide what you know (or even if you are, perhaps!), they’ll ask.
We tell others the truth
When the opportunity arises, we can tell about what we saw. This could be in a response to a direct question, as is the case when a witness is being examined in court, or it could be just a conversational topic, like when somebody sees a rainbow and points it out to a friend or when you tell a funny story about something you once did. It’s not something we have to force down people’s throats. We’re not called to dominate or derail conversations (1 Peter 3:15-16), nor are witnesses ignored if they have something to share. It’s just something natural that comes out of being a witness.
We are scrutinized for honesty and caught if we lie
Witnesses are authorities on what they’ve seen. That’s why they’re asked the questions. But if a witness says they saw somebody mugged in a dark alley and later shows no concern walking down that same alley alone at night, people are going to suspect that something is wrong. Either that person did not see what they said (no mugger at all), are pretending to be something they are not (perhaps they themselves are the mugger), are faking something for ulterior motives (bravery for the sake of impressing others) or are very, very foolish. In any of these cases, the others around them are not likely to believe them very much on that original matter or in future, or at the very least not as much as if that person had truly changed their behavior based on what they saw. The same applies to us as Christians. If we say God is love and that we are in relationship with Him and yet are not loving, what does that say? If we say God promises peace, but live in constant fear or anxiety, what reason do others have to believe that what we’re saying is true? In many ways other people are like the jury, trying to find truth in what we say and do. If our lives don’t line up with what we’re saying, what reason do they have to believe us? Especially when there is another “attorney” working against us who is trying all the time to dissuade us from telling the truth and to prove that we are unreliable and false?
We may still be unreliable
Despite being authorities on what they see, a well-intentioned witness may still be wrong from time to time. They may think there was only one mugger when there were in fact two because a dumpster blocked their way. They may think someone was the mugger because they missed a distinguishing feature or were led astray be leading questions. I’m not saying this as an excuse for people to get away with being inaccurate witnesses in real life or in this analogy to Christianity, I’m just saying that humans are limited. There’s no way to see or know everything there is to know, which is actually pretty relieving when you think about what that means. Regardless, the point is that even the best witness is going to stumble sometimes. Even the best Christian is not going to live out a completely Godly life. In the same way as we are to have grace for a witness who couldn’t see properly in the middle of the night, we need to have grace to know that Christians can’t always see clearly in the middle of their night either. They have histories and baggage that can color their understanding of different situations. They have corners they can’t see around because they haven’t quite reached the step to turn. They have the same kind of problems that a regular witness can, because they’re human. That’s what humans do. The trick is to right that wrong when we realize the truth, accept the grace offered us for it, and be sure to offer that same grace to others when the same happens to them. To be the most honest witnesses we can be in our limited understanding and hope that God steps in to broaden our understanding to reveal the places where we’ve unwittingly slipped up or to discipline and correct us in the places where we’ve done so on purpose, changing our hearts so that we will not continue in that line.
We are not the jury
Witnesses already know the truth. The jury is there to see if they tell it honestly and after that they decide for themselves. Likewise we know the truth of what God is doing in our lives. We can tell others about it, but it is not our place to decide for them whether or not they believe us.
We are not the judge
Witnesses don’t make final calls on the sentences of prisoners. God knows more than we could ever know about a situation. It’s his place to make the calls and for us just to witness. Tell what you know and trust Him to reveal the rest, including what could be (and probably is, there is always something we don’t know!) missing from your own perspective.
We are not the executioner
Proverbs 20:22, Proverbs 25:22. The witness is not the warden of the prison or the prison guard, ensuring the prisoner stays inside his cell. They are not the one ensuring they complete their community service. They are not the one who would serve as executioner. The same goes for us. I’m not saying God is bloodthirsty or can’t wait to punish people or enslave them or anything like that. He is in fact the complete opposite. What I mean is if someone hurts you, don’t avenge yourself. Turn the other cheek. Pray for them (Matthew 5:43-44). Hope that the way you react shows them God’s love so that they as a jury member themselves may see truth. God knows the situation. He weeps and grieves for your pain and loss and suffering far more than you ever could. And equally, for theirs. This is one of those situations where this analogy kind of falls through, because our human justice systems are not and could never be as perfect as God’s. See, God is perfect. He is perfectly loving of all of his creations, but He is also equally perfectly just. And that means he can’t abide sin and evil going unpunished. He can’t even abide such evils in his presence (see pretty much the entire struggle of the Old Testament). In this we are all on an equal playing field, having all, jury member, witness and prisoner, fallen short of those perfect standards and all therefore being guilty before God and worthy of death, Romans 6:23. That is why he sent his Son Jesus to die for us. So that his blood could pay the sentence on our heads and save us from damnation and punishment. That is also why it is equally important for us, as witnesses who have already been saved in our own court date by that same blood, not to try to play parts in others lives that we weren’t meant to play. By playing judge and executioner, we undermine God’s love and plan for others. Our limitations mean we often don’t see the situation correctly and never fully, our pride in placing ourselves in God’s place grieves him and harms others and our hypocrisy turns others away. We are witnesses. Let’s just focus on that.
Anyway, now that the main bulk of this post is over, I’d just like to throw in a few little comments and such so that there isn’t confusion (or at least a little less).
- I am sorry that this analogy is not always the most clear thing. I do not know the intricacies of the court for one thing, which makes this kind of thing difficult, and again, as I said, our human courts are not the same as God’s. Trying to act as though ours are a complete and honest model of His would be a foolish mistake because obviously even the highest level members of our court systems here are limited humans. I also understand that much of this is based on what would be an ideal version of our current court system. I know not all judges, jury members, attorneys, and witnesses are honest. I know that sometimes witnesses could be ignored despite having something important to say. I get all that. This analogy is based on a kind of ideal.
- I know I didn’t have specific verses for all of these, but I did try to base everything on what I have found to be biblical truths or truths I have found in my own life (or my understandings of them, as an unreliable witness myself). Some of the reason I don’t have specifics is because the point was too broad and my knowledge of where things are in the Bible too small. Some was because this is a very, very long post and I’m very tired from the writing of it and because this is a blog post and not an actual sermon or some combination of all of the above. But, if you know any verses that back this up specifically (or refute it! Please correct me if this is wrong!!!), please feel free to add it in the comments and I’ll edit the post and give you a shout out. Even general stories (parables or stories about hypocrisy being a prime example) and references would be adored. I know not everyone who reads this will have the same Biblical knowledge I do and certainly that many will have much much more, so I want to have as much Biblical backup as I can get, firstly because it is important to me to show that there are Biblical roots to what I believe and say, secondly to encourage others to look this stuff up themselves and thirdly for me to have guidance as I write, knowing that left to my own devices I can easily get things wrong for any number of reasons. I am also certain the Bible can reveal more truth in reading than any post of mine, so if you have questions about this and want to know what the Bible really says about it, please read it and find out for yourselves! And once you know, come back to me! I’d love to hear what you find.
- I know there’s a balance in finding when to speak and when to not and how we witness and what that means as pertains to our job choices, ministries and such. I know there’s a balance to be found when deciding how much we say and how we say it and when to take initiative and when to rest in the Lord and the balance between all of the roles above. I am trying daily myself to find that balance and it is something that’s really been a focus for me lately, so be aware I really don’t have the answers myself, even that those answers may be different for each person. I tried my best to avoid coming across as either taking too much or too little into our hands and to speak somewhat generally, but if you have thoughts, advice, arguments, questions, comments, etc. on the matter, please let me know.
- If you’re looking for general verses about witnessing and being called to be a witness and such, I found this helpful page here which has many of that sort in one convenient place.
- Thank you so, so much for making it this far! I am so blessed to have you as a reader and if you have any questions, please feel free to ask me. I will do my best to answer them in the comments below!