Sunday, January 31, 2010

This week's sermon: Testimony

1 John 1:1-4; 5:13-21.

When we think of giving a testimony or witnessing, many of us think of certain methods for sharing the gospel that we learned in a class. There are the four spiritual laws, the wordless books, and other methods for giving people the facts about salvation. But those are not necessarily witnessing and testimony. When we look at those words, we find a definition of witness: an individual who, being present, personally sees or perceives a thing; a beholder, spectator, or eyewitness; and testimony: evidence, statement of a witness. These are primarily legal words. A witness is someone who has seen or experienced something, and testimony is what they give at a trial stating what they have seen or experienced. So those so-called witnessing tools and techniques only work when they are tied to what an individual has seen or experienced themselves.

This is John’s testimony to the believers about what he had seen and heard. He tells us the purpose for his testimony in two places, the beginning and the end. Every person who ever took speech class knows when you tell people something you should: tell them what you are going to say, say it, then tell them what you said. John in essence does that in this letter. He has a very clear beginning and ending section, that is what we are going to look at today: John’s testimony and the purpose for his testimony.

In the first verses of chapter 1, John gives us the very definition of witness and testimony. He is writing and testifying to what his own eyes have seen, what his ears have heard, and what he has touched with his hands. He is giving evidence and making a statement as to what he has witnessed. And he tells us in verses three and four the reason he gives this testimony: so that those who hear can be added to the fellowship. Some versions say “to make our joy complete,” and others ‘to make your joy complete.” I like the message version which says, “Our motive for writing is simply this: We want you to enjoy this, too. Your joy will double our joy!” The purpose of giving testimony to what we have witnessed is to add people to the fellowship so that they can have joy and so that our joy will be multiplied.

For those who have not heard the gospel, we give testimony to what we have seen or heard so that they can become part of the fellowship of believers. For those who already believe, John says in chapter five, he gives his testimony so that they will be encouraged and strengthened. “So that you may know that you have eternal life.” And to give them confidence to pray, knowing that God hears and answers those prayers. John further encourages them to pray for each other, for believers who are tempted and sin. He distinguishes here between sin that leads to death and sin that does not. I am not sure anyone knows quite what the distinction is, other than as John indicates here “anyone born of God does not continue to sin,” or keep on sinning, living a lifestyle of sin, without repentance. John is summing up what he says throughout the rest of his letter that new life in Christ comes with transformation of our lifestyles. There is no flow chart given here as to when we cross over from sin that does not lead to death into sin that does, so safe rule of thumb is: if you know you are in sin, stop, repent, and seek the Lord’s will for your life. If you see a brother or sister in Christ struggling with sin, pray for them, even if you think what they are doing has gone past the line. We don’t know where the line is, so the best thing is to pray for God to get a hold of their hearts and bring them to repentance.

John finishes his summary by referring back to his discussion of the world and we will study that in a few weeks. The world, John says, is under the control of the evil one. As children of God, we need to recognize that our goals are in opposition to the world’s goals, our hearts should be set on God and not earthly pleasures, and we are not to be confused as to how we gain true, fulfilling, everlasting life. It comes from God, not from imitations.

So when we think about testimony, when we think about being witnesses—and Jesus himself gave us an imperative that we are to be his witnesses—we need to remember that our job is not to give people cold facts about salvation, but to share what we ourselves have seen, heard and experienced. This is something we do all the time when we experience or see something beneficial, we tell people about it. We tell our friends if we have found a gadget to make our lives easier or a cream that erases every wrinkle. This is how it should be with sharing what God has done for us. We do this so that others can join in the fellowship we have with God through his Son, Jesus Christ.

We also need to be about the business of sharing with each other where God is holding us up, how he is at work in our lives, and also where we have fallen short in seeking those imitations. If you purchased a computer that died within two days, you would be telling your friends to stay away from that computer or brand or software. We need to do the same with our brothers and sisters in Christ. As we find things in this world to be unfulfilling, or when we are taken in by false promises, we warn one another against falling into the same trap. We share with each other to strengthen and encourage one another to pray, to find ourselves and our satisfaction in God, and to be on alert for the world and its imitations.

Just think if we would put this into practice, how natural it would become to share our faith; how much stronger the body of Christ would be working together to love God, love people, and serve the world! What a witness and testimony that would be, an outward showing of evidence that God is at work in our lives, our families, and our churches.

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