Jesus Christ calls all Christians to be....

God's Witnesses

W. S. Reid: Every member of Christ's Church ought to be a witness for Him. Today, as at all other times, the crying need of the Christian Church is for witnesses. And yet when we face the opportunity to proclaim the Gospel to those who know it not, often we feel inadequate for the task. In our day and generation the Christian message often seems to be outmoded, outdated, and generally irrelevant. Consequently, in self-conscious weakness we refrain from speaking the word that God would place in our mouths.

That this is not a new problem is evident from what Paul says in this opening chapter of his first letter to the Corinthians. The members of that congregation lived in a city that was one of the most important, both commercially and intellectually, in the whole Aegean area. To many persons in such an environment the Gospel seemed to be mere foolish babbling. Apparently some of the Christians had attempted to meet the situation by trying to seem as intellectual as their pagan neighbors. But this sort of sophistication had resulted in nothing more than turning the simple message of the Gospel into an arid philosophical system. Other believers, who did not have the ability or the training for that sort of thing, seem to have withdrawn into their shells. If so, they feared to bear testimony, because they felt that no one would believe. Hence the witness of the Church in Corinth was in grave danger of extinction.

This is the first problem with which Paul deals in his epistle. It is true, he says, that the Gospel is foolishness to those who do not believe (I Cor. 1:18), for they wish to judge everything in terms of their own wisdom and experience. The Jews want a sign from heaven, and the Greeks desire the philosophy of men (I Cor. 1:23). God, however, has chosen a unique method of bringing men to Himself. He has called feeble, powerless, apparently foolish persons to bear witness in a world of power and of learning (I Cor. 1:21). Through these feeble witnesses He would bring the men of this world to accept and acknowledge Christ as the power and the wisdom of God.

Now let us turn to our passage and examine what Paul has to say about God's witnesses.

"Ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: that no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him are ye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and righteousness, and redemption: that, according as it is written, 'He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.'" I Corinthians 1:26-31

I. God's Call of Witnesses

First of all, and of fundamental importance, is the fact that God calls these feeble witnesses. So Paul begins by saying that the early Christians did not appoint themselves. It was God who determined that they should bring Christ to their world, and this must always be the case. No witness can ever be self-appointed, particularly in the service of God. In the Old Testament repeatedly we find determined attacks upon false prophets, who claim to speak for Jehovah, but who have not received His call to this high office. Likewise in New Testament times, as in subsequent generations, no one has ever had the right to set himself up as a herald of God, not unless first and foremost God has called him to this high office. Today to be a witness means to serve as God's herald. A herald can be a true witness for Christ only after he has received from God a call to this work.

Paul assures the Corinthian Christians, however, that if they indeed know Christ as their Savior and Lord, they also have a call from God to tell others about Christ. The Apostle is not here writing his letter to a few select Corinthian leaders, such as the pastors and elders of the congregation. He is speaking to all of the believers in Christ, and pointing out that God has called each of them to bear witness. Even as the early Christians, when they were scattered abroad from Jerusalem, "went everywhere preaching the word" (Acts 8:4), so today witnessing is clearly the business of all those who are Christ's people. If indeed we know Christ as our Redeemer, it is our God-given responsibility, and our high privilege, to serve as His witnesses.

Right here we note that God's ways are not those of man. When man desires to make an impression on his fellows, what course does he pursue? For instance, when there is a campaign for some type of charity, a certain political action, or some other cause that seeks public support, the advocates of the movement seek to enlist the wealthy, the powerful, the influential, so that they will lend the cause their weight. In this way, the leaders hope, others will be interested and impressed so that they too will join the movement. This is man's way, for man ever thinks in terms of human wisdom and power.

When God chooses witness bearers, His way is wholly different. He calls those who are unimportant in this world - the weak, the poor, the foolish. As the Lord Jesus pointed out, it is only those who are willing to become like little children who can enter the Kingdom. In the early days of the Church the slaves seem to have given the Gospel a far more enthusiastic welcome than did the wealthy classes.

And yet we must not suppose that God never has called the wealthy and the highly educated to be His witnesses, or that He does not do so today. If and when He does so honor them, they too must realize that with all their wealth, and all their intellectual powers, they are utterly dependent upon Him. Even as they rely upon Him alone for redemption, so must they look upon themselves as His feeble witnesses. In their mouths the witness to the world will seem foolish.

Thus, whether we be rich or poor, wise or foolish, in the eyes of our world, we must continually remind ourselves that as Christians God has chosen us to be His witnesses, and that from the world's point of view we are silly, even moronic, in bearing testimony to such a simple Gospel. This is the high calling of every Christian. If this were all that the Apostle could say, however, his message would be disheartening. But he goes on to tell good news about our testimony for Christ.

II. God's Power for Witnesses

In the second place the Apostle points out that with their call from God to be His witnesses, the Corinthian Christians have also received His power. The same truth holds good for us today.

The natural tendency - and one may even say, the sinful tendency - is for any of Christ's witness-bearers to emphasize his own wisdom and power. By resort to argumentation, by appeal to the emotions, or by some other human means, he strives to lead men to accept the Gospel. Or else he goes to the other extreme, feeling that he is so foolish and so helpless that it is useless for him to open his mouth. In either case, alas, he is concentrating attention upon himself and his abilities, or lack of abilities. He is thinking about the effectiveness of his testimony, as though everything depended on his own powers.

As far as Paul is concerned, this way of thinking is vain and useless. Since to the unbeliever the Gospel is foolishness, neither by worldly philosophy nor by human power can the Christian convince him that the Gospel is true, and that its claims are valid. In sheer brain force the Christian frequently cannot equal the non-believer, nor is the believer able to adduce the sort of empirical "scientific proofs" that the non-believer demands. Even more basic, however, is the fact that the non-Christian does not even desire to believe the Gospel. The Gospel deals with him as a sinner, demands that he repent, and commands him to place his trust in Christ alone as Savior. To all of this the unbeliever responds by laughing at the Christian's testimony. Feeling that the Gospel is outrageous in its claims, the man in view does not want "salvation." He will pay no heed to the believer's witness, and no one can change the outlook of such a determined unbeliever. If this be the case, what is the point in the Christian's endeavor to bear witness for Christ? Is it not utterly foolish? To this question Paul would reply, "From the world's point of view, yes! "

Nevertheless, the Christian must bear his witness. In love and in charity, as God gives him opportunity, he must be prepared to show men that they are sinners, and that their sinfulness is the source of their woes, both in mind and in body. Yet it can never be enough merely to condemn another man's sins. The Christian also knows that in His sovereign grace Almighty God has provided a way of salvation through Jesus Christ. Therefore the Christian should always direct his testimony toward bringing men, one by one, to a living faith in Christ as the One who has paid the penalty for the believer's sins. Despite all possible ridicule and opposition, the Christian must ever bear witness to Christ, and to what He has done. With all the fervor and urgency of which he is capable, the believer ought to present Him as God's answer to all of men's needs.

Someone may object: "If men regard such testimony as fool- ishness, if they do not wish to be saved, what is the point in bearing such witness?" The answer is that through the mighty in- working power of His Holy Spirit, God uses the testimony of His feeble witnesses, and makes their testimony effective for the winning of souls. For this reason God promised through the mouth of Isaiah: "My word ... shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it" (Isa. 55:11). In like manner Paul never grows weary of driving home the truth that Christian faith is worked into the heart of an individual, not by human wisdom or persuasion, but by the sovereign action of the Holy Spirit. "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God" (Eph. 2:8).

This is the power that lies behind the witness of the believer. Not his own testimony, not his own oratory, not even his own life, but the miraculous regenerating power of the God is what brings an unsaved person to belief in Christ as Savior, with obedience to Him as Lord and Master.

The Apostle, however, goes even further. In the passage now before us he writes about God's way of calling feeble believers to serve as His witnesses, and about His power ever behind their testimony for Christ. Then he goes on to unfold a truth even more glorious.

III. God's Triumph through Witnesses

in the third place, the Apostle speaks about the triumph of God's feeble witnesses. Because the power of God makes the testimony of Christians effective, this witness eventually wins the victory. In truth he does not see every person to whom he speaks immediately coming to Christ. Indeed, the personal worker may not ever see some of them accept the Gospel. Herein lies the mystery of God's sovereign plan and predestination that none should perish but all should come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

Nevertheless, as the believer continues to testify for Christ, he will see that even those who have most violently opposed the Gospel are brought to acceptance of Christ as their Savior and Lord. Thus "God hath chosen ... things which are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence" (I Cor. 1:28-29). Here is the triumph of God through His feeble witnesses, the triumph that brought about the submission of the mighty Roman Empire, and tamed the barbarian tribes of Europe; the triumph that in the sixteenth century curbed the vaunted power of the Roman ecclesiastical hierarchy; the triumph that throughout the world today is manifesting itself in hosts of humble hearts and lives who have been transformed through God's feeble witnesses.

In all such triumphs no one feels more astonished than the Christian witness himself. Ofttimes willingly and consciously, sometimes unwittingly and unconsciously, as in days of persecution, he has borne his testimony. In all cases he has rightly felt that with his own powers he could accomplish nothing. Then comes the hour when the recipient of that testimony suddenly beholds the light in God's Word, so that he repents, believes, and obeys the Gospel. Then the witness bearer gladly acknowledges that it is God alone who has wrought the miracle of redemption in the other person's heart. As a witness for Christ the believer has been a humble agent in the hands of his God.

Through the feeblest of the saints the Spirit of God brings to Christ as Savior and Lord those who have been His enemies. Through humble witness bearers He brings into the fullness of His love and grace those who once stood outside His Kingdom. Through those who speak out for Christ, with words apparently ineffectual, the Lord God wins those whom He has called. Through feeble witnesses He has won the victory. "Thanks be unto God, which always causeth us to triumph in Christ" (2 Cor. 2:14a).

The Lord works this way in order that no one may glory in himself, but that everyone may ascribe the honor to God. His witnesses have no right to glory, save in Him, or to take any credit to themselves. Neither should those who believe through Christian testimony take any credit to themselves, for apart from the power of the Holy Spirit, even the truth of the Gospel would have made no impression on their hearts and lives. For the effectualness of the Christian witness all the glory and the honor must go to Him who alone is the Lord and Redeemer of men.

Again and again Christian history has illustrated the truth of our text. In the Early Church, God's feeble witnesses often came from among slaves and other social outcasts. Through such lowly agents, many of whom encountered persecution, torture, and death, the Church conquered large parts of the Roman Empire. During the Reformation, Luther, Calvin, and other men on whom the Roman Church looked down, won for the evangelical cause large portions of Europe. In Victorian England, such a scholar as William Robert Dale, of Carr's Lane, Birmingham, stood amazed at the overpowering effects of the Gospel as spoken by such an unlearned man as Dwight L. Moody. Likewise in our own century, with all its materialism, sophistication, and secularism, the Lord blesses personal work by countless inconspicuous saints.

For us this text from Paul is most practical. It means that day after day all through life each Christian as an individual should bear his witness to Christ as the Savior of all those who come to Him through faith. Many times the believer may feel that his testimony is feeble, foolish, and ineffective. Still he is to continue bearing witness, knowing that he is not the one to decide whether or not his words will win a soul for Christ.

The Lord alone can make any such decision. He does so when and where He pleases. Our responsibility is humbly, clearly, and lovingly to show forth Christ, leaving the results of our witness to the hands of Him for whom we have borne testimony. "So then neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but God that giveth the increase" (I Cor. 3:7). This is the confidence and the joy of Christ's feeble witnesses, for in Him alone do they triumph.

A sermon preached by William Stanford Reid of McGill University in about 1954.

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