What is Witnessing?
What does it mean to be a witness of Jesus in this world? The apostle Paul, in 1 Corinthians 9:22 describes it as becoming “all things to all people, that by all means I may save some.” The idea here is meeting people in their course of life, whatever their lifestyle, vices, beliefs, and baggage may be.
This is an idea you’ve likely heard before. If you want to witness with people, you need to be where they are. Go to the college parties, go to the bars, have the reckless friendships. You need to be all things to all people.
What we seem to run into, though, is that if you are all things to all people, meeting them in their own lifestyle and vices, what difference do you make for them? What is the difference between you and their other friends? Perhaps you force an awkward conversation about Jesus once a month, but other than that, you’re at all the parties, you’re out every night, you’re living the same lifestyle they are.
What we come to realize is that we’ve been witnessed to, not them. We’ve been evangelized, not them. So is this really what Paul means when he says he becomes all things to all people?
What is Witness?
Let’s look a bit closer at that word witness. We think of it now, in a Christian context, as meaning representing Christ to those who need him, bearing witness about him. This idea isn’t totally wrong, but it’s incomplete. The Greek word for witness is marturion. It is often used in a legal setting, like our word witness, but the new testament uses it in some remarkable ways.
“But before all this they will lay their hands on you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for my name’s sake. This will be your opportunity to bear witness.
1 Timothy 2:5-6
“For there is one God, and one mediator between God and humans, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself up as a ransom for all, which is the witness given at the proper time.
Now the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Christ have come, for the accuser of our siblings has been thrown down, who accuses them day and night before our God. And they have conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their witness, for they loved not their lives even unto death.
What we can see from these few verses (there are dozens like them), is that we have drifted away from what bearing witness to Christ really means. It does not mean going to Vegas with a reckless high school friend in the hopes that a conversation about Christ could arise. It means belonging so firmly to another way of life that you are brought before judges and kings, and even killed, because of your faith in Jesus.
The word martirion is what eventually becomes martyrdom, or the act of dying for your faith. The early church was obsessed with martyrdom. For some early churches, it was the ultimate honor in life, in the midst of Roman persecution.
Witness and Martyr
What good is your witness if throw it away in order to “become all things to all people.” What Paul meant in 1 Corinthians 9 is “I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings. Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it… So I do not run aimlessly, I do not fight as if boxing the air. But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.”
Do you see the message here? I become all things to all people that I may save some, not forfeiting for one moment my joy, values, or conviction, but always bearing witness to a greater God and king, Jesus Christ. This is the message of a witness.
So what does this mean practically? Being a witness of the gospel does not mean throwing away your conviction to gain some kind of “street cred” with non-believers. It means being where they are, and showing them a new message. Don’t go to spring break with them, but do ask them to coffee. Don’t go out drinking with them, but do ask them over for dinner. Don’t join the gross conversations they have, but initiate conversation about meaning, joy, and peace.
Represent Jesus and his teachings, and don’t let yourself be colonized by a post-Christian culture. Be a witness, be a martyr, even unto death.