Our discussion of whether we are fulfilling the Great Commission to preach the Gospel threw up, as it was bound to, the issue of whether we, in our every day lives actually managed an effective witness – after all, St. Francis is said to have made the comment “Preach the Gospel at all times. Use words if necessary.”
Although there is no evidence he said any such thing, it sums up a particular view about the need to provide a personal witness. In a later post, I want to try to touch on why just offering a personal witness is not sufficient, but since it is a necessary starting point, I just want to say something about that here. To judge from the comments made most frequently about us as Christians, the criticisms levelled at us are that we are narrow-minded, judgemental and obsessed with sex. Well, in any society, there are always going to be people who fit into those categories, and I would guess that the criticism comes from the fact that it is one such issues that the media concentrate, and since they seldom say anything positive about us, that impression is the one which lingers in the public mind. We might, however, do well to think whether, in our personal interactions, we give rise to such criticisms.
The ‘I am saved, you are not, and unless you get saved you will burn in hell’ stereotype exists, no doubt, but it is not something to be encouraged. Yes, everyone would be better for coming to Christ, but who is going to come to Him because of the fear that unless they do, they will burn in hell for ever? That is so contrary to what our society holds about family life, that it projects the image of a sadistic Father who takes some perverse pleasure in hurting people who displease Him, and I sometimes wonder if we do enough to counteract it. Do we, ourselves, give the impression that we are motivated by love?
It is not sex, but all aspects of human nature which obsess us – why, because we are made in God’s image, and the more we can project that, the better witness we give. Of course we shall fail, but when we fail, do we repent, do we get up again and do we try to make amends and learn? If we believe that Christ died for us all, how do we get that across without making it sound, as is possible, as though just being ‘good’ is enough? After all, who defines ‘good’? That is perhaps at the heart of our witness – defining what, for a Christian, it means to live a good life. Service is at the heart of that – Christ’s own disciples served others, and the last shall be first as the first shall be last. How do we witness to any of that in what we do, when pride and self-will so often make us put our own interests first.?