We continue today to look at what it means to be Committed to Christ. How is it that we live faithfully as disciples of the risen Lord?
Much of our focus in this season is on how our commitment to Christ is so closely connected to being good stewards of the resources God has placed in our lives. Last week, we talked about the joy of serving. In it, we identified that as the body of Christ – as this body of Christ – as Washington Street UMC – that in order for us to be an accurate reflection of the body God is calling us to be, we must be utilizing the passions, services and activities of all who make up this congregation and fellowship. To exclude the gifts of even one who has passions to serve the Lord is to fail at being the body Christ has called us to be.
This week, the focus is perhaps more personal that communal. This week, the call to commitment is call to consider how your life is a witness to the love of God in Christ.
Before we turn to the text from Colossians to consider what it has to offer us regarding living a life committed to Christ through our witness, I want to spend a few moments considering what it is we mean when we say witness. The word witness, both in its normal use in our English vocabulary, and the focus of it here today as we talk about being committed to witness in our lives as disciples, are often two very different words.
The word witness can be used both as a noun and as a verb. In each form, it can take on multiple meanings. What I do NOT mean when I ask if I can get a witness of the Lord is if someone can literally go and see Christ. To witness can be to physically see something take place. When there is a crime scene or accident, police look for witnesses who saw what took place. Perhaps some of you were among the 100,000 witnesses who saw the Pope travel around the city this past week. Christ lived and walked among the earth nearly 2,000 years ago. I’m not looking for people to be committed to seeing the physical Christ. Though according to pop-culture this may be possible in the future, we have a ways to go before time travel is a realistic option for consideration. So, either in the noun form – as a witness of something … or in the verb form – to witness an event take place … I’m not looking for you to use your eyes when I ask the question, ‘Can I get a witness?’
What I’m asking in this question, and what I’m wondering today in regards to your commitment to Christ, is are you a witness who can testify to the work of God in your life and in the world.
Google provides quick access to suitable definitions. To define witness as a noun, Google simply says witness is evidence or proof. Is your life a living witness to the love of God in Christ? Is your life evidence of or proof of the love of God in Christ?
As a verb, Google says that to witness is to give or serve as evidence of, or to testify to. Is your live one that is giving or serving as evidence of, or is it a testimony of God’s love in Christ?
Using this passage from Paul’s letter to the church in Colossae, let’s use these two seemingly simple verses to better understand what it means for us to be a witness – to be evidence of or to give testimony to God’s love in Christ.
Colossians 4:5, “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of your time.”
‘Conduct yourselves wisely’ is the first admonition. It is interesting that Paul uses the word wisely – he has a focus on wisdom. Colossae was a town that was filled with Greek philosophers who tried to use wisdom as a way to discredit the Christian community. The Christian community was one of the few monotheistic religions, and one of the only religions to not have a physical statue of the god they professed. The philosophers tried to discredit the belief of the new church in Christ in much the same way people today would try to use logical wisdom to discredit faith in, as Hebrews 11 puts it, ‘things hoped for and yet unseen.’
But Paul, knowing the issue of wisdom was one of concern for the local faith community, tries to flip the understanding of wisdom from that of the Greek philosophers to a new focus on knowledge of God. Ralph Martin says in his commentary on this text, “[wisdom is] a human response to God’s will and also a life-style in the world informed by following Christ, God’s incarnate wisdom and instruction.”[i]
If we back up just a couple chapters, we see that Paul has tried to instruct the community on a new understanding of wisdom more than once. He says in Colossians 2:2-3: “I want their hearts to be encouraged and united in love, so that they may have all the riches of assured understanding and have the knowledge of God’s mystery, that is, Christ himself, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”
Paul challenges the normal understanding of wisdom, to say that true wisdom comes only in the perfect love and knowledge of God.
To be an effective witness, Paul says, one must conduct themselves with this knowledge – placing God’s love – true wisdom, as known in Christ – as a focus of our interaction with outsiders.
Anytime the church talks about interaction with outsiders, the word that is generally used is evangelism. This word, admittedly, gets a bad wrap from many in the church and many more outside the church. In many churches, the word is seen so negatively, that connection with outsiders is not called evangelism at all, but is replaced with a less stigmatic word like outreach. Evangelism and its many other forms – evangelical, evangelistic, and evangelist – are all words that have been degraded by inappropriate use. Evangelism is a word that is attributed to those who focus on hell-fire and brimstone preaching and who, like many televangelists, use the word of God for personal and ecclesial gain as opposed to Paul’s intended focus of speaking with wisdom with outsiders.
Evangelism comes from the greek word euaggelion (you-ahn-ge-leon), which carries a translation and meaning of ‘good news.’ So the evangel – the witness – the one sharing the testimony of God’s love in Christ – is to bring the good news. This has nothing to do with person gain, or even ecclesial gain – church growth. Evangelism is just about sharing the good news. But what is the good news? What news is the witness to share?
Walter Brueggemann says, “The subject of evangelical conversation is how our life, our bodies, and our imagination can be weaned from the deathliness of the world to the newness of life in the gospel.”[ii] The good news, that which our lives are to be witness to, that which we are to be evidence of, is that our God known in Christ Jesus offers an alternative to the ordering of life around commodity greed. We are to make known that there is a way, through the love of God, to disengage our life, our bodies, and our imagination from the seemingly all-powerful world of consumer pursuits, of self-serving arms, and of self-satisfying brutality.
This is a difficult conversation to have and a difficult life to be witness to. “To share this good news calls us away from the enslavement to consumerism and american politicism.”[iii] It was interesting to this effect to hear Pope Francis speak this past week to our joint session of Congress. The Papal Father said, “If politics must truly be at the service of the human person, it follows that it cannot be a slave to the economy and finance. Politics is … an expression of our compelling need to live as one, in order to build as one the greatest common good: that of a community which sacrifices particular interests in order to share, in justice and peace, its goods, its interests, its social life.” He continued, “I do not underestimate the difficulty that this involves, but I encourage you in this effort.”
This remark is in and of itself a testimony to the work of the evangelist – the witness – to share the possibility of what life lived with wisdom – with the love of God – can look like, even amidst the difficulty it may take to get there.
To make this good news evident, to be witness to this good news, Paul continues on in Colossians 4:6, offering, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.
Paul calls on the witness to be gracious. The invitation in evangelism, in being a witness to God’s love, in sharing the good news with those who do not know the good news, “is not scolding or reprimand or demand.” Walter Brueggemann emphasizes, this witness is “ … invitation. It is permission. It is celebration.”[iv]
Gracious speech is kind, gentle, and welcoming. It is willingness to admit mistake; it is filled with humility. Gracious speech is not off-putting or demeaning, it is not colorful or trite. Gracious speech does not distinguish between the insider and the outsider. It allows for each person to be seen and known as one who is loved by God.
Our speech, Paul says, is to be ‘seasoned with salt.’ I love how one pastor, Sam Storm interprets this phrase in the realm of offering witness to God’s love in Christ. Pastor Storm says, “there’s no virtue in being dull or insipid or lukewarm in the presentation of the gospel.”
When you talk about Christ, when you talk about God, when you talk about the church, when you talk about faith – your faith – do you talk about it like it’s a burden or a blessing?
Does your commitment to Christ come across as something for which you are thankful, or do others perceive it as an encumbrance?
Do you enjoy your giving of time, talent and treasure to the church? Do you lament having to wake early on a Sunday? Do you complain about the Saturday you could have spent at the beach, only instead you find yourself here in town providing a meal for a low-income family in the community?
Do you find others think your life is boring and unseasoned because of your commitment to Christ? Or, are you seasoned with salt in the way you witness? I’m not asking are you spicy – I know we have a few spicy people among us – but at a minimum, do you have season to your witness? Do you live in such a way that people can tell you find energy in knowing that God loves you?
If you can be gracious in your speech, if you can be seasoned with salt, Paul says, you should do these things “so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” So that … conjunctive phrases are important in the Biblical text. They tie two things together, giving importance to each phrase. If you can be gracious in your speech and seasoned with salt – if you can witness in an inviting way that shares your passion for the love of God, you will be ready to answer to anyone about the good news, and the difference it has made in your life.
Being a witness, being committed to Christ in this aspect of discipleship, it’s about creating a new understanding of ‘I.’[v] It’s about creating a new understanding of ‘us.’ It’s about living in such a way and being such a person, that in your witness, a new community is formed. A community of colleagues, neighbors, family, and friends … a new city, a new state, and a new world in which we share in one another’s pain and celebrate with one another in a common hope.
So, I ask today, can I get a witness? How can we make the most loving, gracious witness to Christ in our community? Are you committed to being a witness to and witness of God’s love through Christ? Are you ready to take the next step in your life as a committed disciple of Christ?