I am encouraged by the strong resurgence of biblical preaching in the Church. I am thankful for going to a seminary (Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) that prepared me so well for faithfully preaching the gospel in all of the Scriptures. Preaching is vital to the life of the church. In his directive to Timothy who seems to be a lead elder/pastor in the church of Ephesus, Paul encourages Timothy to devote himself to the duty of reading, exhorting and teaching of Scriptures (1 Tim 4:13, 2 Tim 4:2). Paul himself went to the church of Corinth with the purpose of preaching (1 Cor. 1:17-21). There are many other verses that uphold the central place of preaching in the body of Christ as a priority of our gatherings and for the building of the church.
While that is the case, we also see in the Scriptures that the use of testimony is a powerful weapon of the gospel as we take Christ to the world. When Jesus healed a demon possessed man, he told this man to return to his home and declare what God had done for him (Lk. 8:39). The Psalmist says, “Come and hear, all you who fear God, and I will tell what he has done for my soul.” (Ps. 66:16). Paul also urges Timothy not to be ashamed about the testimony of Jesus or about Paul’s own personal testimony (2 Tim. 1:8-9). The fact that Paul has a testimony that he shares from a prison cell, is nothing to be ashamed of. It shows the power of God in a man who is not living for this world. Paul’s testimony should embolden Christians to see that this truth that we have is worth the cost and everything in this world is small in comparison. In Hebrews 12 we are told to lay aside sin and endure to the end in following Christ. This whole chapter comes directly after a list of testimony of the lives of saints who have gone before us in doing this. Therefore, chapter 12 starts with the words, “Since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses…”
Personal testimonies are the recounting of our own personal experiences, but they can also be problematic. Our experiences are not the authority for others to believe in Christ. The Apostle Peter recognized this. Peter had stood as an eye-witness to the transfiguration. Can you imagine seeing Jesus standing before you right next to Moses and Elijah over 1000 years after their death? Peter could have easily used such an amazing experience as the reason people should turn to Christ, but Peter said that his experience was only a manifestation of something more reliable, namely, the Word of God (2 Peter 1:16-21). Peter was a fallible human being and even though his experience was authentic, the only way he could possibly understand that experience with the right interpretation was to understand it in the light of infallible truth. Peter calls it a word more sure. Peter’s experience is not truth itself, but it is understood in light of the truth. Our Christian experiences are not truth in themselves but are the manifestation of gospel truth in our lives. If those experiences don’t match the all sufficient gospel that we read in Scripture, they cannot be categorized as Christian experiences and are not to be used as Christian testimony.
When this is acknowledged, Christian testimonies are useable, edifying, and powerful ways of giving living examples of the effect of God’s grace in someone’s life as a result of his gospel truth. A testimony becomes a Christian testimony when it declares a biblical understanding of God’s holiness, our sin, Christ’s death and resurrection, and the effect on our life through repentance and faith. We don’t all come to know the gospel in the same way. Some have come through an intellectual pursuit or debate, while others have come through friendship and caregiving and other sources and events. We are all different and God has worked the same unchanging gospel of truth in each of us through our varying journeys. When we hear them, it is always testimony of a loving God who is actively at work in saving his sheep through the good news of Jesus alone. Christian testimonies inspire us to evangelize, they encourage us to boldness, and they strengthen our faith. Most of all, they should fill us with adoration of our saving God.
In our church we are about to hear two amazing testimonies in the weeks ahead. This week we hear of a man who was snatched by Christ out of the seemingly unbreakable grasp of Islam. Next week we will hear a young lady who found true relief in the forgiveness of Christ compared to the anxieties of this world. Both will have the same gospel. Both will be to the Glory of God who has a mission to make his name known throughout all the world.