A Possible Witnessing Strategy

  • Series: Witnessing
  • Author: Ray C. Stedman

I hope that you have gotten the idea that Christ's coming into the world, was not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved. This is a tremendous factor in this matter of witnessing. So many attempts at personal witnessing fail because we start out on a negative note. We're troubled by some worldly attitude or activity on the part of the one we're talking to and we let it get to us and we start dealing with the symptoms instead of the diseases. We try to cure the outward manifestation rather than the inward ailment. Usually we do it by condemning, by saying, "It's wrong to do this and that." I was at Chico this week and someone told me of a man who prided himself in being a personal soul winner. He would talk to almost everyone who came across his path about the Lord. But the friend who was telling me about this said that he found that whenever he talked to a man that this man had talked to, that he found the door already shut to the Gospel because this man had talked to them and the impression he left, whether he meant to or not, was to become a Christian you have to stop drinking, smoking, gambling, going to movies and so on and so on. This is a result of feeling that Christ came into the world to condemn the world. He came not into the world to condemn the world. He knew what it was like when he came. He didn't come in to simply increase it's guilt, he came in to save it. And this is the note that we must begin on. That's why the Four Spiritual Laws that I gave you last time are a good approach to personal witnessing. They don't start on a negative note. They don't start with the problem of sin. They start with a positive affirmation. "God loves you and has a plan for your life." That gets somebody's attention right now. This is what true witnessing is. It's not condemning anybody. That doesn't mean it's overlooking sin. It's not passing it by. It's not waving your hand at it, but it's not starting on that, it's purpose is not to condemn.

Now we've pretty well covered what I want to cover in this course. But I do want to have one session, tonight, on the principles of witnessing that we've already covered, but which are exemplified in a passage of scripture. A passage that all of you well know. I never weary of turning to our Lord's own words about anything. I've learned to value highly his insights and his words concerning any subject. I feel I've never properly handled any subject in the Bible till I've started with what he has to say. Usually I never get much further because you can spend a lot of time thinking on what the Lord has to say. And as an, of course, perfect example of what witnessing and personal witnessing ought to be, is the Lord himself. We have a number of occasions that we could turn to on this, but one is chapter 4 of John's gospel. The account of his encounter with the woman at the well. John 4, what a beautiful story this is. I would like to quickly run through this, I'm not even going to read it through because I think it's so familiar to all of us. But I'd like to run through it and highlight the principles we've been talking about and show how the Lord exemplifies these so wonderfully in his witnessing.

The first one is that he went where the needy were. He went where somebody needed help. You'll notice that the Lord did not stay in Jerusalem in the Temple courts. He could have found people there who needed help. Undoubtedly, but he never did. Remember how he constantly said to the disciples, "I must needs go into the next city." He was out where the unsaved were. And we will never be effective witnesses, we will never discharge our responsibility in this sense or fulfill the purpose of the Lord in our lives, unless we make ourselves available to people; unless we're in contact with them where they are, out in the world. This is why it is absolutely wrong for Christians to withdraw from the world and the ways of the world around them. To try to content themselves with a 'holy', Christian atmosphere. This is carried sometimes to absurd extremes in our day, where you get a "from the womb to the tomb" sort of thing where schooling and everything is arranged in a Christian atmosphere. But our Lord didn't. He went to where the needy were.

Then notice that he had something very vital to communicate. He knew who he was and he knew that he was the answer to man's need. So everywhere he went, he talked about himself. Quite properly so. Now we're not to do that, of course, because we are not the answer to man's need, but we're to talk about him who is. And he is the answer, so this highlights what we've brought out that witnessing is about Christ. Even Christ thought so and did it, you see? He talked about himself to this woman. He said, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks of you a drink of water, you would have asked of him and he would have given you living water." So he spoke about himself. He had something very vital to communicate. You notice he didn't say a word here about joining the synagogue? Or about even being baptized, though he was standing right by a well of water. He didn't say a word about it to this woman. He brought up no secondary issues. He didn't talk about joining the church or about going through any ritual. He talked about the one vital, essential in human life: the discovery of the One who has come to make life livable. This is where he began with her.

Then notice the third principle of this little story. He took the initiative in this. He didn't wait for her to start the conversation. Sometimes people will start a conversation with us and turn it toward the subject of spiritual matters, but that's rather infrequent. You can win some people if you just wait for them to start the conversation, but you'll reach so many more if you start; if you take the initiative as our Lord did. He said to this woman, "Give me to drink." He asked her a favor. By that tactful exquisite gesture he did several things. For one thing, he opened the conversation. He put her at her ease because he put himself in the position of needing something from her instead of offering to give her a drink which she could have easily refused in foolish Samaritan pride. But he put her on the spot by asking her for a drink which was quite unexpected because, of course, he was dressed as a Jew . She knew he was a Jew. She knew she was a Samaritan and she knew the long-standing hatred between these two factions that had arisen over this, the prejudice was deep-seated in these matters. But he took the initiative and asked her for a drink and thus opened the conversation

Now undoubtedly, he had in mind talking to her about her own spiritual needs. He always went to the point with people, but you notice he doesn't start on this theme. He doesn't open the conversation by saying, "Have you ever been born again?" Or by saying something about her sin. He doesn't jump on her that way. He doesn't say, "My what a pity that a woman like you is nothing but a common street prostitute. There's nothing like this. He just simply asked her for a normal, kind of routine thing, but it suffices to open the conversation. The wonderful thing is how he disregarded completely all the man-made taboos, prejudices, traditions. It was forbidden among the Jews that they should ever even touch the cup that a Samaritan had drunk from and our Lord completely ignores that. All these foolish, prejudicial restrictions that have arisen. He treats her as a person. He simply takes her for what she is, another human being. That's all. In his sight there are no distinctions of creed or color or status, prestige, ancestry, anything like this. All these completely artificial taboos are just ignored. And what a lesson it is for us. In our dealing with others we deal with them just for what they are, just human beings. Whether or not we feel some restraints because of them being above us in the social scale or below us. It makes no difference. I've discovered that men in high positions are exactly the same kind of man as those in a low position. That the bum on skid-row has the same heart and longing as the executive up on Nob Hill. They're just exactly the same and you see the Christian sees them that way. He doesn't see them as a high-salaried executive getting 200,000 dollars a year, ordering men about in an empire of his own. If you have contact with a person like that, they're just as in need as anyone else and you see a heart that's in need. And you don't see a bum that's been wandering the streets in an alcoholic haze for 3 or 4 days. You see a hungry, needy heart. This is what Paul means in 2 Corinthians 5 when he says "Henceforth, we know no man after the flesh." We don't take any regard for these superficial standards. They mean nothing. Absolutely nothing. This is what the Lord did. He just ignored the taboos in a remarkable demonstration here of the heart of God.

The next principle is the courtesy he shows and his respect for her as a person. He knew, as he reveals later, something about this woman. Just how he came to know this information is not given to us. Whether this was previous information that he had about her, from some other source, or whether this was a sudden revelation of the Father to his own heart. So he knew something about her private life, but regardless, he knew her. He knew something about her, but he doesn't let that affect his attitude toward her at all. He shows courtesy to her just as he would to the queen of England, if she'd been there, and treats her the same way. Then the thing I like about this is the way he uses sanctified imagination. The gift of saying something in such a way as to illicit a response; as to draw out her curiosity. He doesn't say to her just, "Give me to drink." and then leave it at that. She replies, "How is that you, a Jew, asketh a drink of me a woman of Samaria?" Now what could he have said. He could have passed it by and said, "Oh, I'm very thirsty." or "I pay no attention to those things. " But you see how he seized the opportunity immediately to say what he had to say in reply in such a way as to pique her curiosity. He said to her, "If you knew the gift of God and who it is that is saying to you, 'Give me to drink.' You would have asked of me and I would have given you living water." Well, that's an odd thing to say, isn't it? And this woman is a woman, she's not gonna leave it just lie there. (laughter) She wants to know more about this. And he's drawn her on.

Now this is a wonderful gift to develop. Practice the habit of couching your replies to somebody's question in a way that will bring out an answer. I've learned to say when somebody asks me what I do, not to say what I used to say, "Oh, I'm a minister." or a preacher. For one thing, I try to avoid that because I know that the minute I say that, that some artificial barriers are going to go up as preachers aren't supposed to be human and it bothers people. So I try to stay away from that, but if they ask me, of course, I tell them, but I don't say anymore that I'm a preacher. You know what I say? I say I'm a sheep-herder. And they look at me in astonishment. Perhaps we're riding in a plane together and here I am dressed as an ordinary American citizen and they don't believe it. They look at me in astonishment and they say, "What? What do you mean?" Then I explain. I say, "Well, you know, according to the Bible, men are like sheep and God is the shepherd. "You know the 23rd Psalm," I often say, "The Lord is my shepherd." And I say, "And I happen to be one of those that have a flock of sheep that I'm responsible for. And this gets the conversation going in the right direction. Just use a little sanctified imagination. Think ahead of time what you're going to say if somebody says to you "so and so". And when you do, what a help it is. I remember Dr. Ironsides telling me of getting on a train once and riding along with a Roman Catholic priest and the priest said to him, "What do you do?" Dr. Ironsides startled him by saying, "I'm a priest in the Holy Catholic church." (laughter) And the man looked at him and said, "You must be jesting." and he said, "No, I'm not. I'm a priest in the Holy Catholic church." and then he went on to explain and it initiated a conversation of great profit to both of them as they rode along.

So this is what the Lord does here, he uses the gift of sanctified imagination and draws the woman out and that brought him to this discussion of the need in her life, the thirst in her soul. You notice he hasn't said a word about sin. First he makes her aware that she is a thirsty individual and that he has something that can satisfy. So now is the time to bring in the problem of sin. And the Lord dealt with that frankly and without condemnation. Notice that he says to her rather abruptly, "Go call your husband and come here." She winces inwardly because she knew, as he knew, that she had had five husbands and the the man that she was living with now was not her husband. And as an evasion she said, "I have no husband." So the Lord said to her, "You're right. I know that, but you've had five husbands and the man you're now living with is not your husband. Is that right? And she drops her eyes and says, "I perceive, sir, that thou art a prophet." Now, we may not be able to do that particular thing. We may not know that much about an individual, but that's not the point. The point here is that when the problem of guilt arises, as it must arise in dealing with a guilty world, it's simply dealt with frankly, factually, without any condemnation, without any sense of superiority or super piousness here. The Lord's just simply saying, "I know all about you. He implies, "I haven't withdrawn from you because of that. I'm very much interested in you, nevertheless. Your sin is simply a problem to be faced. It's not an issue that colors my attitude. And so he posed this question to her.

Now, she introduces a problem. I used to think that this was an evasion on her part, that she's trying to get out from under the sense of his probing finger here in her life. But I don't think so. I think that she really means it when she says, "I perceive that you are a prophet." This startled her, this knowledge of her and she immediately thinks of a question that's she's had in the back of her mind for a long long time and nobody's ever answered for her and here is a man who can probably give it. And so, woman-like, she changes the subject and brings out a question and says, "You know, our fathers worship on this mountain and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship. Now which is right?" And it wasn't an evasion, it was an honest question and the Lord honestly deals with it that's what shows me that it wasn't an evasion on her part. He simply said, "Woman believe me, the hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father, for you worship what you do not know, we worship what we know for salvation is of the Jews. And, though he doesn't go into details, neither does he change his position on this matter of the relationship, of the "rightness" of the Samaritans verses the Jews. He says in effect that there's a sweeping condemnation here, this whole system that she was involved with. But notice how factually it's stated. It isn't said in such a way as to provoke her loyalty, but he goes on, "The hour is coming, and now is, when true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and truth."

In other words, these differences are not the issue. The great issue is, what is your personal relationship to the Father? That's the issue and he brings her right back to that. "God is a spirit and those who worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth." And the woman is all the more convinced that this is indeed a remarkable person. But in a final attempt to sort of quiet down the conversation a bit as it's getting pretty deep, she says, "I know that Messiah is coming, he who is called the Christ and when he is come, he'll show us all things." Without her being aware of it, she is postponing, you see. And this is one thing that you'll always be up against in a conversation along this line. The minute it begins to come to the point, you'll find that people immediately start suggesting that they have plenty of time, or this is a subject we can pursue later, or it's a matter that they'd like to talk to you about some other time and there's that sense of postponement that comes in. Now notice how the Lord deals with it. She said, "I know that when the messiah comes then we'll get answers to these questions. Meanwhile there's no use discussing it." He says, "I am he. You're talking to him. Right now is the time to deal with it. The messiah is here and if you're ever going to settle this issue, you must settle it now." You see how quickly he brings her to the place of decision. Now here was a woman who had demonstrated all along that she was hungry for something. Demonstrated a heart that was responsive and a deep, desperate need and so he simply brings it right to the point.

Now, we're not given the whole conversation here, I'm sure, because he said more to her later on perhaps. Or maybe the whole conversation is recorded, but just at that time the disciples came up and he'd already said enough. The woman left her water jar and went away into the city and said to the people, "Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?" And they went out of the city and came to him. So he brought her to the place of decision. She accepted this fact. She immediately began to broadcast it in the city. Now notice how he did it here. It was her belief in him that won her, wasn't it? But he didn't ask her to sign anything. He didn't ask her to raise her hand or kneel by the well or to do anything. He simply recognized that she had believed. She had received. She had accepted this fact that, "Here is the one." And though we're not given the sequel, the obvious point of the whole story is that here is one that passed from death into life because she believed.

Now you see it isn't necessary that we go through any particular process with people. It's when they believe and commit themselves to the Lord that they're saved. It's all right if we ask them and want to and it works out well, it's always good to give men, I think, something to do along this line, but it ought to be something that's expressive of a belief that we know already to be there. If you want to ask them to pray, to ask the Lord into their life or heart, it's a good thing to do. But it really is only an outward, external manifestation of that which they've already done. It's the moment they believe, you see, and receive, commit themselves to this person that the work of redemption takes place. So here is a marvelous setting forth of the work of witnessing. We can deal with other examples in the scriptures, but I think that this will be very helpful. (27:00)

Are there any questions?

Question: Could you fill me in about some of the details about the enmity between the Samaritans and the Jews?

Answer: Where this arose you mean? Yes, if you read the book of II Kings, at the close of the book, you'll read how this began. When the Jews were carried captive into Babylon from Jerusalem. The king of Babylon gathered in people from the areas around; the Canaanite tribes and other people, and brought them into the city of Jerusalem to live and tried to populate the land of Judah by these people and they assumed (outwardly, at least) much of the external worship that the Jews had. They took over the temple and they had the law. But they changed certain things in it and they perverted it a bit. Since the capital of Israel (the northern kingdom) was in Samaria, these people who were living there refused to go up to Jerusalem, so they started their own temple there. This was where this started. So this was a group of people who were Gentiles by birth, ancestry, but who assumed certain phases and forms of Jewish faith. Of course, when the Jews returned at last to the land, they utterly rejected this type of religion. You'll see more of that if you'll read the book of Nehemiah. So this is where the enmity arose between them. Two schools of thought.

Any questions on witnessing now?

Question: Isn't it true that we often feel we haven't "closed the sale" unless we get a final decision?

Yes, it is. This is what I've been trying to bring out that we ought to be sensitive at this point and not press a decision. A decision that is pressed is usually not a valid one. Sometimes it is, but for the most part, there is plenty of power in the Holy Spirit's inner conviction to bring a person to a decision if they're ready to come. And I just simply have learned not to press people on this. Give them an opportunity. If they seem ready, fine, but even if they are slightly reluctant, many times I've asked them to make this decision on their own, by themselves and then let me know. I haven't just closed the door completely, but many many times I've had them call me up the next day or come around the next day or make a contact again and I've found that they have received the Lord. Sometimes even a few minutes later. Nobody has to do this in front of anyone.

This verse in Romans 10:9-10 "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." does not mean standing up in public and giving a testimony or making a confession before another individual. The mouth and the heart are figures there, aren't they? But what we do is to take that verse, one part to be literal and the other figurative. We say, "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth" that means actually to do it. To say the words in public before someone. And "believe in thine heart", well we take that figuratively. Of course, that just means that you, with your whole person, your whole will commit yourself, but you can't do that. That's poor hermeneutics, interpretation. You have to take both either figuratively or both literally. Now the "mouth" there simply means the expression of the will to God. "That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth", that is: to God, as though you articulated it; as though you said it vocally to him. "And believe (in the inner) heart", the inner man, "that Christ is available, risen from the dead, thou shalt be saved."

So you see this has nothing to do with a public testimony. Now, later on, perhaps you might be asked to give a public testimony or maybe put in a situation where to keep silent about the Lord would be to deny him. Well then you need to speak up because the Lord said that "he that confesses me before men, him shall I confess before my Father which is in heaven." But that's a situation that has grown out of certain circumstances. It has nothing to do with the way you become a Christian.

Question: (inaudible, but is in regards to praying "to be seen of men")

Well this is dealing with the subject of prayer. Yes, it's against the idea of making a big demonstration of your piousness before people. But to be what you are in secret. Let it be righteous and walk openly and honestly before the Lord even when you're by yourself.

Comment from audience: "I always get a such big kick out of seeing Catholic priests walking around in the yard with the Bible....") (inaudible)

Well, we want to be careful that we're not judging them because many of these priests and nuns, too, are very devout people who have very hungry hearts earnestly seeking for truth. They're part of a system that they don't know any better than to belong to in the sense that they feel that they can find the truth there. Like this woman here, we need to disregard the man-made taboos and traditions that have gathered around them and treat them as individuals.

Title: A Possible Witnessing Strategy Author: Ray C. Stedman
Series:Witnessing Date:1965
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