My last post considered the question of how to love God from God’s perspective, from the information about God that has been revealed through Scripture. I discussed the need to both learn and try, as best we can, to do God’s will. This post will consider the importance of bearing witness to God.
It is not enough to simply know and follow the commandments. Loving God also entails a willingness to acknowledge Him before others. This makes perfect sense, of course. How would you feel if, arriving at a party and seeing a close friend, he pretended not to know you because the people he was talking to might not like you or be interested in meeting you? Would it not add insult to injury if he actually acted as if he could not see you as you approached? You would feel betrayed, and rightfully so. But, you protest, interacting with God is different. After all, it’s often considered impolite to discuss matters of religion with other people, and as is increasingly true today, there may be negative ramifications to us if we are viewed as “fanatical,” or worse yet, “bigoted. As a result, many people remain silent when they have a chance to bear witness to the truth of the Gospels.
There is, of course, a time and a place to witness. We are not to throw pearls before swine, so that we are not mauled when they are done trampling the pearls. (Matt. 7) This, however, requires that we are at least attempting to be faithful; if, by contrast, our plan is to always remain silent so as not to be thought a “fundamentalist,” we would never need to worry about the dogs or the swine mentioned by Matthew. Far too many Christians today have succeeded in compartmentalizing their faith so completely that it bears no relation to historic Christianity, and their behavior is no different than any of their unbelieving friends. And the rest of us, truth be told, also do much less than we could.
Jesus had many difficult teachings which touched on this very subject:
Everyone who acknowledges me before others I will acknowledge before my heavenly Father. But whoever denies me before others, I will deny before my heavenly Father. Do not think that I have come to bring peace upon the earth. I have come to bring not peace but the sword. For I have come to set a man 'against his father, a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; and one's enemies will be those of his household. Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and whoever does not take up his cross and follow after me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
Difficult and challenging words, indeed, and although witnessing must be done tactfully, it is sobering to consider Jesus’ promise that he will return shame for shame:
He summoned the crowd with his disciples and said to them, "Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and that of the gospel will save it.
What profit is there for one to gain the whole world and forfeit his life? What could one give in exchange for his life? Whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this faithless and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of when he comes in his Father's glory with the holy angels.
Bearing true witness to God also requires that we act in a certain way toward each other. We must live out the command to love our neighbor as ourselves. Otherwise, like the Pharisees, God will rightly see us as hypocrites. Many Christians today don't see the need to change their behavior; they have forgotten the meaning of forgiveness and have allowed their hearts to become hardened, often over minor misunderstandings. Jesus’ teaching on this point was clear:
You have heard that it was said, 'You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your heavenly Father, for he makes his sun rise on the bad and the good, and causes rain to fall on the just and the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what recompense will you have? Do not the tax collectors do the same? Matt 5:43-46
We must also be good role models for others, striving never to be the occasion for others to sin: "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” (Matt. 18) We must act with humility, not like “the scribes, who like to go around in long robes and accept greetings in the marketplaces, seats of honor in synagogues, and places of honor at banquets. They devour the houses of widows and, as a pretext, recite lengthy prayers. They will receive a very severe condemnation." (Mark 12)
Loving God as He expects is not easy. As fallen beings, we can never live up to His expectations. Nor can we ever, by our actions, earn our way to Him. But none of this should ever lead us to stop trying, for to truly love God, we must live according to His will. It is in redirecting our will to more closely coincide with His that we take our first faltering steps toward home.