Can I Get a Witness?
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As Paul’s conversion experience is shared with a young Timothy, the power of our stories of faith is underscored. What is your story? How do we go about sharing our authentic stories of faith?
Scripture: 1 Timothy 1:12–17
I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. The saying is sure and worthy of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the foremost.
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Can I Get a Witness?
Throughout Paul’s letters he tells the story of his conversion over and over again. Paul is compelled to share the way God saved him from his former life in which he persecuted God’s people to his new life in which he is working to support and participate with God’s people.
In the Christian world we have oversimplified the idea of what it means to be saved. We say that all one has to do is confess a belief in Jesus to be saved with little talk about what that means in the way someone lives. Because we want to avoid the idea that any of us have control over our salvation we end up abdicating responsibility for any actions as evidence of our faith in God.
However, to be saved in scripture nearly always involves one being re-fashioned for the good work of God in this world. When someone in scripture has an encounter with God in a life-saving way they become advocates for God in this world and like Paul, they become repurposed for God’s work in the world.
For me this conversation begs the question: If conversion is indicated by a person’s participation in God’s work in this world, can people who profess Christianity, but do not behave in ways consistent with the love, grace, and mercy of Christ in the gospels really claim that God has saved or changed their life?
There are some many people in this world who profess to be Christian, but live in ways that are contradictory to the way Jesus showed us to live. There are people who let prejudice guide how they treat others, people who care little for human life, and people who do not believe that their business life and church life should concern one another. These people profess Christ with their mouths, but something else with their actions. What do we do with people like this? As people of faith, what is our responsibility with these people?
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Can I Get a Witness?
Over the next several weeks, we will be in the books of 1 and 2 Timothy. Young Timothy was apprentice to Paul and these letters are written to Timothy who remains in Ephesus after Paul has left. The first of the two letters is geared at giving Timothy instructions on what he should be doing while Paul is away and there is a good bit of effort given to encouraging him to beware of false teachers.
However, in today’s passage, and as was Paul’s custom, he opens his letter by giving an account of his own salvation experience. Paul’s gratitude for the salvation he experiences on the road to Damascus is unmatched. He is one who is aware that before he encountered the risen Christ, he was a fairly terrible person — and so Christ rescued him not only from the life he was living out but also for life eternal. And so, as Paul is beginning his letter to his young apprentice Paul gives witness to the grace, love, and mercy of Jesus.
As people of faith there are many ways that we come to know who God is and how God works among us. We know God by what we are taught in church and by our families of origin. We know God by what we read in scripture. We know God by the traditions of our faith community. And we know God by personal experience. Paul is a firm believer in his own personal experience and I think we would do well to find ways to affirm our own personal experiences with God and how we experience God in our lives. We live in a time in which the millennial generation is reminding us of the importance of personal experience.
There is power in telling our stories, but also in hearing the stories of others. By listening to the ways that God is moving in the lives of those around, we are challenged to look for the ways God is moving in our own lives. When we value the experiences other people have with God, we also value that person. There is a sense that listening to the stories of other people, we are participating in the work of God’s justice in the world. Think about Paul — there was no reason that his voice needed to make it in scripture. He was a truly horrible person before his encounter with the risen Christ. However, he told his experience so often, others had to listen and so he is one of the most prolific contributors to scripture today. When we listen to the stories of others we demonstrate their value to us.
And so, I encourage you over this next week to find ways to tell the stories of how God is moving in your life, and also look for ways to hear the experiences of those who are different from you — those in your own circles. In witnessing the stories of God in our own lives and in the lives of others, we are witness to God in this world.