Leading Question: When we witness to the love of God, should we expect positive results, negative results, or is the result entirely unpredictable?
Under the heading of “fruit of revival,” the official Study Guide includes two lessons, one on witness and service, and one on obedience. In this lesson we will focus on witness and service.
In modern Christian circles, “witness” and “service” often are seen as separate activities. Witnessing in the religious sense is usually practiced by conservatives as they seek to win the world for their particular view of Christianity. With some notable exceptions (such as the evangelical action group, Sojourners), the emphasis on service is that of “liberal” Christians who seek to provide humanitarian aid to suffering humanity. A third area, concern for the earth and ecological needs, is most likely to be addressed in the modern world by secularists, those who believe we should save the world because it is the one we have to live in.
1. An Old Testament perspective. In the Old Testament, what Christians would call humanitarian aid was the primary calling of the good king. Ps. 72, for example, which sings the praises of a good king, these lines stand out:
1 Give the king your justice, O God,
and your righteousness to a king’s son.
2 May he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice.
4 May he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.
12 For he delivers the needy when they call,
the poor and those who have no helper.
13 He has pity on the weak and the needy,
and saves the lives of the needy.
14 From oppression and violence he redeems their life;
and precious is their blood in his sight. – Ps. 72, NRSV
Question: Is there any evidence in Scripture that Hezekiah and Josiah met those requirements?
Note: Both Hezekiah and Josiah were so concerned to reverse the effects of idolatry, that their emphasis was on religious reform, not humanitarian outreach. In Hezekiah’s case, however, the reform did result in the priests and Levites receiving their portion of the tithe. The chief priest, Azariah, told the king, “Since they began to bring the contributions into the house of the Lord, we have had enough to eat and have plenty to spare; for the Lord has blessed his people, so that we have this great supply left over” (2 Chron. 31:10). And in that “religious” connection it is worth noting that in Psalm 82, where the gods of the other nations are called to account in judgment before the true God, the indictment focuses directly on human issues:
2 “How long will you judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked? Selah
3 Give justice to the weak and the orphan;
maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute.
4 Rescue the weak and the needy;
deliver them from the hand of the wicked.” – Ps. 82, NRSV
2. A New Testament perspective. In the revival of Acts 2, a mix of service and witness appear. The dominant emphasis is on witness since the apostles were so convinced that Jesus was the answer to all the world’s problems. These points are worth noting:
a) Early Communism. The early believers tried to take care of their own needs. They practiced a kind of early communism, holding all things in common and giving to those in need. Acts 4:34 states: “There was not a needy person among them” (NRSV). But the system was quickly overwhelmed with problems. The frightful Ananias and Sapphira event shocked everyone: “Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things” (Acts 5:11, NRSV). In Acts 6, the Greek and Hebrew widows began accusing each other of unfairness, a charge that led to the appointment of the seven deacons, men who could both preach and serve, as seen by Stephen’s sermon in Acts 7 and Philip’s ministry to the Ethiopian eunuch in Acts 8. The rationale for the appointment of the deacons was so that the apostles wouldn’t have to “wait on tables” (6:2), the seven could take care of that; the apostles would devote themselves to “prayer and to serving the word” (6:4). But that distinction did not prevent two of the seven from becoming known as powerful speakers and/or Bible workers.
b) Buoyant Witnessing. The witnessing for Jesus was irrepressible and buoyant in the early chapters of Acts. But it often carried a sharp edge. Acts 2:46-47 could summarize the experience on a positive note: “Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved” (NRSV).
c). Deadly critique. In Steven’s sermon in Acts 7, his sharp critique of Jewish rebellion proved deadly for him. This is not the ideal spoken of by Ellen White, words that “will reform, but not exasperate” (6T 122). His witness cost him his life, and it doesn’t take a sophisticated analysis of his sermon to discover why.
Steven’s example of strident “religious witnessing” has too often been universalized and absolutized by Evangelical Christians, especially those of a Calvinist bent. An important corrective from Jesus, however, is his judgment story in Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep and the goats. Like the judgment scene in Ps. 82, Jesus’ story focuses on serving human need. The sheep are commended for serving their Lord, and goats are condemned, not for any great and obvious evil, but for not helping those in need. The words to the sheep are worth quoting:
34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ (NRSV)
It was this story that triggered a famous chapter in Ellen White’s Desire of Ages, a chapter that tells us that the results of revival and reformation must be defined in terms of the results, and the results are measured in terms of human needs. These two paragraphs are crucial:
Christ on the Mount of Olives pictured to His disciples the scene of the great judgment day. And He represented its decision as turning upon one point. When the nations are gathered before Him, there will be but two classes, and their eternal destiny will be determined by what they have done or have neglected to do for Him in the person of the poor and suffering. (Desire of Ages, 637)
Those whom Christ commends in the judgment may have known little of theology, but they have cherished His principles. Through the influence of the divine Spirit they have been a blessing to those about them. Even among the heathen are those who have cherished the spirit of kindness; before the words of life had fallen upon their ears, they have befriended the missionaries, even ministering to them at the peril of their own lives. Among the heathen are those who worship God ignorantly, those to whom the light is never brought by human instrumentality, yet they will not perish. Though ignorant of the written law of God, they have heard His voice speaking to them in nature, and have done the things that the law required. Their works are evidence that the Holy Spirit has touched their hearts, and they are recognized as the children of God. (Desire of Ages, 638)