but barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. so he went in and out among them at jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord.
[acts 9:27-28]
barnabas bearing witness
the second commandment, “thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor,” is actually talking about this kind of witness. witness is an important part of scriptural teaching in many areas, for example in confronting sin in an elder: “do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses.” (1 Tim. 5:19) the old testament actually goes a step further: “a single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.” (deut. 19:15, emphasis mine)
false witness, then, is corroborating someone’s accusation against someone when you in fact did not witness their sin. it’s the formal version of what we call gossip or slander—informally spreading accusations about someone for sins we did not witness.
we get to see the positive side of witness here in acts—barnabas’ witness to the testimony and preaching Jesus’ name. without witness, paul likely never would have been restored to the apostles. the work Jesus did on the road to damascus, and continued to do over 3 years in Paul, is being witnessed to in order to restore paul to the apostolic ring.
how are you using your witness? what are you witnessing to?
serving as a witness to the sin of a brother or sister in Christ in leading them to repentance is one of the highest calls in the body of Christ. witnessing to someone’s character when you hear gossip or slander about them and stopping gossip in its tracks helps kill disunity at the source. witnessing about the finished work of Christ on the cross and his continuing work in your life can encourage believers and bring salvation to the lost!
abusing witness, or failing to wield it, however, has the opposite effect. ultimately, it is not our love for others that drives our witness, but our love of Christ:
fear not, therefore; you are of more value than many sparrows. so everyone who acknowledges me before men, i also will acknowledge before my father who is in heaven, but whoever denies me before men, i also will deny before my father who is in heaven.
do not think that i have come to bring peace to the earth. i have not come to bring peace, but a sword. for i have come to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. and a person’s enemies will be those of his own 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 his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.
[matthew 10:31-38]
being a witness for Christ is costly—it will cause strife near-everywhere we go. the question is not, “is this conversation worth it?” it’s—“is Jesus worth it?”
when i fail to use my witness boldly, i am thankful that “we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.” (heb. 4:15) the Lord is patient with us beyond our comprehension, and i am so thankful that his pleasure in us is not based on our performance as witnesses—it’s based on Jesus’ witness on our behalf: “[Christ] is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them. (heb. 7:15, emphasis mine) Jesus is always witnessing to the father on our behalf—crediting his righteousness to us.
what a God we serve!
~ stephen hall