Speaking at Upward? No Testimony, Please…

What would you do if you were asked to give the “message” at halftime of an Upward Sports match? This situation really comes up, and Christians with sound theology need to be ready at all times to present God’s Word to the world. A Twitter friend asked this question and I was disappointed to see so many people encouraging him to share his testimony. Here’s why:

We are Told to Preach Christ

The Bible is clear that the primary object of our preaching is Jesus Christ. In 2 Corinthians, we are actually given a clear contrast between preaching ourselves and preaching Christ.

For we preach not ourselves, but Christ Jesus the Lord; and ourselves your servants for Jesus’ sake.
2 Corinthians 4:5

You are not spectacular. Christ is. You are not a savior. Christ is. You are fallible. Christ is infallible. You never died for anyone’s sins. But Jesus did. You are nothing more than a servant or a slave of a great King. No one needs to hear about you, your life, your thoughts, opinions, or funny stories. What they need is an encounter with Jesus Christ, and God has providentially put you in a position to speak of him.

There will be plenty of situations in life where simply preaching Christ will be seriously awkward. But an Upward Sports match? It’s supposed to be a Christian organization. If there was ever a place where it ought to be OK to proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light (1 Peter 2:9), it’s at an Upward Sports match.

We are Told to Preach the Word

Those of us who hope only in the power of God’s Word to transform lives ought to be the most consistent when it comes to dispensing God’s Word wherever possible. What message does it send to our hearers if, when we have a chance to give them Truth, we don’t tell them what God has said?

preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching.
2 Timothy 4:2

Aaron Burden

I understand that preaching God’s Word isn’t easy. But that does not preclude you from being ready. Peter told us to always be prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks us for a reason for the hope that is in us (1 Peter 3:15). That exhortation was written with persecution in mind. How much more ready ought we be in times of peace. Paul warned Timothy to preach the word and to be ready whenever. You may not be a pastor, but the fact that by God’s providence you are in a position to speak on spiritual things pretty much dictates you ought to be ready.

Every man should have a sermon in his pocket, just in case. We ought to all be so soaked in God’s Word regularly that to be asked out of the blue to talk about it should not be troublesome. Sure, afterward you may believe you could have preached the gospel better, but you will never be able to preach a better gospel. And do not neglect the Holy Spirit’s ability to anoint you while you speak. Pray earnestly for His aid. It may be that God superintended things such that you would have very little time to prepare—in order that you would not rely on your own strength and that you may be convicted of your lack of any season prepared-ness and do better going forward.

Not Convinced?

Maybe you are still not convinced. Maybe you think a testimony is a great way to introduce Christ to people and that your testimony will include lots of Scripture. Let me address a few potential objections to my assertion that you should simply open your Bible and preach or teach from it.

“My testimony is a story of what Jesus has done for me and can do for others. What’s the matter with that?”

Generally speaking, I think testimonies are great ways to introduce Christ to people. But usually that situation is one where the person has asked you questions about yourself already…so it is a natural thing to tell people about yourself. I hope you use every opportunity to maneuver your person story to Christ when in those situations.

Adrià Crehuet Cano

But unless you were specifically asked to give a testimony, let’s keep the topic of your message Jesus Christ, and let’s keep you out of it. Why risk people focusing on your story or you when you can place their focus on Christ? Most folks aren’t the best listeners, especially at these events, so if you load your time up with descriptions of your womanizing or drug addiction or false conversion period, there’s a chance that’s all some people will key in on, and they’ll miss the gospel, if you ever present it clearly.

Secondly, we have a tendency when presenting our testimony to explain what Jesus did for us in a way that doesn’t actually challenge the sinners who are listening. That is, we say things like “and then I repented and trusted Jesus for my salvation,” without ever bringing God’s law to bear on our hearers, or making them personally responsible to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

“Paul gave his testimony. See Acts 26.”

This is true. But let’s be careful here. Paul didn’t commit the same errors described above that many of us commit when testifying. Additionally, Paul was in a situation where he was supposed to be telling this story. In fact, Paul inserted more gospel and proclamation of Christ here than was probably necessary to make his defense. It was as if Paul was relishing the opportunity to get the subject off himself and onto Jesus so that those who were in his hearing might believe.

Also, how about this: anyone who is an Apostle and has seen the risen Christ is free to act however the Spirit is leading him, but the rest of us need to stick to the advice already written by the Spirit in the Bible—preach not ourselves, but Christ.

“But I don’t want to come across as harsh. Isn’t it better to ensure I’m invited back?”

This seems noble at first glance. We say to ourselves that we won’t bring the full force of God’s law and wrath on folks because we want to be able to minister to them again, and we are “sure” that we won’t get another chance if we are too preachy. This wasn’t the attitude of literally any faithful preacher in the Bible. Men of God in the Bible opened their mouths and taught and suffered the consequences, entrusting their lives to a faithful creator while doing good.

No, I think we are more cowardly than we’d like to admit. We are worried about our reputation—even among professing Christians—more than we are concerned for souls. We say we intend to minister later, but in reality, we are just putting off what we know we ought to do. We are more concerned with how carnal minds will perceive us than we are interested in commending ourselves to God and blessing other sheep of His pasture.

If you preach Christ, if you stick to the Bible, your words will likely be the refreshment that another dear saint needed. Your sermon will be the only water in a desert. True Christian parents will be thankful for a man who stood up and gave it to them, and their sons and daughters, straight from the Word.

You May Not Get Another Chance

This may be your last chance to ever preach or teach in your life. It may be the last time you see some of these folks, or have their ears. Don’t let worldly thinking cloud your judgement, filling you with fears and doubts that have no place in a mind that is taking every thought captive to Christ. Pray, prepare as much as you can, and go stand and speak in the power of the Holy Spirit. Select a text, give them truthful commentary, and point them to the Only Savior, Jesus Christ our Lord.

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