The holidays are upon us. After the Thanksgiving football game, it’s time to put on your own cleats, helmet, and shoulder pads—for the line of scrimmage you find as you wait for the doors to open on Black Friday. It’s time for pushing and shoving and getting what you want before the other guy. What a wonderful tradition as we begin the season that celebrates our Lord’s birth! In all seriousness, we Christians have got to watch the way we treat people all year round—but this season in particular when we’d better be aware of our Christian witness as we wish people a “Merry Christmas” and bulldoze people out of the way. The fact is that during this season of the year, people are more aware of our Christian witness than during any other time. We’ve got to make sure that that witness is positive and not negative. Looking at the fourth chapter of John’s gospel, I’ve found seven things we can do to make our witness more positive.
1. Make sure you go through Samaria. Verse four says that Jesus “had to go through Samaria on the way.”[i] The fact is, he didn’t. Samaria was an unsavory area that most good Jewish travelers went around instead of going through. There were good roads that he might have taken to avoid that neighborhood, just like there are good roads that you probably take to go around the people and places you wish to avoid. I’m not saying you should put yourself in physical jeopardy, but you should seriously ask yourself the question, “Am I avoiding those people and places because of prejudices I have?” Then choose to move past your prejudice and go into the places you might otherwise avoid.
2. Stop and talk with people. How often we rush through our errands, our shopping, our lives without stopping to talk with people! We treat the cashier or the attendant like the robot that rings up our groceries, rather than the people that they are. Jewish theologian Martin Buber talked about a concept called I-Thou. He said we normally treat people in an I-It manner, but when you treat people as people, respectfully honoring them as individuals, we go a long way towards achieving peace and making a positive difference in the world. It’s no small thing that in verses 6-8, Jesus stopped and spoke to the Samaritan woman. Jewish men didn’t speak with women they didn’t know—even other Jewish women. But to speak with a Samaritan woman was unheard of. Let’s follow Jesus’ example, and treat others like the human beings that they are.
3. Ask somebody for a small favor. In his book How to Win Friends and Influence People, Dale Carnegie recommends asking somebody for a small favor, if you want to get them to like you. When you do something nice for someone, your heart can’t help but warm towards them. So when Jesus asked the woman, “please give me a drink (v.7),” he wasn’t asking her to be subservient. He was initiating in such a way that he knew would warm her heart to further conversation. We can do the same as we engage the people around us.
4. Remember that you have something of value to offer. So many Christians hold back on their witness because they don’t really believe they have anything worthwhile to say to people, yet we have the most amazing thing in the world to share! Jesus said, “If you only knew the gift God has for you and who you are speaking to, you would ask me, and I would give you living water (v. 10).” And again, “Anyone who drinks this water will soon become thirsty again. But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again. It becomes a fresh, bubbling spring within them, giving them eternal life (vv. 13-14).” Christians can offer the world compassion, mercy, understanding, charity, hope, love, and so much more. Don’t hold back—offer the world your best.
5. Be Real with People, without condemning. Jesus wasn’t afraid to handle tough topics, and neither should we be. In verses 17-18, when the woman said she didn’t have a husband, Jesus said, “You’re right! You don’t have a husband—for you have had five husbands, and you aren’t even married to the man you’re living with now. You certainly spoke the truth!” He didn’t say this in a condemning way, but in a way that let her know that even upon their first meeting, Jesus was willing to engage in deep and meaningful conversation. I’ve had many people who have unloaded heavy burdens on me, even upon first meeting, once they knew I was safe and willing to be real with them. But if we’re not willing to be real with people, why should they open up?
6. Don’t get involved in combative religious conversations. Too many Christians take the bait that antagonists offer, and get embroiled in unnecessary debate. Or, on the flip side, some Christians feel they have to prove a point and so will push their opinions on other people. Jesus did neither of these things. When the woman asked him whether her people’s religious practices were better or worse than the Jewish traditions, Jesus offered a third option. “Jesus replied, ‘Believe me, dear woman, the time is coming when it will no longer matter whether you worship the Father on this mountain or in Jerusalem… For God is Spirit, so those who worship him must worship in spirit and in truth (vv. 21, 24).” If you want to be a good witness, don’t be combative. Let the Holy Spirit guide you in this.
7. Uncompromisingly communicate the truth (vv. 25-26). Jesus wasn’t combative, yet he did speak the truth in love, without wavering. “The woman said, ‘I know the Messiah is coming—the one who is called Christ. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.’ Then Jesus told her, ‘I am the Messiah!’” Jesus wasn’t pushy, but he did employ a simple, direct method of communicating that convinced her. So we need to stand for the truth in a direct, yet gentle way.
This holiday season, and throughout the year, let’s be aware of the witness we have as Christians. Let’s make sure that the witness we give is a positive, and not a negative one. Through the message of Jesus, and by living as true Christ-followers, we can be a tremendous force for good in the world. 1 Peter 3:15b says, “If someone asks about your hope as a believer, always be ready to explain it.” Let your testimony be more than just a “Merry Christmas” instead of “Happy Holidays.” Let your message reach across barriers and break down walls. In short, let your witness be as good as the good news of Jesus.