Matthew 4:18-22 (v18) And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon
called Peter, and Andrew his brother casting a net into the sea, for they were fishers.
(v19) And He saith unto them, Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men.
(v20) And they straightway left their nets and followed Him.
(v21) And going on from thence, He saw other two brethren, James the son of Zebedee, and
John his brother in a ship with Zebedee their father, mending their nets, and He called them.
(v22) And they immediately left their ship and their father and followed Him.
Although we Christian believers are called and chosen to be fishers of men, are we the ones controlling the rod and reel? Are we the ones controlling the net? We would like to think we are, but in reality it is the Holy Spirit Who is in control. It is He Who casts out the line; it is He Who casts out the net; it is He Who reels in the fish. Since this is true, what part do we play?
It is important to remember that being a fisher of men has nothing to do with human ingenuity. It is not about how we can manipulate and “play” with the fish in order to wear it out. Of course, we are not talking about fish, we’re talking about people. Yet we use the same techniques to “catch” a sinner as a fisherman uses to hook a fish. For the most part we have used witnessing as a tool to outsmart those who don’t know God. We think if we just keep dangling the hook, if we just keep saying the right words, if we can keep one step ahead of them when it comes to debating the Bible, at some point they will fall on their faces and repent, or do as the Philippian jailer (“What must I do to be saved?”).
In so doing we have reduced witnessing to a work of the flesh instead of a dynamic of the Spirit. When I say “work of the flesh”, I am talking about witnessing and trying to reach the lost in our own strength, under our own direction, instead of being directed and led by the Holy Spirit, Who is the only One qualified and capable to cast the net and bring in the fish.
Witnessing in our own strength speaks of using man-made techniques and tactics to reach the lost. It results in frustrating ourselves when we feel the unsaved person has not repented in the time we think he should. Witnessing in our own strength means we are not walking in grace, but are walking under law. “If I don’t knock on ten doors today and tell those people about Jesus, I’ll feel as though I’m not doing my job.” What if the Holy Spirit doesn’t want you to knock on ten doors? What if He wants you to knock on twenty? What if He only wants you to knock on one door? What if He doesn’t want you to knock on any doors today, but wants you to spend time in prayer and searching the Word?
“If I don’t knock on ten doors today and tell those people about Jesus, I’ll feel as though I’m not doing my job.” The key word is “job”. Witnessing in our own strength reduces witnessing from a joy to a job. It becomes an obligation to fulfill, a chore to perform.
The worst problem witnessing in our own strength produces, in my humble opinion, is that in our zeal to reach the lost, we become willing to lower our standards of Biblical integrity. This is a problem facing many churches today. Should we lower our standards to reach the lost? Do the ends really justify the means? Should a church adopt a politically correct position in order to appear friendly to the world? Should its purpose be to advertise its programs and promise not to offend anybody, all in the name of evangelization? Witnessing is not about being callous and cold and condemning. It is not about pointing a self-righteous finger in someone’s face and telling her, “I’m better than you are because I’m a Christian and you’re nothing but a sinner.” God hates that kind of attitude. On the other hand, witnessing is also not about being such an ear tickler and a back slapper, that you will not tell that person the truth about his standing with God. Every church should be sinner friendly; we should make every sinner and backslider feel welcome when he or she steps through our doors. But no church should be sin friendly; no sinner who sits under the anointed preaching of the Word of God should feel comfortable in his or her sin.
Returning to my original thought, witnessing is meant to be a dynamic of the Spirit, and not an invention of our flesh. Someone who is reading this may be asking, “Aren’t there works involved with witnessing?” Yes there is, and it is found in our Scripture passage; did you notice it? “Follow Me.” These are two simple, yet profound words that will mean the difference between witnessing being a joy instead of a job, and a dynamic of the Spirit, as opposed to a work of our flesh.
“Follow Me.” What does that mean? What does it imply? Most importantly, how is it connected to witnessing?
Notice that Jesus said, “Follow Me.” When witnessing is a dynamic of the Spirit, it will be all about the Person of Christ. I will share more later, but suffice it to say, the Holy Spirit wants to reveal Christ to the lost. When witnessing is reduced to an invention of our flesh, it becomes all about fulfilling an agenda, namely, “Look what I am doing for the Lord.” This brings us back to the law aspect that “I should knock on ten doors today.” A noble undertaking yes, but if it is not led and ordained by the Holy Ghost, it can become a vain work.
Witnessing that is a dynamic of the Spirit of God will be all about Christ. Witnessing that is a work of the flesh is all about us, what we are doing for Jesus. Witnessing that is a dynamic of the Spirit will cause us to drop our jaws in wonder as we watch in amazement what He is doing in the lives of our lost loved ones. Witnessing that is a work of the flesh will cause us to stick our thumbs in our spiritual lapels and boast about how we got in the last word over that debate about the Bible.
“Follow Me.” This is our part in the wonderful dynamic of witnessing. It doesn’t sound like much at all until we realize that it is the precursor to what His part is. “I will make you fishers of men.” This speaks of process and preparation, of trial and testing, of being tried and proven. The amazing truth is not that we’re ready to witness after we’ve gone through the process and preparation, but that we are His witnesses while we are going through the process and preparation. When Jesus proclaimed, “I will make you fishers of men,” He sounded very confident He could do the job. He did not say, “I will try My best to whip you into shape to become fishers of men.” When He told the disciples, “ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost has come upon you, and ye shall be witnesses unto Me,” it was another positive declaration. He did not say, “Try your best to be witnesses for Me.” He said “You shall be witnesses unto Me.”
Philippians 1:6 Being confident of this very thing, that He which hath begun a good work in
you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.
How is this verse related to witnessing? When we yielded to the call and drawing of the Holy Spirit to make Jesus Savior and Lord of our lives, He moved in and set up shop. He rolled up His sleeves and went straight to work, immediately beginning a work in our lives which continues as of this day. This is the process and preparation we spoke of earlier. And it is a public work He is doing. By this I mean He has not whisked us away to a remote island, cut off from civilization, and is preparing us to make an invasion as soon as we are ready. That “good work, which He hath begun in you” is being done while others are watching. Of course they are not aware of what is going on. They have no idea Christ is being formed in us. Not only that, He uses them in our process and preparation, and they are not aware of that either. That unsaved guy who works next to you most likely doesn’t go home every night and tell his wife, “The Lord used me today to make a Christian grow more into the image of Christ.”
When you stop and think about it, there is a two-fold work being done which only the Spirit of God can accomplish, and it is quite remarkable. He is using you and me to reach our lost family members, our friends, our co-workers, our fellow students, people we see in the grocery store, or whoever it is the Spirit brings in our pathway. He is using us to change their lives with the life-changing Gospel of Jesus Christ. And He is using them to change us.
Certainly this is not an excuse to live our lives carelessly with an attitude that says, “It doesn’t matter how I live my life.” It does matter how you live your life. It does matter how you act and react to situations. Remember, our part is to follow Christ, which entails complete obedience and yielding to His Word.
Isaiah 41:14 Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the Lord,
and thy Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel.
When we see or hear the term “fishers of men”, I think we conjure in our minds the image of the rugged fisherman, face sunburned from hours in the heat, using his rod and reel, playing with the fish, gracefully maneuvering that fish toward the shore, or onto the boat. That might be the more glamorous view. We will even celebrate with the fisherman who struggles with his catch, and even though he may lose it, we applaud his efforts.
In the realm of witnessing we would like to see ourselves gracefully maneuvering that sinner down the road of repentance. Oh he may be resistant at first, so we won’t try to force him to salvation. We’ll give his line a little bit of slack, but not too much. We will wait for him to wear himself out, and then we’ll just reel him in. And even if he gets away, we won’t fret; there are other fish in the sea of humanity we can catch. On the wall of our memories there is that one framed picture. “This is the sinner I caught while witnessing to him at work.”
Then there is the worm—a small, wriggling, slippery, slithery, slimy, grotesque, disgusting creature we don’t have a glamorous opinion about. Yes, we would like to be the fisherman, but I wonder if we’re the worm more times than we would care to admit. Let me remind you what a worm does. He is the one that gives up its life to catch that fish. Aren’t we taught to die to self? Didn’t the Apostle Paul declare, “I die daily.”? Didn’t Jesus Himself say, “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends”? The worm does not have the option to choose what kind of hook it will be attached to, or what body of water it will be lowered into, or what type of fish is going to eat it.
Understanding the purpose of the lowly worm, it’s no wonder we would rather be the fisherman. We would like to have some of the credit. It’s human nature. In almost any avid fisherman’s house you will find at least one picture on the wall, hung for everyone to see. “This is me holding up the fifteen pound marlin I caught off Cape Cod.” “Here I am with the five-foot-long catfish I hooked while fishing in the Missouri River.” Nowhere will you find a picture with the caption, “I used a worm like this one.” Even the guy who boasts about the one that got away will claim, “It was a real beauty, about that long.” He is not going to brag about the worm he used. “That worm was this long.” And nobody ever says at the dinner table, “God bless the worm that gave up its life so that we can enjoy this juicy fish, Amen.”
Why does God use worms to catch fish? Why does He need them? I’m speaking metaphorically now. Perhaps it would be more accurate to ask, “Why do I have to be the worm? Why can’t I be the fisherman?” Fish are not attracted to the fisherman. That fish in the middle of the lake is not drawn to the guy in the boat, even though that guy woke up at 4:30 in the morning, gathered up his fishing equipment, which included the finest, strongest fishing line money can buy, arrayed himself in his best gear, hooked his boat onto the hitch on the back of his pickup truck, drove to his favorite fishing spot, and is now sitting in his boat, poised and ready. That fish is not thinking to itself, “I like those clothes he’s wearing; that fishing line is sweet. He had me at Hello.” If anything, that fish is thinking, “What a moron; why doesn’t he go back wherever he came from and stop bothering me?” That fish is drawn to the worm dangling on the hook.
Hear what I’m saying. Earlier we spoke of using man-made techniques and gimmicks to reach the lost. “Come attend our next Sunday morning service and see the pastor swallow a goldfish.” “Free candy to the first one-hundred children who walk through our doors.” (I’ll go there myself, unless they’re passing out coconut candy.) We believe if we say just the right words, use the most approved techniques, hone our skills as a people person, we will win multitudes to the Savior. Our hearts may be in the right place, but we have forgotten or neglected this very important truth, as one well-known Bible teacher and author has stated: when you win people by the flesh, you’ve got to keep them by the flesh. When you use gimmicks to fill the pews, you’ve got to use gimmicks to keep them there.
When witnessing is a dynamic of the Spirit of Christ, we will bow our heads in amazement as we realize how God is using ordinary people like us to reach the lost for Him. They are not drawn to our gimmicks or our command and knowledge of Scripture. They are drawn to us, most specifically, to the Christ within us. This reverts back to the earlier statement that the Holy Spirit wants to reveal Christ to the lost. How does He do that? “He which hath begun a good work in you.” What work is that? Forming Christ in us, the Hope of glory. And this brings us to the next question.
How does God use worms to catch fish? The Great Fisherman, Who is the Holy Ghost, will sometimes allow us to dangle on His line over stormy waters. These waters represent upheavals of different kinds and intensities that occur in our lives. People are watching us, watching how we respond. It’s very nice of you to give your coworker a ride to the office every morning. While he is in your car, you can play your Christian radio station or your Christian CD. That’s a good witness, you think to yourself. But he really watched how you responded when that other driver cut you off in traffic. Who did he see? Did he see Jesus in your countenance, in your calm demeanor? Or did he see a raving maniac, who let loose with a string of obscenities? If that were to happen, the only thing you can do is to apologize to the Lord and ask His forgiveness, and apologize to your friend and ask his forgiveness.
People are looking for honesty, not excuses. They are looking for us to be real people who deal with the real problems life throws at us. Yes, they do expect us to be different, to respond differently than they normally would. They want to see how we respond when our spouse no longer wants to be married to us. They want to see how we react to the news we received from the doctor. “Your tumor is malignant.” They want to see how we react when we found out we were laid off from our jobs. People who are lonely and searching for answers are wondering how that Christian guy is dealing with his divorce. “I heard that Christian girl in accounting just miscarried; I wonder how she is able to hold up.”
When the Holy Spirit allows us to dangle over our troubled waters, He is not playing a cruel game with us. He allows it so that others who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ can see for themselves His touch on our lives. It is commendable that we want to live our lives responsibly before the unsaved. It is certainly better than living carelessly. Yet we are well aware that sometimes the stuff of life happens that is not on our script. The unsaved don’t want to hear phony responses; they can see through plastic smiles. They do need to see the grace of God upon our lives. They do need to see Christ shining through us. They don’t need to see a hypocrisy which suggests Christians never have troubles and trials. When Paul and Silas were thrown into that inner prison, after having been whipped and beaten, I don’t think they were living in denial. I don’t think they strutted their stuff and boasted, “That didn’t hurt, we’re tough, we’re followers of Jesus.” They were hurting– a lot.
What the unsaved needs to see in our lives is reality. They want to know how we will react when life and negative situations beat us up, leaving us wounded. When we are thrown into the inner prison of confusion and sorrow, can we still sing praises to the Lord? That is the reality the lost is looking for. They want to know about us, “Do you hurt like we do when we lose a loved one? When our marriage falls apart? When our children are hurting? When we learn the company is downsizing and we don’t figure into their plans?” And they’ll want to know, “How do you do it? How can you stay so calm? What keeps you from going ballistic?” What is our answer? “Only Jesus.”
You may feel as though you’ve been nailed to a tree, like the worm stuck on the hook, and everyone is watching, gawking at you. Yes there will be those who will wish for your downfall; that cannot be avoided. But for every crowd that is ready to cheer your spiritual demise, there is always that one person looking on silently who finally admits, “Truly this was the son of God.” “That guy really is a Christian.” “She really believes God is more than able.” The fish is always drawn to the worm. That is the miracle of witnessing.
At those times in our lives, when we are going through our trials, and we’ve convinced ourselves we will never be good witnesses for the Lord, the Holy Spirit takes over, and causes Jesus to shine forth from within us. Did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego realize there was the fourth Man with them in the fiery furnace? I don’t know, but Nebuchadnezzar surely did! Don’t be discouraged and don’t let the devil beat you up and tell you how much of a phony witness you are. Just keep leaning on Jesus, stay at the altar of prayer, keep believing, and watch what He will do through you. You will be amazed.
There have been multitudes of books written by well-respected Christian authors on how to reach the lost. I would dare not utter an opinion about any of them. How should we reach the lost? Maybe God needs less fishermen, and more worms instead.