Written by Steph Van Rossen

Or is it? Like many words or phrases we use in our Christian and church-circles they can turn into an overused, simplified cliché that has potentially lost all meaning. We hear the word. We know it. But when it comes to defining it, we become lost. For me, the word “testimony” is a little bit like that. More than being lost, however, I feel daunted. Overwhelmed. Sharing one’s testimony feels like entering into this unimaginable vortex of having to share my whole life’s story with someone whom I don’t-quite-yet-know. And for an introvert with vulnerability issues, that’s asking a lot.

I’ve found it easier to forge my own definition of the word, one which allows me to share a part of my story, to bring forth an optimistic and inspiring message without revealing much of myself. However, I think it falls short. It falls short because I’m not really doing what I’ve been tasked with nor am I fully pointing to the richness of Christ’s Gospel. Jesus himself asks of us, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20).” This is the command, but so often we skim over the final words. We are not alone in this task.

In the latter part of 2020 the Intern Year cohort and I experienced a “beach mission” in South Australia. As COVID-19 continued to run rife in Melbourne and spread its message of uncertainty and unease (especially around interstate travel), we were unable to hold our “usual” interstate mission trip to our beloved coffee-loving, art-advocating sister-state. Instead, as many of us have in the past year, we travelled in our own backyard and became more acquainted with places we only knew through our tourist-lens. It was here the theme of “testimony” began cropping up.

It continued once we were home, in visits and experiences I had planned for the interns. I’m sure for them, or anyone looking in, it seemed like this perfectly executed thematic journey whereupon our idea of testimony was pulled apart and built on with many layers and insights. Yes, for sure there was planning and intentionality. But what we received was sharing of wisdom, generosity and insight far greater and deeper than I could have hoped for.

In summary: your testimony is powerful.

But what does that mean? Where do we go from here? Let’s begin at the beginning, shall we?

As an English teacher, I do love a good etymology. Yes, I could hear you roll your eyes as you read that, how very Gina of you,¹ but bear with me…

Looking into the etymology of testimony (n) or testify (v) actually proved to be an interesting little side-note of research (don’t be so shocked, etymology can be interesting!). If you are interested, feel free to deep dive into the unsupported theory that testify comes from Romans placing their right hands on their testicles before giving their testimony in court.² Aside from the lack of evidence supporting the jump from testicles to testify (suggested French origins and legitimate Latin connections)³ there are some key terms of phrase used in its relatively short history.

Of note;⁴

  • Affirm the truth
  • Bear witness to
  • Serve evidence of
  • Show
  • Demonstrate
  • Openly profess one’s faith and devotion (origin dated 1520s)
  • Demonstration of some fact or evidence
  • Proof
  • Sworn statement
  • Attestation

We see little change with these words and certainly, to some degree, they are synonyms of one another. Attestation is the earliest English form, which arose from the Ten Commandments (refer to footnote 3). The definition of attest (v) is “to affirm to be true or genuine. Specifically: to authenticate by signing as a witness.”⁵

Affirm has such a positive connotation to it – surely our witness of our salvation should be affirming! We are, as written in 1 Peter,⁶ after all, attesting to the hope we have. We see in the Gospels that Jesus performed miracles, but also sat in relationship with others, telling them like he did in Mark 5,⁷ to “go home and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he had mercy on you.” Yes, we live our lives as a testimony, but we do need to articulate and attest to the hope we have. Our testimony should be based on our relationship with Jesus, like we see in this passage our testimony answers the questions, who is Jesus? What has He done for you? Followed by the direction – go and tell about it, go be a witness.

If you’re still not sure where to start or feel overwhelmed by the concept, maybe start with Jesus’ question to the disciples; ‘“But what about you?” He asked. “Who do you say I am?” (Matthew 16:15).’

Not who do ‘people’ say Jesus is (which Jesus did ask them first) – but who do YOU say He is?

Elohim? Prince of Peace? Messiah? Saviour?

Who do YOU say He is?

Start there. This is a great reminder that your testimony isn’t actually about you. My testimony is not about me. It’s about pointing others to Jesus and bringing glory to Him. Isn’t that refreshing?

 

Let me go first,

Jesus is to me, saviour. He is the Prince of Peace. Jesus has been my comfort and strength in times of loneliness, uncertainty and sorrow. Jesus to me is every lyric in “Shout to the Lord” and that song will always be the cry of my heart.

Is that the full answer? No, but it’s a start.

I pray that you will be encouraged to share your testimony, that in place of fear and vulnerability you would find courage and faith. Be reminded, that Jesus goes with you (Matthew 28:20). So start there – who do you say Jesus is?

 

Go well,

Steph

 

 

¹ Brooklyn Nine-Nine (2013-2022) Season 5, episode 19, “Bachelor/ette Party.” Directed by Beth McCarthy-Miller. Aired April 29, 2018 on Fox.

² Robert Beard, “Testmony on the origin of ‘testimony,’” Dr Goodward’s Language Blog (blog), 22 September, 2006, https://www.alphadictionary.com/blog/?p=46

³ Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. “testimony,” accessed February 18, 2021, https://www.etymonline.com/word/testimony

Online Etymology Dictionary, s.v. “testify,” accessed February 18, 2021, https://www.etymonline.com/word/testify

Online Merriam-Webster Dictionary, s.v. “attest,” accessed February 18, 2021, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/attest

⁶ 1 Peter 3:15: “But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” (NIV)

⁷ Mark 5:19; we also see this in Luke 8:39.

Shout to the Lord (1996) by Darlene Joyce Zschech