Determined to Bear Thorough Witness

“He ordered us to preach to the people and to give a thorough witness.”​—ACTS 10:42.

1. When speaking before Cornelius, Peter highlighted what commission?

THE Italian army officer assembled his relatives and friends for what became a turning point in God’s dealings with humans. That God-fearing man was Cornelius. The apostle Peter told the group that the apostles were ordered “to preach to the people and to give a thorough witness” about Jesus. Peter’s witness bore abundant fruit. Uncircumcised Gentiles received God’s spirit, were baptized, and came in line to be kings in heaven with Jesus. What an outcome of Peter’s bearing thorough witness!​—Acts 10:22, 34-48.

2. How do we know that the charge to bear witness was not limited to the 12 apostles?

2 That was in 36 C.E. About two years earlier, a fervent opposer of Christianity had a life-changing experience. Saul of Tarsus was on his way to Damascus when Jesus appeared to him and said: “Enter into the city, and what you must do will be told you.” Jesus assured the disciple Ananias that Saul would bear witness “to the nations as well as to kings and the sons of Israel.” (Read Acts 9:3-6, 13-20.) When with Saul, Ananias said: “The God of our forefathers has chosen you . . . because you are to be a witness for him to all men.” (Acts 22:12-16) How seriously did Saul, later known as Paul, take the assignment to bear witness?

He Did Bear Thorough Witness!

3. (a) We will focus on what particular account? (b) How did the Ephesian elders respond to Paul’s message, setting what good example?

3 It would be fascinating to study in detail all that Paul did thereafter, but for now, let us focus on a talk Paul gave in about 56 C.E., as set out in Acts chapter 20. Paul presented this discourse near the end of his third missionary trip. He had disembarked at Miletus, a port on the Aegean Sea, and had sent for the elders of the Ephesus congregation. Ephesus was some 30 miles [50 km] away, though the trip was longer over winding roads. You can imagine how excited the Ephesian elders were when they received Paul’s message. (Compare Proverbs 10:28.) Still, they would have  to make arrangements to travel to Miletus. Did some of them have to take time off from work or to close their shops? Many Christians today do so to be sure that they will not miss even one session of their yearly district convention.

4. Paul had followed what course when he was in Ephesus for some years?

4 What do you think Paul did in Miletus during the three or four days until the elders arrived? What would you have done? (Compare Acts 17:16, 17.) Paul’s words to the Ephesian elders provide some insight. He described his pattern of life over the years, including when he earlier was in Ephesus. (Read Acts 20:18-21.) With no fear of contradiction, he said: “You well know how from the first day that I stepped into the district of Asia . . . I thoroughly bore witness.” Yes, he was determined to carry out his commission from Jesus. How did he do so in Ephesus? One way was by witnessing to Jews, going where many would be found. Luke reports that when Paul was in Ephesus about 52-55 C.E., he ‘gave talks and used persuasion’ in the synagogue. When the Jews “went on hardening themselves and not believing,” Paul turned to others, relocating in the city but still preaching. He thus bore witness to Jews and Greeks in that large city.​—Acts 19:1, 8, 9.

5, 6. Why can we be sure that Paul’s house-to-house preaching involved unbelievers?

5 Some who became Christians qualified in time to be elders, those to whom Paul spoke in Miletus. Paul reminded them of the method he had used: “I did not hold back from telling you any of the things that were profitable nor from teaching you publicly and from house to house.” In our time, some people have claimed that Paul was here referring merely to making shepherding calls on believers. But, no. The description ‘teaching publicly and from house to house’ mainly applied to evangelizing among unbelievers. That is plain from his next words. Paul said that he had been witnessing “both to Jews and to Greeks about repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus.” Clearly, Paul had been bearing witness to unbelievers, who needed to repent and put faith in Jesus.​—Acts 20:20, 21.

6 In an extensive analysis of the Christian Greek Scriptures, one scholar said of Acts 20:20: “Paul had spent three years in Ephesus. He visited every house, or at least he preached to all of the people (verse 26). Here is scriptural warrant for house to house evangelism as well as that carried on in public meetings.” Whether he literally visited every house, as this scholar claims, or not, Paul did  not want the Ephesian elders to forget how he had borne witness and with what result. Luke reported: “All those inhabiting the district of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks.” (Acts 19:10) But how could “all” in Asia have heard, and what might this suggest about our bearing witness?

7. How did Paul’s preaching likely have an effect beyond those to whom he witnessed directly?

7 By Paul’s preaching in public locations and from house to house, many heard his message. Do you think it likely that all those who did hear stayed in Ephesus, none moving elsewhere to do business, to be near relatives, or to escape the hustle and bustle of big-city life? Hardly. Many today have moved for such reasons; possibly you have. Also, back then, people from other parts visited Ephesus for social or commercial reasons. While there, they may have met Paul or heard him witness. What would happen when they returned home? Those who had accepted the truth would bear witness. Others might not have become believers, yet they likely talked of what they had heard while in Ephesus. Hence, relatives, neighbors, or clients heard the truth, and some may have accepted it. (Compare Mark 5:14.) What does this suggest about the effect that your bearing thorough witness might have?

8. How might people throughout the district of Asia have heard the truth?

8 Concerning his earlier ministry in Ephesus, Paul wrote that ‘a large door that led to activity was opened to him.’ (1 Cor. 16:8, 9) What door, and how was it opened to him? Paul’s continued ministry in Ephesus resulted in the spread of the good news. Consider Colossae, Laodicea, and Hierapolis, three cities inland from Ephesus. Paul never visited them, but the good news reached them. Epaphras was from that area. (Col. 2:1; 4:12, 13) Did Epaphras hear Paul witness in Ephesus and become a Christian? The Bible does not specify. But in spreading the truth in his home area, Epaphras may have represented Paul. (Col. 1:7) The Christian message may also have reached such cities as Philadelphia, Sardis, and Thyatira during the years Paul was bearing witness in Ephesus.

9. (a) Paul had what heartfelt desire? (b) What will be the yeartext for 2009?

9 Consequently, the Ephesian elders had  ample reason to accept Paul’s comment: “I do not make my soul of any account as dear to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received of the Lord Jesus, to bear thorough witness to the good news of the undeserved kindness of God.” That verse contains the positive, motivating yeartext for 2009: “Bear thorough witness to the good news.”​—Acts 20:24.

Bearing Thorough Witness Today

10. How do we know that we are to bear thorough witness?

10 The order “to preach to the people and to give a thorough witness” came to include others besides the apostles. When the resurrected Jesus spoke to disciples gathered in Galilee, likely 500 of them, he commanded: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.” That command applies to all true Christians today, as Jesus’ words indicate: “Look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.”​—Matt. 28:19, 20.

11. Jehovah’s Witnesses are recognized for doing what important work?

11 Zealous Christians continue to obey that command, striving “to bear thorough witness to the good news.” A key method of doing so is by means of what Paul mentioned to the Ephesian elders​—house-to-house preaching. In a 2007 book on effective missionary work, David G. Stewart, Jr., said: “The practical, applied focus of the Jehovah’s Witnesses has proven far more effective at inspiring member-missionary participation than abstract, theoretical [urgings from pulpits]. For many Jehovah’s Witnesses, sharing their beliefs with others is a favorite activity.” The result? “In 1999, only 2 to 4 percent of people I surveyed in two Eastern European capitals reported ever being approached by Latter-day Saints or ‘Mormon’ missionaries. Over 70 percent reported being personally approached by Jehovah’s Witnesses, often multiple times.”

12. (a) Why do we call “multiple times” at homes in our territory? (b) Can you relate an experience of someone whose attitude toward our message changed?

12 Much the same might be said of people in your area. You likely have contributed to that. As you “personally approached” people in your house-to-house ministry, you have spoken to men, women, and youths at the doors. Some may not have listened even though approached “multiple times.” Others may have listened briefly as you shared a Bible verse or a Scriptural thought. Yet, to others you have been able to give a fine witness, and they have responded. All of those are possibilities as we “bear thorough witness to the good news.” As you likely know, there are countless examples of those who showed little interest when approached “multiple times,” but then there was a change. Perhaps something happened to them, or to a loved one, that opened their mind and heart to the truth. Now they are our brothers and sisters. Hence, do not give up, even if you have not recently found many receptive ones. We do not expect everyone to come into the truth. But what God expects of us is that we diligently, zealously continue to bear thorough witness.

 Results We May Not Know About

13. How could our bearing witness have results we may not know about?

13 The effect of Paul’s ministry was not limited to those whom he directly helped to become Christians; nor is that so in our case. We make it a point to have a regular share in the house-to-house ministry, witnessing to as many as we can. We speak of the good news to neighbors, coworkers, schoolmates, and relatives. Do we know all the results? With some, there may be immediate good results. In other cases, the seeds of truth may lie dormant for a time but then take root in the soil of someone’s heart and grow. Even if that does not occur, people we speak to may talk with others about what we said, what we believe, and how we act. Yes, it may be that they inadvertently enable those seeds to find receptive soil elsewhere.

14, 15. Witnessing by one brother led to what results?

14 As just one example, consider Ryan and his wife, Mandi, who live in Florida, U.S.A. At his place of employment, Ryan witnessed informally to a coworker. That man, who had a Hindu background, was impressed by the way Ryan dressed and how he expressed himself. In their conversations, Ryan raised such topics as the resurrection and the condition of the dead. One January evening, the man asked his wife, Jodi, what she knew of Jehovah’s Witnesses. She was a Catholic, and she said that the only thing she linked the Witnesses to was “door-to-door preaching.” So Jodi typed “Jehovah’s Witnesses” in an Internet search engine, which led her to our Web site www.watchtower.org. For months, Jodi read material on that site, including the Bible and articles of interest.

15 In time, Jodi met Mandi, as both of them were nurses. Mandi was pleased to answer Jodi’s questions. After some time, they had what Jodi terms “an Adam to Armageddon” discussion. Jodi accepted the offer of a home Bible study. Soon she began going to the Kingdom Hall. In October, Jodi became an unbaptized publisher, and she was baptized in February. She writes: “Now that I know the truth, my life is very happy and fulfilled.”

16. What does the experience of the brother in Florida suggest about our efforts to bear thorough witness?

16 Ryan had no idea that his witnessing to one man would result in someone else’s coming into the truth. Granted, in his case, he did learn of the effect of his being determined to “bear thorough witness.” It might be, though, that you witness at a door, at work, in school, or in an informal setting, and unknown to you, it becomes the avenue for spreading truth to others. Even as Paul did not know of all his fruitage in “the district of Asia,” you may have no way of knowing all the good results of your bearing thorough witness. (Read Acts 23:11; 28:23.) But how vital that you keep on doing so!

17. What are you determined to do during 2009?

17 During 2009, may we all take to heart our commission to witness from house to house and in other ways. Thus, we will be in a position to express sentiments similar to Paul’s: “I do not make my soul of any account as dear to me, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received of the Lord Jesus, to bear thorough witness to the good news of the undeserved kindness of God.”

How Would You Answer?

• How did the apostles Peter and Paul and others in the first century bear thorough witness?

• Why may the effect of our witnessing be far greater than we know?

• What is the yeartext for 2009, and why do you feel that it is fitting?

[Study Questions]

[Blurb on page 19]

The yeartext for 2009 will be: “Bear thorough witness to the good news.”​—Acts 20:24.

[Picture on page 17]

The Ephesian elders knew of Paul’s practice of bearing witness from house to house

[Picture on page 18]

How far-reaching will be the effects of your bearing thorough witness?