We are putting no obstacle in anyone’s way, so that no fault may be found with our ministry, but as servants of God we have commended ourselves in every way: through great endurance, in afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, labors, sleepless nights, hunger; by purity, knowledge, patience, kindness, holiness of spirit, genuine love, truthful speech, and the power of God; with the weapons of righteousness for the right hand and for the left; in honor and dishonor, in ill repute and good repute. We are treated as impostors, and yet are true; as unknown, and yet are well known; as dying, and see—we are alive; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, and yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:3-10)
After a discussion in my Adult Bible Study class, I keep thinking about this passage. In the denomination in which I grew up, a testimony was a statement one gave, the story of one’s faith. A person might be asked to share their testimony in a specific setting. In being asked to give a testimony, it was generally understood to that one was to speak of the arc of realizing one’s sin, coming to awareness of the need for God’s mercy, throwing one’s self on that mercy, and proceeding to live a changed life.
In thinking about Paul’s words to the Corinthians above, it occurs to me that he is giving his testimony to them. His witness, however, is not in the story of his faith shared. Rather, what Paul points out to the Corinthians are his actions. He gives an accounting of how he lives and works, the way he acts and the choices he makes. This is his testimony- his actions reveal his true priorities.
The Greek μαρτυρία (marturia) is often translated as testimony in the New Testament. When it is used for testimony, it often means as a witness in the legal sense- as in one is giving a testimony before a judge. This means others used the testimony (maturia) of the disciples and apostles to examine their motives and means. It also means that false or implicating testimonies were used against Paul and others to harm or halt them.
And, yes, the term μαρτυρία is related to another term for witness, one that we translate as “martyr”.
Understanding that most people don’t really want to be martyrs, we are not off the hook for being witnesses. Bearing false witness, in this instance, means having a testimony that is incongruent in its parts. The words of your testimony- the story of your faith- match up with your daily actions? Even in your doubts, is there a through line that someone else can clearly perceive regarding your motivations, your loyalties, your priorities, and your faithfulness?
Like Paul, our testimony is not the story we tell in our best clothes to people who are predisposed to take us at our word. Our testimony is what we do and say with our checkbooks, in our homes, when we’re aggravated, when the car breaks down, when we are lied to (again), when we despair of change in the larger world.
How’s your testimony? Is it the witness you want to give? What needs cleaning up?