A personal testimony can be a powerful thing. Hearing how God has changed a person can be a great encouragement for someone struggling in their faith. When God brings a new believer into fellowship with Him, He may also choose to bring the new Christian worldly blessings such as a job, spouse, or house. He may also bring about a personal breakthrough freeing the new believer from a spiritual stronghold.
Often, though, God will not change those situations and in some cases, the new believer may even lose their job, family, or freedom because of their faith. As great as a personal testimony can be, when they focus more on worldly blessings or when they are substituted for the gospel, then they stop being helpful because they are focused more on the gifts of the Giver, rather than the Giver Himself.
Before his conversion, Paul had a great testimony. He was part of the religious group the Pharisees and as a result, he had power, influence, respect, and most likely wealth. He describes this part of his life when he says,
Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless (Philippians 3:4–6).
After Jesus called Paul to Himself in Acts 9:1-19, Paul’s life changed. From a worldly standpoint, it changed for the worse. The second half of the books of Acts details Paul’s three missionary journeys. These were extremely fruitful because of the churches that were planted and the people who were converted. At the same time, these journeys also included Paul being thrown out of cities, being left for dead after being stoned, and being imprisoned among other undesirable conditions (Acts 9:23-25, 15:19-23, 16:16-24).
Beyond the troubles he faced during his missionary journeys, we can read the intense emotional toll it took on him when thinking about the troubles the churches he planted were going through. He wrote to the Corinthian church that he wrote to them with, “much affliction and anguish of heart and with … tears” because of “the abundant love” that Paul had for the church (2 Corinthians 2:4).
What is countercultural with Paul’s testimony is that he focused on what the world would consider negative. He says,
But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead (Philippians 3:7–11).
Instead of telling people what God did for him materially or in worldly blessings, he spoke of the spiritual gains God gave him to the point where the material blessings were rubbish and trash in comparison. Paul realized that the blessings he had in the world would fade away and be of no value to him when he died. Instead, God gave him eternal life. If this is something we believe, then it should not seem strange to us to feel the same way as Paul did about God’s gift to us in relation to worldly blessings. This focus also echoes Jesus’ teaching of laying up treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:19–21).”
I am not advocating that when we share our faith with someone that we never mention any type of worldly blessings God may have given us. But it is important that we not make those gifts the most important part of our testimony. Let us be sure that our focus is on the true miracle God did in our lives that though we were dead, God, “made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved – and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:5–6).”