10 Principles of Witnessing from John 4
1. Do not isolate yourself from the sinners and outcasts” around you. John 4 deals with our Lord’s witness to a Samaritan, ordinarily despised and avoided by “respectable” Jews. In addition to being a Samaritan, she was a woman with a bruised reputation, apparently known in the community as such. That is probably the reason she came to the well at an unusual hour of the day—in order to avoid the coarse and condemnatory statements of others she might encounter during the regular times for drawing water.
2. Do not remain ignorant of the backgrounds and viewpoints of those you are seeking to reach. In his encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well, Yeshua showed a thorough familiarity with Samaritan religious history and the nature of the disputes between them and the Jewish people. His familiarity with those matters enabled him to relate well to the woman and to deal effectively with the old arguments and defenses that existed between her people and the Jews. Our Lord did not deal with everyone the same way because he knew that people are different, with differing histories and sensitivities. We ought to follow his example.
3. Be ready and willing to present a witness at all times and places. Our Lord was weary as he sat by the well, yet he was willing and ready to speak of himself to the woman. He applied himself artfully and well to the task. In addition, he didn’t make the mistake of thinking that a well was no place to witness. We, likewise, should be ready to witness in all situations.
4. Observe the “double take” principle in witnessing. Notice how Yeshua’s very first statement to the Samaritan woman sharply arrested her attention. He asked her for a drink, a request totally unexpected from a Jew who chanced to meet a Samaritan woman. Not only was she a Samaritan and a person of low reputation because of her moral condition, but contact with a woman was a potentially defiling situation under Mosaic Law. The unexpectedness of Yeshua’s treatment of the situation is borne out by the disciples’ surprise when they later returned from buying food. They marveled that he was talking to a woman, something very unusual and even unheard of for a respectable and religious Jewish man.
In witnessing, we too should seek to arrest the attention of the non-Christians around us by being other than what they expect. Sadly, many non-Christians think they know all about Christians and the Christian message, and they’re not interested in knowing any more. When we behave or communicate in an unexpected manner, we cause unbelievers to do a “double take.” By introducing an element of surprise, we can often gain an opportunity to explain ourselves and our faith.
5. In conversations with unbelievers observe the principle of “salty speech.” Notice the highly provocative statement our Lord made to the woman after his initial request for water: “If thou knewest the gift of God, and who it is that sayeth to thee, Give me to drink; thou wouldest have asked of him, and he would have given thee living water” (verse 10). That statement was calculated to stir up her interest, and it certainly did.
6. Present the gospel in a manner oriented to the felt needs of those you seek to reach. Our Lord spoke to the woman about water and about the fact that the water he could supply would never need replenishment. That was something that interested her very much because her daily trips to the well were quite an ordeal. We also should be aware of the needs of our unbelieving friends and seek to demonstrate to them how the gospel can meet those needs.
7. Be attentive to find “redemptive analogies” in the experiences of unbelievers whereby you can explain the relevance of the gospel. Notice how our Lord used Jacob’s well as an analogy to describe who he was. That well was a source of great pride to all the Samaritans, and it was very important to that particular woman as well. Yeshua used something already important and of recognized value to the woman to explain the eternally important and valuable gospel to her. We too should explain the importance, meaning and value of the gospel to unbelievers by making comparisons to things they already feel and believe to be deeply important.
8. Be Savior-centered in your witness. Notice that our Lord stayed on the subject. He was determined to lead the woman to a recognition of who he was, and he did so in a very artful manner. When the men of her village reported to her the results of Yeshua’s witness to them, they said that they now understood him to be the Savior of the world based upon his own story. Similarly, our witness to others should not be deflected to important but peripheral issues. The core of our witness must be Christ as the unique and sufficient Savior. Let’s never forget that!
9. Remember that your mission as a witness is “prophetic.” There is a time and a manner to speak out about sin. Our Lord did address himself to the sinful lifestyle in which the woman was enmeshed—something that she recognized as wrong but note the manner of his approach to the subject: he was not condemnatory nor heavy handed. We too should prayerfully approach the subject of sin and repentance with unbelievers, but we must do so with the kind of sensitivity and delicacy that our Lord displayed.
10. Remember that there must come a time for confrontation. Our Lord did not merely hold a comparative religions discussion with the Samaritan woman. We read in verse 26 that eventually he confronted her with himself as Messiah. (“I that speak unto thee am he.”) We too must confront our unbelieving friends with the nature and necessity of the choice before them. Witnessing is more than presenting the gospel. It also must include presenting unbelievers with a clear choice. Hopefully, if we have done our part, by God’s grace they will choose correctly.