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How To Build A Good Testimony In A Pagan Society

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3-22-98

HOW TO BUILD A GOOD TESTIMONY
IN A PAGAN SOCIETY
GENESIS 25 & 26

Isaac is one of those unfortunate individuals who lived his life in the shadow of a great father. There was no way that
Isaac could ever match the achievement of his father.  Yet, his relationship with his father was not totally negative.  
God chose Isaac to be the one through whom the Covenant would continue. And from the time of Abraham’s death
until Isaac’s death it was obvious that God’s blessing was upon the life of Isaac.  We are told more than once in the
inspired record that it was “because of Abraham, God’s servant.”  So Isaac was a beneficiary of the good heritage of
a good father.

While from one perspective there is nothing outstanding about the life of Isaac, yet his life has significance.  Like his
father Abraham, he lived out his days as a sojourner in the midst of a pagan society. But to a remarkable degree he
was able to build a good testimony with this pagan society.  His walk with God was such that they were able to
recognize the uniqueness of his God.  

We first become aware of this after his unfortunate encounter with Abimelech.  When it became obvious that the
blessings of God were upon Isaac, Abimelech said to him, “Go away from us, for you are much mightier than we.”  
This first reference may indicate nothing more than that he had achieved more material prosperity than his pagan
neighbors. But it could also be an indication that they were recognizing the benefits his life received from his God.

In the next encounter with Abimelech the testimony becomes even clearer.  Abimelech confesses, “You are now the
blessed of the Lord.”  It is significant that Abimelech uses the name Yahweh for God in this passage.  When
Abraham had had his encounter with probably the grandfather of this Abimelech, Abimelech had acknowledged God
as Elohim.  Elohim is the name for the God of power and the most common name for God in the Old Testament.  
Yahweh was the name of God in His special relationship with Abraham.  It is the name of the God of the covenant.  
So, the life of Isaac had become such that even the unbelieving world around him had become aware of and was
ready to acknowledge the uniqueness of his relationship with God.  It was not based as much upon what Isaac said
as it was what Isaac did.  

This is a role that all of God’s people are to play in the midst of a pagan society.  We are to so walk with God that
they will become aware of the uniqueness of our God.  In the New Testament Jesus said, “Let your light so shine
before men that they may see your good works and glorify the Father which is in heaven.”  Simon Peter in his first
letter set forth the same truth, when he wrote this word: “Beloved, I beg you as sojourners and pilgrims, abstain from
fleshly lust which war against the soul, having your conduct honorable among the gentiles, that when they speak
against you as evildoers, they by your good works which they observe glorify God in the day of visitation” (I Peter 2:
11-12).  Isaac gives us an example of a man doing this very thing.  Let us see what we can learn about building a
good testimony in the midst of a pagan society from the life of Isaac.  

I.  KEEP THE FAITH IN HARD TIMES.
Isaac was a man of faith just like his father Abraham.  And like his father his faith did not keep him from encountering
hard times.  The record of his life includes some of the difficulties that he faced.  “There was a famine in the land,
besides the first famine that was in the days of Abraham.” Like Abraham Isaac found himself living through another
time of depression.  In this time of depression he moved with his family into the land of Abimelech of the Philistines.  
When he moved to the region controlled by Abimelech, God visited with him.  God said to him, “Do not go down to
Egypt; dwell in the land which I tell you.  Sojourn in this land and I will be with you and bless you.”  This word of
caution and promise was just the encouragement that Isaac needed.  

The historical record reads, “So Isaac dwelt in Gerri.”  In other words, Isaac kept the faith in hard times.  Instead of
going to the land of Egypt where life might be easier, he gave heed to the word of God.  He obeyed the word that the
Lord had given him and stayed where he was.  This is one of the significant ways that you can build a testimony with
the pagan world in which you live.  How do you react in hard times? What do you do when things don’t go your way?  
How do you deal with the disappointments of life?  Can you handle a great depression?  If you will be steadfast in
your faith and consistent in your walk even in hard times, the unbelieving world around you will take notice.  It was a
part of the building of a good testimony.  

II.  BE HONEST ABOUT YOUR FAILURES.
It would be better if we did not have to include this section from Isaac’s life.  It is a repeat of the failures of his father
Abraham.  Is it not amazing how flaws can pass from one generation to another generation?  Just like his father
Abraham, Isaac employed the use of deception with his neighbors.  When asked about Rebecca he said, “She is my
sister;” for he was afraid to say, “She is my wife,” because he thought, “Lest the men of the place should kill me for
Rebecca, because she is beautiful to behold.”

The outcome of this deception was a little bit different from that of Abraham.  Abimelech did not take Rebecca to be
his wife but after an extended time he did observe Isaac treating Rebecca in a way that a man would not treat his
sister.  It was obvious to Abimelech that Rebecca was more than a sister to Isaac.  

To the credit of Isaac when he was confronted with his failure, he was open and honest in his confession.  He told
Abimelech exactly how it was and why he had done what he did.  Abimelech had some words of stern rebuke to him,
“What is this you have done to us? One of the people might soon have lain with your wife and you would have
brought guilt to us.”  Then Abimelech charged his people to be careful how they regarded Isaac and not to be guilty
of any transgression against him.

It should make us aware that it is not necessary to live a perfect life in order to have a good testimony.  Indeed when
you have failed, a good testimony is still a good possibility.  But if you have a good testimony you have to be honest
about your failures.  You must not deny them, seek to cover them, make excuses for them, or any such response.  
Instead you must admit what you have done and tell it like it is.  The world can deal with our failures if we are honest
about them.  They will still take us as someone of value if we can be honest about our shortcomings.  

III.  LET THE LORD FIGHT YOUR BATTLES.

This may be the more difficult of these essential things in the building of a good testimony.  After his unfortunate
encounter with Abimelech, Isaac settled in the land and began to plant.  God blessed his efforts a hundred fold.  His
prosperity became so obvious that the Philistines became envious of him.  Abimelech finally encouraged Isaac to
move on.  When he left the region of Abimelech he pitched his tent in a direction that had been previously traveled
by his father, Abraham.

As he journeyed along the trail his father had traveled before he began to unstop the wells that his father had dug.
At some point in the past the Philistine had filled up the wells that Abraham had dug.  When Isaac began to unstop
them and allow the water to be reclaimed, this became a point of conflict with the Philistines.  When he found the
running water, they came and said, “The water is ours.”  Instead of defending his right to the well although he did
have a right, he chose to let God fight his battles.  He named the first well over which they had conflict Esek.  The
word means “contention.”  He gave it the name “contention” and moved on allowing his God to be the defender of his
rights.

Then he dug another well and it occasioned another quarrel.  The Philistines placed a claim upon it.  Again he
turned the battle over to the Lord.  He called the second well “Sitnah.” “Sitnah” means enmity.  They were indeed
manifesting a spirit of enmity, but instead of quarreling about it, Isaac moved on and allowed God to fight his battles.  

This was a vital part of his building a testimony.  How do you respond to injustice and wrong?  What do you do when
someone is taking advantage of you?  If you who are interested in having a valid testimony with this unbelieving
world that our God is a mighty and faithful God, you will allow God to fight your battles.

This is precisely the instruction the apostle Paul gave to Christians in the book of Romans.  He said that: “we are to
overcome evil with good.”  This involves turning the injustices of life over to God and letting God get vengeance.  We
are not to always be defending our rights or seeking revenge upon those who have done us wrong.  Instead, as an
act of faith we commit these things into the hands of God knowing that He is able to take care of them.  This is an
important part in building a good testimony.

IV.  CELEBRATE YOUR VICTORIES.
Not everything went wrong in Isaac’s life.  There were some good days.  After the quarrel at Sitnah he went on
another place and dug another well.  This time the Philistines made no claim upon the well.  There came to Isaac’s
life a tremendous sense of relief.  “So he called it Rehoboth, because he said, “For now the Lord has made room for
us and we shall be fruitful in the land.”  Thus, in celebration of God’s generosity and faithfulness he named the well
“Rehoboth.”  Rehoboth means spaciousness or a wide place.  The Lord had made a large place for his servant
Isaac so he celebrated it.

As a further expression of his gratitude he went up from there to Beersheba.  When he arrived in Beersheba the
Lord gave confirmation that he was doing the right thing by appearing to him.  So at Beersheba after his
conversation with God, “He built an altar there and called on the name of the Lord.”  It was another act of worshipful
celebration.  He built an altar there and called upon the name of the Lord. If you want to build a testimony in the
midst of this unbelieving world, you must like Isaac celebrate your victories.  When God does something significant,
put up a monument of praise.  Erect an altar of worship.  Do something that says something to the world around you,
“I am aware of God’s goodness upon my life.”  This will go a long way in building a good testimony in a pagan society.

V.  BE FAITHFUL IN PRAYER.
Isaac, like his father, was a man of prayer.  As you read the inspired record of his life you become aware of this.

Early on in his life with Rebecca it became obvious that his wife was barren.  She had not been able to conceive and
to bring forth a child.  He responded to this situation in his life with prayer.  “Now Isaac pleaded to the Lord for his
wife because she was barren; and the Lord granted his plea and Rebecca, his wife, conceived.”  Actually she did
more than conceive, she doubly conceived.  Actually she conceived in her womb two sons who would later be called
Esau and Jacob.  But here is a man who early in his life in the midst of the crisis is a man of prayer.  

Then later as we have already noted when God had given a significant victory, he built an altar at Beersheba, the
record says that, “He called on the name of the Lord.”  The altar was a place of prayer.  He prayed about his own life
and his walk among the pagan neighbors.  It is right after that time of prayer at Beersheba that Abimelech comes
and give evidence to the influence of Isaac.  He wants a covenant with Isaac.  He wants a peace treaty so Isaac will
never do anything to harm the Philistines.  The reason he gives for that is this testimony – “You are now the blessed
of the Lord.”  

It will help you build a strong testimony in a pagan society if you maintain prayer as a vital part of your life.  It will
especially be true if it becomes known that God answers your prayers.  When a man or woman so walks with God
that God confirms their walk with Him by evident blessings upon their lives, the world will take note and a testimony is
in place.  

I can’t think of any greater need in our day than for us to build a testimony.  Our testimony has been eroded by so
many public scandals on the part of Christians.  There is a need for such authentic walk with God that the world
around us will take note and say, “You are now the blessed of the Lord.”

There is probably more to it than what we learn from Isaac, but at least these are some basics.  Keep the faith in
hard times!  Be honest about your failures!  Let the Lord fight your battles! Celebrate your victories!  Be faithful in
prayer!  The world around you will begin to take notice that you have a special relationship with God.  

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