First of all – a true confession is in order. I am a recovering offensoholic. In my past I have kind of enjoyed being sarcastic. The ability to slip in truth wrapped in little barbs of sarcasm and veiled insult is a “skill” I am wanting to unlearn as quickly as possible. God is revealing to me that more often than not these verbal darts are not very effective when sharing truths that in themselves are going to be offensive to the person hearing them. The proverb, “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar,” has sparked repentance for the way I’ve said things more than once. There are times when I finish writing a piece that I have to go through a Holy Spirit edit several times – before I have any peace in posting or sending it. The problem is that in our current situation – barbs and sarcasm will quickly turn what could be a logical, profitable conversation into an all out verbal war. After being nailed by the verbal shrapnel of several of these conversations, I want speak so that if there is a descent into ugliness, it is because of truth shared in love. There is no gain when truth is shared in an effort to win – or to score points with Christians who quickly gather to “my” side. The biblical fact is that God wins in all matters of truth. If I speak His truth with love and a genuine desire to engage in an exchange of ideas, I believe God will use it to do deeper work in people’s lives.
One of the things we must understand is that our culture no longer has any clear authority by which it speaks. Just like in the book of Judges we live in a society where every person is their own authority. Judges 21:24 says, “. . . and everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” That is where we are currently. Therefore we need to grasp that everyone we speak with is an authority unto themselves. Thus when we share the Scriptures, they will not accept them as an authority. Now please understand that God’s Word was, is, and always will be truth. Whether people agree with that or not does not matter – God’s Word is still true. When you try to share this, people will be offended – and often will say things that will be offensive to you. We will be accused of being someone who does not think, someone who holds to antiquated ideas, someone who is brainwashed, or as I was recently called . . . an idiot. Are these things offensive? Yes they are. BUT – this is where we can become even more effective in what we share. Let me explain.
When we are insulted, we have a choice to make. First, we should review what we’ve said to make sure that while sharing the truth, we did not descend into any kind of name-calling or inflammatory statements. Remember, our message itself is offensive to the lost. Paul spoke of the offense of the cross – and Jesus Himself told us that we would be treated like He was treated. People who are already offended with our moral point of view, and who do not know Christ, will more often than not say offensive things. Get used to it – and be ready for the temptation to say similar things back to them. Also know that if you do – the opportunity will no longer be there to influence someone. It will most likely deteriorate into stronger and stronger comments, insults, and end in a verbal barrage and a scorched-earth mental landscape. Once we determine if we said something unnecessarily offensive, we can proceed in the conversation. (By the way, if you said something you should not have said – apologize. You’d be shocked how many times this begins to disarm the conflict allowing it to move back into a conversation.)
The second thing I am going to suggest may seem very hard, but it will allow you to be able to converse with the person so much better. In order to share it though I need to ask a question. Do you want to know what they think? Please re-read that question because I did not ask if you want to convert to their way of thinking – but – do you want to know what they think. What I’ve found over several conversations is that when I genuinely try to hear what they are saying and thinking, it helps me to share truth with them more effectively. Too many of the conversations I’ve read recently have made a quick trip to the most commonly used arguments against each other. I can almost predict what will be said in the first two or three rounds of statements. What I cannot predict is the reasoning behind them – or the hurts that a person has because of previous barbs thrown their way. If you don’t want to genuinely hear what they have to say – you won’t have any genuine ministry to offer them. But if you go deeper – even being willing to listen or read things you won’t agree with – you will be able to discern what needs to be discussed. You may even find room to offer an apology for how they’ve been dissed and dismissed. If they know you care enough to listen – they may start listening to you.
Once you begin the conversation in earnest – listen for statements that reveal serious conflicts with the message of the gospel. I usually read and listen looking for their source of authority (usually themselves in the end), their view of Who God is (this usually is a hodge-podge of ideas from self, internet sites, and on some occasions actual study of the Bible), and what they see as the problem with things as they are currently. This last concept is basically what they see as sin (which is a word they will almost never use as you do) and what offers redemption or salvation from the problem (again two words they will tend to avoid). From this point I begin to engage the person with questions involving these things: 1) What or who is their authority? (Who or what has the final say in their life) 2) What determines if something or someone is good or bad? 3) What is the problem or problems in life? And then finally, 4) What is the answer or answers to these problems. As I ask questions about these things, I respond to their answers with the gospel – sharing lovingly, graciously, and usually with reference to my sin and how God saved me from the penalty for it. I make a beeline to the gospel – and seek to eventually draw things in that direction. That does not mean that I try to share the “plan of salvation” at every turn. Instead it means that I deal with issues concerning salvation such as: Who is God? What is sin? Who or what has the right to call something sinful? How can a sinful person know a holy God? How can a righteous and holy God love us without being a hypocrite about His righteousness and holiness? What did God do to pay the price He demands as the penalty for sin? These are the things I head to in the end – because they are the things that matter. But in the meantime I also try to understand where they’ve come from – and if there are serious hurts and problems in their past. When these things come up – I want to genuinely care for them, apologize when Christians have been unloving and unkind, and offer real love to them in praying for and empathizing with their offenses.
The goal in all this is to truly love them and share and show them Jesus. This is not hard . . . actually, apart from God’s grace it is impossible! I cannot tell you how many times I have to stop and pray – back up – and deal with wanting to offend back because I’m offended. I thank God that He did not deal with me in this way – because I would have been consumed in wrath very early in His gracious dealings with me. We cannot back up from sharing that sin is sin. We cannot back away from being honest about what the Bible proclaims. This is not love – it is dangerously stepping away from God’s righteousness and truth simply because it may offend. We share the truth – but we do so without the verbal barbs – without referring to the most offensive examples of homosexual activism (or any activism for sinful activity). We speak the truth without name-calling (even if we’ve been called and are continuing to be called names). We choose to ask penetrating questions not just so we can probe their thinking – but hopefully so that they will probe their own thinking as we lovingly share what the Bible has to say.
I go back to John chapter 4 and how Jesus addressed the Samaritan woman at the well. Let’s be honest saints – that situation was made for some serious name-calling. She was a Samartian – she was guilty of adultery – she was an outcast from her own society – she held errant spiritual views – and she was currently in a sexually immoral relationship. Wow, what a list of potential names that provides. Yet Jesus did not use a single one of them. He asked questions – made biblical statements boldly yet lovingly – and eventually through hearing and understanding her – was able to address her deepest spiritual needs. Her need, by the way, was not to be proven wrong in an argument. She needed living water. The result of that conversation was that her sin was boldly and lovingly addressed, she was drawn to admit her sin and turn to God, and finally – she became a witness to others of God’s grace as she was saved. Now that is where I want to see a conversation go in the end! Just one more comment though – as you learn to do this not everyone will be converted instantly – or possibly even at all. But the sound of loving, biblical, redemptive conversations will ring further than you think. Imagine what one would look like on facebook? We’ve all seen the ones that turn nasty – with both sides eventually walking away with verbal bloody noses. Imagine one where the believer does not descend into name-calling of any kind – but – where they endeavor to do their best sharing the truth in love. That, my precious saints, will look very different. It is also what we need to begin seeing more and more as the grace of God is expressed in love through us by the power of the Holy Spirit. So share the truth, precious redeemed ones! Share it even if it carries with it the offense of the cross – the offense of seeing ourselves as sinful and lost – the offense of being in need of God’s forgiveness – and the offense of being available only through the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Just DON’T do this one thing – share this wonderful message in an offensive way that adds to the offense of the cross – and does NOT reflect the love and patience of God or the fruit of His Spirit.