APPROACHES & RESPONSES
What is the right approach or response to our friends and family members who are filled with doubts, are flirting with false teachers or have dove headfirst into sin? And how do we interact with a world that is at best unconvinced by the gospel, and at worst is antagonistic.
1 Peter 3:15 gives us one potential approach. But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect,
There’s a really beautiful underlying point here: That when we set Christ apart as Lord in your heart – revering and honoring him – something will happen in us and to us. And this “something” will be evident, evident enough that others will come and ask us about it.
Many years ago I ran into an acquaintance from college at a large church I had just started to attend. From across the hall I could tell that there was something different about Carrie. She had always been beautiful and kind, but now she seemed to glow! I came to find out that it wasn’t any health or beauty regiment, it was the recent decision to establish the Lordship of Christ in her heart and in her life.
Peter calls this “something” hope. Following Christ bring bucketfuls of hope into our lives. And hopeful people are attractive and winsome. People will want some of what you have!
It is a great honor and privilege to share your testimony of hope, to be drawn into conversation with someone who is interested and seeking. To be honest, it’s the best kind of scenario.
Paul adds some additional directives to Peter’s words in Colossians 4:5-6: Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. These additional verses remind us that when we are invited to share we must be wise and ready.. And our conversation with someone should be full of grace and should be helpful, like salt in the preservation process.
Both the 1 Peter verses and the Colossians verses put the spotlight on being prepared. We can make the most of every opportunity and answer people’s questions well unless we are proactive in preparedness and in prayer. One of the most proactive verses I know of is Isaiah 50:4-5.
The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being taught.
The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears,
and I have not been rebellious;
I have not drawn back.
Here we find out that our good and wise God is also very proactive. Look what he wants to do for us. I envision Him waking us up each morning by reaching down and whispering in our ear. He prepares us by teaching us. And he wants us to be an eager pupil. We see that this teaching is not just for our own head-knowledge, it has a purpose beyond us. We are taught so that our words and our conversations can be a benefit and a blessing to someone else. I think about all the times I have not had an instructed tongue and have spoken too quickly and very often, incorrectly. And so this is yet another reason to have quiet time with the Lord every morning. Not only to benefit my own heart and fill my own mind, but to prepare me for the conversations ahead. I find myself grateful for the confidence that comes from having a tongue which God has prepared.
And so we have seen two possible approaches: we prepare ourselves to give answer for the hope that we have whenever someone notices and asks. And we spend time with God, listening and learning, so that when we encounter a weary person, we have just the right word on the tip of our tongue to sustain them.. Both of these approaches require us to be active and eager learners–to know who God is and what we believe.
Another possible approach is found In the book of Jude, the author writes to warn early believers of false teachers who are misleading Christians.
Jude 22-23 Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.
In 1 Peter and Colossians, our hope-filled faith inspires curiosity and draws people in. In Isaiah, we see an opportunity to share what we have learned with those we encounter. But in Jude, we are encouraged to go beyond just preparedness, we are called into action. Jude tells us to snatch misled people from the fire – with great urgency, caution and mercy. Because sin is serious. And sin causes serious damage that has the ability to contaminate others. And sin ensnares and traps us. And so as we extend compassion, we are also careful with our relationships. How do you snatch someone from the fire? I’m not an expert, but what comes to mind is continuous relationship, regular conversation, truth-filled intervention, intentional effort to surround someone with the community of faith, and much, much, much fervent prayer.
So in Jude we are encouraged to intentionally place ourselves in the midst of those who are being misled. What about being prepared to intentionally place ourselves in the midst of those who are doing the misleading. Because Jesus made it clear to his disciples that this was not only a possibility, but a calling. Check out how Jesus instructs his disciples in Matthew 10:16: I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.
This is not one of my favorite portions of Scripture. But I am grateful that Jesus prepared his early disciples, and still prepares us so many years later. I’d rather know what the expectations are and be fully warned and prepared. Wouldn’t you?
In one of his many sermons, theologian and preacher Charles Spurgeon pointed out the irony of Matthew 10:16. Jesus is the greatest shepherd ever. He loves and cares for His sheep and even gave up his own life for them. But here Jesus does something very puzzling. Usually a shepherd protects his sheep from the wolves, but Jesus is actually sending his sheep into the very midst of wolves.
He goes on to say: . . . . “sheep in the midst of wolves,” . . . . . according to the order of Nature, such a thing is never seen, but, on the other hand, it has been reckoned a great calamity that in some lands wolves are too often seen in the midst of sheep! The wolf leaps into the midst of a flock and rips and tears on every side—it matters not how many the sheep may be—for one wolf is more than a match for a thousand sheep. But lo, here you see sheep sent forth among the wolves, as if they were the attacking party and were bent upon putting down their terrible enemies! It is a novel sight, such as Nature can never show.
And so when we examine our approaches and responses as Christians, we are called to take the gospel message not only to those who are curious, not only to those who need some encouragement and not only to those who are in danger — we are called also to take the gospel message into the midst of those who have been enemies of the gospel. Whoa! And how do you suppose we do that Jesus? In the same manner as he did when he was facing the crucifixion – as wise as a serpent and as innocent as a dove. We are to be wise and knowledgeable and prepared. And we also do our best to be innocent – to have a controlled response that doesn’t offend or lead ourselves into sin. Our response should be bathed in mercy and motivated by the hope for rescue and repentance, truth and transformation. This actually is a common theme in all of the passages included in this devotional —gentleness and respect. Even among the wolves? Yes!
I hope that these verses help you consider and sharpen your approach and response to those around you who don’t share the same understanding, commitment and passion for Jesus. I think 2 Tim. 2:24-26 is a great verse to close on. It reiterates all that we’ve been discussing so far.
And the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.