(This is my fifth attempt at writing this article(and it’s still too long!))
I’ve long wanted to write on the gentleness we should seek when interacting with others, especially those who oppose in beliefs and lifestyles. There’s a certain winsomeness I wish more Christians had a reputation for showing, myself definitely included. Emotions and convictions and zeal are powerful things, and we all know what it’s like to feel as though we’re barely maintaining control of ourselves in the heat of the moment, in the heat of conflict and falsehood or offense or simply perspectives that just don’t make sense to us.
If you know me personally or have read my (especially older) posts, you know I am no master in delivering my thoughts in winsome ways, in reasonable, gentle and considerate ways that always simply leave the reader with the truth and not the truth convoluted with my own harsh commentary or prickly tone and clever use of heart-revealing adjectives. I’ve used sarcasm knowing my point would sting more, and sometimes actually believing this would somehow convict someone in complete opposition to me. I’ve used words like “disgusting” or “ridiculous” or “silly” (when I really mean dumb or stupid, read: “believing ___ is just silly”). I’ve described the very people it would seem I’m seeking to reach out to with unbecoming words, or the ideas I’m trying to discount with excessive insults.
With the internet, the instantaneous, anonymous internet, quick and angry words abound. People on every side of every fence have thrown out piercing accusations overshadowed with their own disgust and self-righteousness.
We’re all guilty of it in some form, whether we vocalize it or whether our thoughts are ruled by merciless judgment.
So the word of the day is winsome: “generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence.”
I like winsome, because I like the little play on words that ‘we should seek to be “winsome to win some.”‘
Let’s redirect our minds for a moment:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
“This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” – 1 Timothy 2:3, 4
These verses reveal there is Good News, and our Father desires everyone to learn of it, so that we can be saved. Because of this, there are certain directions given to Christians within the scriptures, so let’s take a look at some of them:
Make disciples of all nations, preach Christ “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.” – Matthew 28:19, 20
“How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?” – Romans 10:14
Teach, reprove, correct “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” – 2 Timothy 3:16
“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness.” – 2 Timothy 2:24, 25
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” – Colossians 3:16
Restore “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness” – Galatians 6:1
“My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.” – James 5:19, 20
“Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother.” – 2 Thessalonians 3:15
Defend the faith “…but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.” – 1 Peter 3:15, 16
Each of these verses demonstrate just how much of our discipleship will be spent interacting with others, both unbelievers and brothers or sisters in Christ. Christianity is certainly not a calling to solitude, but to go into the world as Christ did and shine His light and proclaim His message. Christianity also means being knit into a new spiritual family, the church, which serves so many purposes – including the purpose of strengthening, teaching, confronting and sharpening its members spiritually.
So, if we’re going to be spending so much time either communicating with fellow believers or appealing to doubters or unbelievers, it’s important to ask God to cultivate within us the right spirit, the right heart and consequently the right demeanor and words so that we may “win some” over or back to Him.
Sometimes our focus can become fuzzy, and in our haste to correct or rebuke, we forget our purpose. Consider this excerpt from a story about two preachers disagreeing over this very thing: Shields, known for his harsh attacks against those in opposition, and Lloyd-Jones, who also often engaged in debate yet with different methods and intentions :
“At one point Shields said that he was only doing what Paul did to Peter—contradicting and opposing him. Lloyd-Jones responded, “The effect of what Paul did was to win Peter round to his position and make him call him ‘our beloved brother Paul’ [2 Peter 3:15]. Can you say the same about the people whom you attack?” For this Shields had no answer.”
The point is well-made, not only in this story, but in each of the verses cited above: Christ desires all to learn the message of the gospel, all to come to repentance and all to be saved.
He desires the atheist, the pagan, the agnostic, the Muslim, the new believer, the wayward brother, the doubter, the skeptic, moralist, criminal, Republican, Democrat, liberal, conservative, American, Afghan, teenager, grandfather, homeless, wealthy, famous, infamous, the Christian and non-Christian each to be united to Him.
The point is not for us to make a check-box-list and fulfill our duty to arbitrarily rebuke or chasten or expose falsehood. The point is to do these things in such a way as to win that person over.
If our speech or tactics, or intent or demeanor show that we only wish to marginalize or stigmatize our opponents, we aren’t truly appealing to the spirit of God’s commands to restore our brother or teach the gospel.
The very nature of confrontation or disagreement is personal, bound to stir up emotions in each party. If we’re on the receiving end, we’re likely ready to put up the defense. If we’re on the offense, we should acknowledge this and perhaps take a moment to consider a healthy principle: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” – Matthew 7:12
We have all been in that position one way or another- we all can recall a time when someone confronted us in gentleness and sincerity, and sadly we can all recall a time when we were rudely confronted with unnecessary harshness. Because of this, because of the truth that we are always more receptive when tones are cooled, irrelevant or colorful opinions are left at the door and only the truth in love is present, we should grant that very grace to whoever we may find ourselves in opposition to.
“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” – Proverbs 15:1
And I’m not just making this stuff up; let’s look at some biblical examples (including the ones above which mentioned gentleness):
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” – Ephesians 4:15
“Let your reasonableness be known to everyone. The Lord is at hand” – Philippians 4:5 (also translated: gentleness, consideration, moderation, graciousness, gracious attitude, humility, fairness, modesty)
“to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” – Titus 3:2
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger” – James 1:19
Though I am free and belong to no one, I have made myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law), so as to win those not having the law. To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.” – 1 Corinthians 9:19-23
I hope no one could read this and come away thinking I must mean that the truth should be dulled or minced or shirked. To me it seems clear that that’s not the message, but that doesn’t mean I’ve done as good a job of explaining as I’ve hoped.
Consider Paul’s apology to those in Athens, Acts 17:
He appeals: “Men of Athens, I perceive that in every way you are very religious.”
He says this after seeing their many idols erected to their many gods.
He doesn’t rant “Pagans! How could you be so idiotic to think there are so many Gods? What kind of person worships idols? Don’t you know that ‘thou shalt have no other gods before Me’ and you’re going to hell?” He doesn’t scoff in his mind, or attack them with disdain and self-righteousness. He doesn’t make outlandish claims about what their beliefs show about their character (ex: stupid, evil, probably altogether unlikeable men and women). He isn’t paralyzed by an inability to relate, or enslaved to blinding self-righteousness (“I could never believe like these people do”).
And neither does he say ” “(nothing) Paul clearly takes advantage of this opportunity to teach the Athenians about the nature of God. Yet, when you read his speech to them, you don’t notice any “extras”, you simply hear him speak the truth in a palatable way. He even quotes some of their poets, attempting to reason with them in a way they can appreciate. And yes, some still mocked him, but no one was provoked to fury since he didn’t add jabs of underhanded remarks on top of this controversial message.
Essentially he didn’t wrap his message of truth in a layer of thorns and barbed wire, allowing those who believed to take hold of it.
So, let’s think of Paul and meditate on other scriptures and pray fervently when we feel a condescending, proud thought enter our minds, or before we go flailing our fingers on the keyboard in response to something we’re offended by on Facebook, or as we meet with our friends of different beliefs, before we debate, and before we confront.
“Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” – Colossians 4:6
“By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.” – John 15:8