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 (I Peter 3:15 NIV).
We must always be ready to defend the Gospel of Christ, but that does not give us the right to be harsh or disrespectful of people with different beliefs than ours.
He is another one of those Moonies I said to myself with disdain. An Asian looking man had approached me in a parking lot and started to tell me what he believed. His literature indicated that he was a follower of Sun Myung Moon, who founded the Unification Church whose beliefs were not consistent with orthodox Christian doctrine. Most Christians considered this group cultist. I impatiently waited for him to finish his spiel and then I let him have it. I told him in no uncertain terms that he was a part of a cult and I used scriptural proofs to validate my case. I walked away thinking, I guess I got him told. I was pretty sure I had defended the Gospel, but for some reason, I had a sense of unrest in my spirit. I pondered as to why I felt this way and it became apparent that I had not even come close to dealing with this man with gentleness and respect.
I knew what I had to do. I searched the parking lot for this man. As I approached him, he must have been thinking, not this guy again. I simply told him that I had talked to him in a way that Jesus would never have spoken. I asked him to forgive me for my attitude. In our first encounter, it is interesting that all my theological arguments were like water off of a duck’s back. They are trained to counter these kinds of responses. But in our second interaction, he was visibly shaken. He had no comeback to a little bit of humility. We should share the truth with people, but our theological truths need to be validated by the love and respect we show to those to whom we speak. In my first little diatribe, it was all about me exposing my thoughts and beliefs. In the latter, I brought Jesus into the conversation which always speaks of the worth and value of the individual. I think, just maybe, this man saw past my words and saw my heart.
I learned two things that day. First, God can use our flaws for his good, if we are willing to own up to them. Second, I realized the Christianity is more readily catch than taught. Yes, we need a proclamation of the good news, but without a corresponding demonstration of it, it becomes mere words. As the poet, Emerson once said, “What you do speaks so loud, that I cannot hear what you say.” Are we intent on just winning an argument or showing a little gentleness and respect when discussing the claims of the Gospel?
Image used with permission by Microsoft.
Ken Barnes the author of “The Chicken Farm and Other Sacred Places” YWAM Publishing