Once at youth group, our youth pastor showed us a video of a young man standing in the streets of a large city, talking into a megaphone. He was calling the world out on their sins and threatening fire and brimstone to those who did not repent. There was a crowd around him, listening to what he had to say. Some were laughing at him, others were agreeing with him. But then one woman stepped out of the crowd and spoke to him with tears streaming down her face.
“I’m listening to what you’re saying, and it’s breaking my heart,” she tells him. She professes to be a follower of Christ, then shares that she is where she is because someone took the time to get to know her and love her, not because someone told her everything she was doing wrong.
The street minister explained that without knowledge of sin, there cannot be repentance, and that’s why he was doing what he was doing. At the end of the video, our youth pastor asked who we thought was right. And I really wasn’t sure.
On the one hand, Jesus didn’t sugar-coat sin. He called it what it was and demanded full repentance. We need to fully repent before we can accept healing from God and grow in our walk with him. But at the same time, Jesus did not shame everyone who came to him. He formed relationships and loved people right where they were at. He accepted a broken prostitute’s worship and assured a repentant thief of his salvation. So what’s the balance?
We need to stand up for our faith and say what we believe. But how are you doing that? Are you bringing up debates or disagreements with the hopes of bringing people onto your side? I have seen people start debates or arguments with non-believers to try to “witness” to them. But how many people do you know who have actually become a follower of Jesus Christ because they lost a debate?
Hold on. Jesus argued with the Pharisees and told them off and was honest with them! He said all kinds of things about their self-righteous ways.
I agree. Jesus did tell people off. There were many times when he was brutally honest with people who couldn’t get beyond themselves—people who were more concerned with their perfect reputation than the physical and spiritual welfare of others. Jesus had strong words for those who showed no love to those around them because of their own pride.
But to the broken-hearted, Jesus had a very different response. He healed them. He saw to their needs. He loved them. Ultimately, he died for everyone. He sacrificed for others. He did not pull aside the despondent and start a debate on the Law. He responded to debates brought to him with ultimate wisdom, but he also did not waste words with those who refused to listen.
As Christians and representatives of Christ, we are called to show love first. Jesus taught that the greatest commandment is first to love the Lord our God and then to love our neighbours. If someone wants to start a debate with you or ask you a theological question, by all means, engage them in discussion. But when a debate starts to go in circles or is not getting anywhere, you may be wasting your words.
Paul encourages Timothy with the following words:
Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels. 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 2:23 – 25)
We are also called to show love to others. Human beings are relational. We all need relationships and love and belonging. It’s how we were created. We can bridge the gap by extending friendship and giving of ourselves for the good of others. Ultimately, it was not Jesus’ wise words that saved the world, but his unconditional love and sacrifice by giving up his own life.
When talking to others about your faith, remember these words of Paul to the Ephesians:
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. (Ephesians 4:29)