Speaking the truth in love
Justin C. Cloute
“The Bible is just a bunch of made-up stories written by dead, power-hungry men!”
These words echoed in my mind as I tried to think of what to say next. I was a young pastor serving at a mission congregation and had been canvassing our neighborhood with the help of a mission team from another congregation. While most of the people I talked to that day were friendly, I had recently experienced a cold reception at a couple of houses.
The young woman standing in the doorway continued, “It’s nothing more than a bunch of myths made up to give comfort to those who are too weak to deal with life’s realities!” I physically felt my pulse begin to rise as blood rushed to my head.
I knew I had a more informed answer, I just couldn’t think of it. In a tone that was anything but gentle, I asked, “Have you ever even read the Bible?”
She hesitantly said, “No . . . not really.”
Sadly, I responded, “That’s ridiculous!” The door quickly shut in my face.
Don’t respond in anger
While what I said was true—the accusation was ridiculous—I failed to respond to the objection with gentleness and respect. I cared more about my own emotions and putting the other person down than patiently dealing with the objection. I suppose the Holy Spirit could use even my sharp response to lead this woman to rethink her accusation and perhaps open the Bible. God has often used human failure for his good. But that’s no excuse. I could have done better.
The apostle Paul encourages believers to “[speak] the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), and Solomon reminds us that “a gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger” (Proverbs 15:1). One of the goals of apologetics is to extend the conversation in order to share the gospel. We can show that we care about someone by addressing the concerns they may have. However, when we respond with anger to an objection, not only does it stir up anger in the other person but it also often ends the conversation. It cuts off the discourse before we get to what is most important—Jesus.
Understand your frustration
In order to help us better respond in the future, it may be helpful to address a few of the reasons we might become frustrated when responding to objections.
We make it about us, instead of Jesus.
Sometimes we respond in anger because we are personally offended. We feel like the person we are talking to is challenging our intelligence. That may be. But remember what your Savior says, “Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man” (Luke 6:22).
Memorize these words or write them on a notecard and put it in your pocket before you are going into a situation where your faith may be challenged. Remember that even if you feel stupid and all alone, Jesus says that you are “blessed” because this is proof you are connected to him. There is no reason to get angry.
We care more about winning the argument than the person standing in front of us.
We all like to be right, especially when it comes to the big questions in life. But it’s not just about being right. It’s about sharing the gospel with someone who desperately needs it. Sadly, it is possible to win an argument but to lose a person. If you are tempted to feel proud about being right, remember that you didn’t come to accept the gospel by your own intellectual powers. Even your acceptance of the gospel is a gift. It’s a gift that God has given you and a gift that he wants to share with all people.
There’s nothing to be proud of, except your Savior.
We are unprepared to respond to the objection.
Sometimes we may respond to an objection with frustration simply because we don’t have a good response. I believe that this was at least part of the reason I responded the way that I did. I had spent four years in college and another four at the seminary studying to take the gospel to people like this. I had learned Greek and Hebrew and translated large portions of Scripture. I had daily been in God’s Word, yet I wasn’t prepared to immediately respond to this objection. Perhaps I was more upset at myself than at the person who had the objection.
Remember that you don’t need to have an immediate answer to every objection. I could have said, “You know what? I’ve heard that before. Would you mind if I look into it and get back to you? From everything that I’ve studied, the texts of Scripture are very early and reliable, and I am more than happy to sit down in the future to discuss what the Bible says.” This type of response shows that you care about the person and her objection.
You need not fear, because you have Jesus. Ultimately you want to lead others to him as well. Many of the objections that people raise are just a distraction from the deeper issues of sin, guilt, and the need for salvation. As you lovingly respond to an objection, look for ways to turn the conversation back to Jesus. Whether they admit it or not, everyone you talk to needs him.
Speak the truth
Why would we go through all this trouble? It’s not easy to keep your cool when facing objections. When Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Tabernacles, he faced one objection after another from his opponents. First, they asked him how he knew so much about God without having studied. Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me” (John 7:16). After this, they called him demon-possessed. Can you imagine—God himself being called a demon? But never once did our Savior blow up in anger or send out a fiery retort. John tells us, “On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them’ ” (John 7:37,38). He speaks in a loud voice, but it’s not to hurt or destroy. It’s to invite. It’s to invite even his opponents to drink the living water.
There will be times when people object to the teaching of Jesus. They may even aim their insults at you. But there’s no need to get angry or frustrated. By a miracle of the Holy Spirt, you have been led to drink from the living water of Jesus. This water forgives our sins of anger and our failures in speaking the truth. It calms and refreshes our souls and gives us the desire to lead others to Jesus as well.
Keep on speaking the truth in love.
Justin Cloute is pastor at St. Luke, Watertown, Wisconsin.
This is the sixth article in a 12-part series on sharing your faith.
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Author: Justin C. Cloute
Volume 106, Number 4
Issue: April 2019
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