2000-07-06 - Dialog
Acts 18:19 And they came to Ephesus, and he left them there. Now he himself entered the synagogue and reasoned with the Jews. (NAS)
At least six times in the book of Acts alone, we find Paul reasoning with someone. In Thessalonica, Athens, Corinth, Ephesus in the synagogue and the school of Tyrannus and in Rome he reasoned with the Jews there. There were other instances also, but it shows consistency in his presentation over time. Everywhere he went and whoever he had opportunity to speak with, it was about Jesus. It was like he had the cure for cancer and he wanted to let everyone who would hear know about it. In fact, he had the cure for a far more lethal problem, sin and spiritual death.
What does it mean to reason with someone. It means to dialog, or discuss. A dialog is a two way street. You make your presentation. Comments and questions come back are returned, even skepticism I'm sure. You in turn answer with supporting evidence. The process is simply conversation. Paul was just talking to people. There was no doubt he had a mission and a topic he would bend the conversation toward. But he was just talking with anyone about something he wanted them to know about.
In business, the best advertising is word of mouth. Someone has been treated well, got a good deal or been very happy with a product or service - or all three at once. When they go and tell the next person about this wonderful experience and recommend it to that person, it is a powerful endorsement. It is usually one-on-one on in a small group or to a group that already has an interest in what is being presented. You can see the enthusiasm and conviction in the presentation. And it is often from someone you know personally or by reputation. Almost nothing can beat this kind of endorsement.
So why do we so often almost apologize for presenting Jesus to someone?
There is a great deal of skepticism in our culture regarding Jesus Christ and Christianity in general. There have been impostors and charlatans who have done damage to the cause of Christ. There have been leaders in the church who have proved to be fallible human beings and have stumbled into sin. They are often castigated rather than helped. Both do no service to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the latter may be worse. The message of the church has been misconstrued and misrepresented by the media. Christianity has been lumped in with anything that slightly resembles it or makes the claim by those who scoff and attack. And we have done our own share of not doing a good job of making our case.
1 Pet 3:14-16 But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. And do not fear their intimidation, and do not be troubled, 15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence; 16 and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. (NAS)
There is not a lot to be done about those who would discredit the Gospel. They will always be there right up to the end of time. But we can be prepared ourselves to answer for and present our faith when opportunity arises. There are those with the gift of apologetics who have the quick mind to argue with scoffers and angry opponents. Not all of us do. But when someone is hurting and we can offer them some comfort, a door can open. "With gentleness and reverence", these are critical too. Not shyly, but not kicking down the door either. A brash, forceful presentation will aggravate those you are trying to reach. Just state your case and let the Lord work on their hearts.
Prov 15:1-2 A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. 2 The tongue of the wise makes knowledge acceptable, but the mouth of fools spouts folly. (NAS)
A compliment to our character is a compliment to who we have become in Jesus Christ. That is a perfect moment to point to Him. I don't know the source of this little proverb, but its truth mirrors 1 Peter 3:16 above. "When men speak evil of you, live so that no one else will believe it." I will point to the life of Billy Graham. He has lived in the public eye for over 50 years representing Christ to Heads of State and the people of the world two at a time or to a million in one sitting. His character has been called into question on a few occasions. The accusations die quickly. Not because Dr. Graham has mounted a massive campaign against the attack, but because their are never any hooks for the arguments to hang on to him. His character is his defense.
Be prepared to speak to someone when a door opens. That does not mean that you have to have four years of seminary either. It just means that you give that person what is on your heart. If all you have to say is that Jesus loves you and you know His grace and salvation, that's what is said. If you can speak with quiet eloquence to the point, speak and be sensitive to your audience of one or one hundred. There will sometimes be resistance, but as long as it is a dialog - a two way exchange - you are being heard. If it turns into a debate or an argument, don't be baited into it. Paul won debate after debate in several instances and never won their hearts. Be a person of character and your reputation will help carry your presentation.
James 1:19-21 This you know, my beloved brethren. But let everyone be quick to hear, slow to speak and slow to anger; 20 for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God. 21 Therefore putting aside all filthiness and all that remains of wickedness, in humility receive the word implanted, which is able to save your souls. (NAS)
Grace & Peace,