Evangelism with Reverence, Gentleness, and Respect
"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..." 1Peter 3:15 NIV
Most believers in Jesus Christ have read this scripture. We tend, though, to mostly focus on the "be prepared to give an answer" part, and miss the rest of God's instruction here. The three key words are "reverence, gentleness, and respect." If we give an answer to those who ask for the reason of our hope, and do not have an attitude of reverence for God and love for the non-believing person, they may or may not be won, but our hearts will suffer and have a misplaced joy.
Perusing through other Bible versions the word "reverence" is also spoken as "sanctify" - "but sanctify the Lord God in your hearts." Some versions say "honor", "worship", or "set apart." So the message here is, if you are about to share Christ with someone, it should be out of reverence for and to glorify God, to sanctify, or set God apart in our hearts, before we utter a word. We must have a right attitude of the heart.
It's Not About Us
Many of us, when we share Christ, start shining up our brownie buttons, as if it will be ourselves that will be convicting this sinner to come to Christ. We feel ourselves puff up a bit inside and pat ourselves on the back that we are going to do this great move of God. We give ourselves credit. This is human nature, but we must remember that it is the Holy Spirit who does the work of changing the human heart. Rather than rubbing our hands in glee that we get to convert this seeking person, we should be praying, "Holy Spirit, speak through my feeble words. Move in the heart of this man/woman." We need be obedient and speak truth to this person, but we must do it to glorify God, not ourselves. Oh, humility comes at a high price, does it not?
1 Peter 1:3 says, "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy He has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead," There it is in black and white - "He has given us new birth." It does not say "My disciples have given new birth." As the old hymn says, "To God be the glory for the things He has done."
Gentleness and Respect
"But do this with gentleness and respect..." Some versions say "with meekness and fear." Fear is reverence. Meekness is said to be strength under control. Christ showed meekness when He chose not to fight with His accusers and abusers. He was not being weak, he was exhibiting self-control and obedience to the Father.
Sharing the gospel message with people can be quite trying if there are a lot of questions. People don't understand. They may miss the point and start asking questions like "If God is a loving God why does He...?" Or "Why does God hate ...?" There is nothing wrong with those questions, but when you are trying to tell them the good news, these questions can lead the conversation off the beaten track. Our dialogue can easily go from gentleness and love to frustration and agitation. Praying for God's help and patience is going to go a long way. There are ways to handle things like this without getting cranky. You might say some of the following things when this happens.
- You know, those are good questions. Let me write them down and we can talk about that next time.
- I would love to answer those questions for you and will indeed do that, but right now I'd like to share with you the most important question of all. "Who is Jesus Christ?"
- You might answer a few of them and it may be that the answer can lead back to God's love for all people etc.
- You know, I used to ask those questions myself, but what I found the most important issue was the good news of Jesus Christ...(or message of the cross, or my salvation).
The Holy Spirit will help you, as He is our Helper.
It's all about love
There are some people who will want to challenge you and you may find yourself getting into an argument or debate and gentleness and respect are soon out of the picture. We need to defend the faith, certainly. But keeping a cool head, and remembering that this person is loved dearly by God. We should be speaking Christ to Him because we love God and care about this person's soul. He is precious. Pastor Greg Laurie said in the sermon below, "It's not about winning the argument, it's about winning the soul." Bingo!
Oswald Chambers said, "You can never argue anyone into the Kingdom of heaven." Paul had it right, he got right to the heart of the matter:
"Though I speak with the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I have become sounding brass or a clanging cymbal. And though I have the gift of prophecy, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. And though I bestow all my goods to feed the poor, and though I give my body to be burned, but have not love, it profits me nothing. Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things...
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love." (1 Corinthians 13)
Discern a true seeker from a hostile debater
Many people ask lots of questions. Questions are good. But it is important that we pray for discernment if we are witnessing to someone who asks lots of questions, or tries to discredit everything we share with them. We might ask God if this person is asking because he truly is seeking the truth, or if he is trying to stir up a heated debate to prove his point of view? Jesus gives us an exhortation about this very thing. If a person is only interested in trying to tear down the gospel, and you, Jesus exhorts us this way:
Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before swine, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces. Matt. 7:6 NASV
The New Living Translation says it this way:
Don’t waste what is holy on people who are unholy. Don’t throw your pearls to pigs! They will trample the pearls, then turn and attack you.
So what is it that's holy? What are the pearls? The Word of God, the message of the Gospel. If you continue to share the gospel with people who want to disrespect you and God, they will stomp on you and the message with their dirty boots of hostility and "tear you to pieces." You don't need to retaliate, just as politely as possible remove yourself from the situation and pray for them.
You can never argue someone into the Kingdom of heaven."— Oswald Chambers
Fear of failure
Fear of failing to effectively witness to someone is so common we can all identify with it. Perhaps we have not been a Christian long and don't know many Scriptures, or we have never developed a regular practice of reading God's will and praying so we don't know what passages to use; maybe we can't think of a way to get started; or possibly we have our little Romans road, or four spiritual laws script and the person throws a chink in it by asking a question, or we forget a step or some other way get off course. Sometimes, the person seems to be very receptive so we ask if they want to accept Christ by saying the sinners prayer and they say "no." Then there are also the times where they do say the prayer but clearly the after conversation indicates they really didn't understand. As a result of any of these scenarios, we stumble and bumble, blush, and go away kicking ourselves down the lane for messing it all up and making a fool of ourselves.
This is hard. But fear of failure and not being successful in winning the soul to Christ is another matter of "It's not about us." Yes, it is very important that we always be ready by knowing the Word of God and praying for and seizing opportunities to witness. But the process and results of our efforts are up to the Holy Spirit. It is His work through us. We can follow His Spirit and present the gospel brilliantly, but the person declines the invitation. That's the Holy Spirit's job, not ours. Perhaps they will come to Christ in the future. A seed has been planted or watered. He will give the increase.
Jesus Witnesses to Nicodemus
Jesus leads the woman at the well to Himself
Jesus: Our Greatest Example
Wouldn't you all agree that Jesus is our greatest example of how to witness to people? He was not harsh. He did not open up by challenging people with arguments and debates. He didn't say to Nicodemus, " Nick, you're a learned man of Torah. You ought to know better. Don't you get it, huh? And you claim to be a religious man. You're not even close." He didn't whip out His torah scroll and condescendingly beat Nicodemus over the head with it. He did not shame him. But He did say, “You are a respected Jewish teacher, and yet you don’t understand these things? I assure you, we tell you what we know and have seen, and yet you won’t believe our testimony. But if you don’t believe me when I tell you about earthly things, how can you possibly believe if I tell you about heavenly things? No one has ever gone to heaven and returned. But the Son of Man has come down from heaven. And as Moses lifted up the bronze snake on a pole in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him will have eternal life. For God loved the world so much that he gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him" (John 3:10-17).
He did not speak to Nicodemus like he was a dumbell or a religious hypocrite with a sense of superiority; He spoke the truth with love, discerning that Nicodemus was a true seeker. He sought also to reassure him.
Notice that Jesus never witnessed the exact same way to each person. He didn't present the gospel by rote with a script-like presentation with bullet points. He conversed with them and drew them in by what He knew about them. He listened to their stories, their questions, their comments. Although He spoke with authority, He wasn't authoritarian; although He was firm, He was gentle; although they were in sin and on occasion addressed the sin, He wasn't shaming. Jesus was all about what He had to offer them, about a new and living way.
When we witness to people, we need to be discerning, and our motives must be to glorify God by winning the person to Christ because we care about them.
Psalm 15:2 says, "Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts."
Father God, may we who are called Your disciples go and preach and teach the truth from sincere hearts, hearts that are burdened for lost souls, hearts that are passionate to see others come to know you. May our words and our actions in doing so be seasoned with love and grace. In Jesus name, Amen!
Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too (Philippians 2:3-4).
© Lori Colbo 2011. All rights reserved.