Speaking the Truth in Love
We must strike a balance between conviction of the truth and graciousness or civility in manner. Some people, having strong convictions about their beliefs, can often lack civility in their demeanor. Yet others are so “nice” that they have no boldness and no conviction regarding standards of truth and morality. They are too cowardly to stand up for anything. The proper approach lies in the middle: both heartlessness and spinelessness must be replaced by speaking the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)
People who looked to Jesus as their political savior were constantly befuddled by his choice of companions. He became known as a friend of tax collectors, a group clearly identified with the foreign exploiters, not the exploited. Though he denounced the religious system of his day, he treated a leader like Nicodemus with respect, and though he spoke against the dangers of money and of violence, he showed love and compassion toward a rich young ruler and a Roman centurion. In short, Jesus honored the dignity of people, whether he agreed with them or not. He would not found his kingdom on the basis of race or class or other such divisions. Anyone, even a half-breed with five husbands or a thief dying on a cross, was welcome to join his kingdom. The person was more important than any category or label.
I feel convicted by this quality of Jesus every time I get involved in a cause I strongly believe in. How easy it is to join the politics of polarization, to find myself shouting across the picket lines at the “enemy” on the other side. How hard it is to remember that the kingdom of God calls me to love the woman who has just emerged from the abortion clinic (and, yes, even her doctor), the promiscuous person who is dying of AIDS, the wealthy landowner who is exploiting God’s creation. If I cannot show love to such people, then I must question whether I have truly understood Jesus’ gospel.
A political movement by nature draws lines, makes distinctions, pronounces judgment; in contrast, Jesus’ love cuts across lines, transcends distinctions, and dispenses grace. Regardless of the merits of a given issue … political movements risk pulling onto themselves the mantle of power that smothers love. From Jesus I learn that, whatever activism I get involved in, it must not drive out love and humility, or otherwise I betray the kingdom of heaven.
Without the work of the Spirit, no argument—no matter how persuasive—will be effective. But neither will any act of love nor any simple presentation of the gospel. Add the Spirit, though, and the equation changes dramatically. Here’s the key principle: Without God’s work, nothing else works; but with God’s work, many things work. Under the influence of the Holy Spirit, love persuades. By the power of God, the gospel transforms. And with Jesus at work, arguments convince. God is happy to use each of these methods.
One of the most effective ways to present the gospel to someone is to tell them what Christ has done for you. They may argue or ask all kinds of questions you may not know how to answer—but they can’t deny what Christ has done in your life. Take time to think through your own testimony, and then ask God to help you tell it briefly and clearly whenever He gives you the opportunity. The Bible says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.” (1 Peter 3:15)
In addition, pray for those around you who do not know Christ. You cannot pray consistently for someone to come to Christ but remain indifferent to them. Nor can you pray for their salvation without realizing that God may want to use you to touch their lives. Before prayer changes others, it first changes us.
But prayer is crucial in evangelism for another reason: Only God can change the heart of someone who is in rebellion against Him. No matter how logical our arguments or how fervent our appeals, our words will accomplish nothing unless God’s Spirit prepares the way.
—Billy Graham, The Journey (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2006)
If you have the love of Jesus, you cannot hide it. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid, and if men have a candlestick, they don’t put it under the table; they put it on the table that it may give light to the whole house. (Matthew 5:14–15) If you have this light, you cannot hide it—it’s impossible! We have to tell others about Jesus. If you believe it, if you have Him in your heart, if you have His love, you’ll show it; you’ll tell others and you’ll share it with them. This is what faith is all about—standing up and witnessing for Jesus and the truth. The Bible says, “He that winneth souls is wise.” (Proverbs 11:30) It takes a lot of wisdom and a lot of love.
Your own personal testimony can be the most effective thing you have. The apostle Paul was a great witness, and he often started his witness before kings and judges, or whoever it was, with his own personal testimony: “This is what happened to me.” If you say it with sincerity in the power of the Holy Spirit in real earnestness and honesty, they will believe that you’re telling the truth. They will believe your testimony.
Once they believe that it’s possible for it to happen to you, then it’s possible for it to happen to others. If it’s happened once, it’s most likely to happen again, and it can happen to them. Once they admit the possibility, there’s a spark of faith, a mustard seed of faith that has been planted.
The cowboys in the U.S. have an old saying: “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” That’s true of people too. You can lead them to the truth, in love, but you can’t make them drink it. If they don’t want it, you can’t drink it for them. So to make the decision to receive the truth is their job, not ours. You can speak to their heart, but only the Spirit of God can really win their soul, their spirit.
Our job is to witness and to show them the Word. When you show them Revelation 3:20 and they see that He’s promised to come in if you ask Him to come in, God by His Spirit can quicken their faith to believe it so that He will come in, because the Word is the foundation of faith. “Faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.” (Romans 10:17 NIV)
—David Brandt Berg
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