Have you ever had a conversation that started out great only to take an immediate nose-dive? Even worse, those that ended with division, distrust, and harsh feelings? Not productive, especially when we’re sharing our faith. And when we’re there, in the moment, armed with truth and righteousness, it’s easy to give in to pride and turn what should be a gentle act of love into a verbal arsenal. We may even tell ourselves we’re doing the right thing. We’re speaking truth, after all. Taking a stand for Christ, only somewhere in the mix, we lost our focus–to build a bridge, and we’ve begun to build a barrier instead.
About eight years ago, while gathered with a dozen or so women, I began to teach some basics of the Christian faith. The women were excited, and asked countless questions about creation, the fall, and the flood. But one woman in particular wasn’t so enthralled, and soon popped off with questions of her own. I started to answer her questions, but my answers only seemed to add fuel to her fire, and she soon dominated the conversation. It took me a moment to clue in, but I realized how counter-productive things were becoming. Although her questions on the surface appeared legitimate, they were smoke-screens and stood in the way of my initial purpose, to lovingly share the gospel with the other women.
I believe this may be the type of situation Paul talked about in 2 Timothy 1:3-8 (NLT)
3 When I left for Macedonia, I urged you to stay there in Ephesus and stop those whose teaching is contrary to the truth. 4 Don’t let them waste their time in endless discussion of myths and spiritual pedigrees. These things only lead to meaningless speculations, which don’t help people live a life of faith in God.
5 The purpose of my instruction is that all believers would be filled with love that comes from a pure heart, a clear conscience, and genuine faith. 6 But some people have missed this whole point. They have turned away from these things and spend their time in meaningless discussions. 7 They want to be known as teachers of the law of Moses, but they don’t know what they are talking about, even though they speak so confidently.
8 We know that the law is good when used correctly.
People in Macedonia taught false doctrine, and sucked others in endless discussions, thus robbing the others of learning and teaching time. These discussions had zero value because they failed to help people live a life of faith in God. I can sense Paul’s frustration in the above passage.
The whole purpose of his instruction was to help believers be “filled with the love that comes from a pure heart, clear conscience, and genuine faith.” But some people missed the point and got so focused on the argument–the facts and details and being right–they’d forgotten their purpose, to bring glory to God, demonstrate Christ’s love, and be an instrument of grace.
And that, I believe, should be the deciding factor in all our discussions: Does this conversation, article, or blog post help my listener/reader live a life of faith in God?
We know all Scripture is beneficial for teaching, correcting, and rebuking (2 Timothy 3:16), so, when talking of Scripture, it’s not the “what” but the “how.” As 1 Timothy 1:8 says, “We know the law is good, when used correctly.”
This is where it gets tricky, for knowledge puffs up–feeds our pride–but love builds up, which means, whatever is not spoken in genuine love has the potential to create barriers instead of bridges. Therefore, when sharing our faith, we need to do so prayerfully, with a steady eye on our listener. Our goal must never be to win an argument or fill the head, but instead, to reach the heart.