You Can Win an Argument or Build a Friendship, But Rarely Both at the Same Time

Followers of Jesus Christ are exhorted to “contend earnestly” for the Gospel (Jude 3).

Certainly Paul and Peter modeled such a life as they spread the message of God’s grace in the middle of the First Century. But both of these passionate spiritual advocates emphasize the significance of building relationships in a distinctive way, even in the midst of painful opposition.

Winning an argument about Jesus was not their goal; modeling Christ’s love in a way that compels sober consideration of one’s spiritual condition apart from Him guided the lives and instruction of these spiritual influencers.

Paul urges his readers to pray that he will be bold in proclaiming the Gospel while he was under house arrest in Rome (Col. 4:2-6). He was imprisoned in Rome because he boldly declared this message in Jerusalem. Certainly Paul understood the urgency of contending for the Gospel. But he reminds them that their conduct toward those who do not trust Christ should be marked by relational wisdom and gracious conversation…flavorful, thirst-provoking answers to questions people ask.

Peter exhorts his readers in 1 Peter 3:14-16 to not be surprised by hostility toward Gospel, but to focus on obedient dependence on Christ as they answer questions stimulated by their undeniable hope. Such answers should be distinguished by gentleness and respect for those who have questions as believers are careful to keep a good conscience in the midst of possible slanderous hostility.

Note the similarities.

Both apostles assume that our lives should provoke questions from people who have not trusted Christ and that such people need truthful answers clothed in winsome humility even if they are hostile.

So how do we put this into practice?

After decades of stumbling toward consistent application of this model, a few lessons have been learned.

  • If we are not living in hopeful dependence on Christ in ways that allow us to spread His aroma (2 Cor. 2:14-16), people will rarely have questions. Our engagement in fruitful evangelism is based on our enjoyment of intimate, obedient fellowship with God.
  • Our genuine questions about a person’s life and interests provide essential insights for wise conduct and gracious interaction. Their questions are often part of the response to our honest interest in them.
  • People who harass us spiritually are often ones who eventually ask questions, but only if we are not surprised or personally offended by their negativity (1 Pet. 4:12-14).

Begin to put these truths into practice now. Our next blog will focus on a final insight that is foundational to our faithful service as Christ’s ambassador. The more you focus on these three lessons, the more you will appreciate the core truth we will explore in a few weeks.

~ Ken Horton