“Win the man, not the argument”

1 Corinthians 13:1-7 (ESV):

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”

In this passage, the Apostle Paul reminds us of the absolute importance of having love as your driving motivator in ministry. The same is true, especially, when it comes to sharing the good news of Jesus’ victory over sin and death and hell with people in your life. That good news of Jesus’ accomplishment is what makes guilty sinners like us righteous before the Holy God and Creator of the universe. It overcomes our greatest need, which is to be saved from death, and it fulfills our greatest desire, which is to be truly known and fully loved by God. 

This will be the second post, of four, on sharing faith. The big idea in this one is that all our proclamation, argumentation, and conversation needs to be coloured by the love of Jesus.

I heard an old line that originates I believe from Jim Wilson, who said when declaring the gospel the goal is to win the man and not the argument.

Of course, the point is not to downplay the importance of the argument. God’s word indeed tells us to be ready to give a defense for the faith in 1 Peter 3:15: “…in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (ESV). The word there for “defense” is apolagia – it is the word that we get “apologetics” from. We need to do apologetics. We need to use arguments and we need to seek to persuade. Truth matters.

However, we must remember that the goal is not to win the argument – the goal is to win the man (or the woman). We have already won the argument. The resurrection of Jesus is an event in history – the Christian worldview makes sense rationally and logically but fundamentally we are asserting a historical reality of a God who died and was raised. It’s not primarily a philosophical argument as much as it is a statement of fact that demands a response. Christ is presently reigning at the Father’s right hand whether you agree or disagree, believe or disbelieve. For this reason, even when people reject our arguments, there is no reason to get hot under the collar. You don’t need to try to be right. You already are right. The resurrection has already proven you right – so let God confirm the soundness of your words in the quiet whisper of their heart. Or let him harden them through their continued rejection of the good news.

Genuine love, that is confident and bold, must drive our engagement with people. This means letting  go of a debating spirit; letting go of cheap shots or snide remarks; and, for example, refraining from using words like “pagan” or a “heathen.” Yes – non-Christians are the sons of disobedience and the children of wrath, but how helpful is it to call them pagans? I’ve seen this language a fair bit lately. Sadly, some evangelists so deeply demonize the unbelieving man that even if their arguments are won, the man hasn’t been – he now wants nothing to do with you and even if he comes to saving faith in Jesus, he certainly won’t be coming to your church or home group.

Speak in love, show genuine respect and acknowledge any good or true points they make in the discussion, and then unpack the gracious confrontation of the gospel – there is a way of confronting people with the truth of gospel without being “confrontational.” That is what it means to win the man. We need to remember then that we are ambassadors of Christ and his love and grace (2 Cor 5:20). That doesn’t mean that we won’t deliver hard words, stern rebukes, or bold warnings, but fundamentally we need to get to the point where, in love, we truly want to accept and welcome this unbelieving man into the kingdom.

So win the man, not the argument.

Be Yourself // Forget Yourself

“For we do not proclaim ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said “Let light shine out of darkness,” is the one who shined in our hearts to give us the light of the glorious knowledge of God in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in clay jars, so that the extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.” (2 Corinthians 4:5-7 NET)

A few years ago I was at a conference by Alistair Begg and he discussed a few of the steps he takes in preparing to deliver a sermon. The final step is simple, and it is something I have to remind myself of often: be yourself and forget yourself. I am not writing about sermon prep, however – I want to share how important this is for sharing Christ in your everyday relationships.

Step 1: Be Yourself

The first thing you notice more broadly in this section of Scripture is that Paul is talking about himself a lot! He is explaining his ministry. He is given a very straightforward defense of who he is as God’s servant. But part of this is that he is very aware of his own weakness and insufficiency for the ministry he is called to. That is because, at a very fundamental level, Paul recognizes that God is the fundamental mover behind the gospel – persuasive and powerful people are unable to achieve any lasting spiritual results in the lives of others. God is the one who must create light out of darkness – just like he did in the beginning.

The wonderful thing in all of this is that Paul can then refer to himself as a jar of clay. He accepts his limitations and weaknesses. He accepts himself.

For anyone interested in sharing their faith, the first step is to be yourself. You are not Billy Graham. You are not Corrie Ten Boom. You are not Paul. But God made you, you. He placed you in this city. He placed you in your family and gave you a personality, strengths, and weaknesses, and a whole set of experiences to shape you to be his servant, and also his son or daughter.

So be yourself. 

God has ordained his strength to work through your weakness and through your personality quirks. That means that effective ministry involves accepting who you are. There is a classic definition of preaching, I think from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, who said that preaching is “truth through personality.” God has chosen to use you and your weird personality.

I am a middle child. I am a little goofy at times. I am often insecure about a great number of things. Yet God has made me who I am. When you are you – God’s glory and beauty shine through you. Don’t try to be someone else.

 

Step 2: Forget Yourself

The next thing is so important too. We also need to forget ourselves. It’s not about you. Be you – and now that you are you – stop being so concerned all the time with you!

We need to accept how God has made us. We need to revel in the fact that we are his sons and servants, his daughters and servants. Reveling in this wonderful truth; however, should lead to God-focused humility and not self-focused pride. We need to learn to forget ourselves by increasingly, dumping our pride and self-centeredness when we see it cropping up. And it always crops up.

It comes out in our deep fear of rejection from someone who has already rejected Jesus. It comes up when we are uncomfortable. We will encounter tense moments and opposition and risky situations. We need to expect that. One of the hardest things for me is just finding the energy to push through a tedious task or chore. But in that too we need to cultivate humility – and forget ourselves

To share our faith we need to be ourselves and forget ourselves. We need to accept ourselves, as God accepts us in Christ but also cultivate the humility that it’s not all about us.