“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.