Some years ago, I asked a missionary, “What is the most important principle you’ve learned for talking to non-Christians?” He explained a simple truth that I haven’t forgotten:
· I first come to them, and then I slowly draw them to me (Christ).
He learned that he had to first enter into their world, their thinking, before he could draw them to his thinking. I was impressed but also convicted. How unlike me! I confront; I go right for the jugular. I first attack the place of disagreement and conflict, and then I am surprised to find that I have sown only disagreement and conflict.
Yes, I knew Paul’s teachings on this subject:
· For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Corinthians 9:19-22)
However, for some reason, these teachings didn’t take root in my approach to evangelism. To my shame, perhaps I’d been too addicted to a competitive spirit. However, for whatever reason(s), I now see that I was failing to love the non-believer as I should, putting his needs first.
Instead of listening, acknowledging, and taking time to ask questions in order to understand him better – and this is what love requires - I was on the offensive, like a coiled snake looking for the right opening to attack. Instead of taking time to listen, I was already thinking about what I’d say next. However, Scripture warns us:
· Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. (James 1:19-20)
Our first duty is to hear and only secondly to speak. This is what love requires. Even though I knew enough to not get angry, the unbeliever was in my crosshairs, whether he knew it or not, and I was poised to bring down his argumentation.
I now intend to keep the unbeliever in my crosshairs, but not to beat him but to show him the love of Christ. This is my intention. I might fail dismally at this. It is so against my nature. However, honoring my Lord is the most important thing, more important than my natural inclinations.
This doesn’t mean that I am rejecting confrontational evangelism. There is definitely a place for this. However, where I can, I want to lead with the mercy and indulgence that my Savior has extended to me. Let us all pray accordingly.