Sometimes It Is Hard To Be Civil
A pastor writes …
I received a message on Instagram from someone I didn’t know. Many people follow me who I don’t really know. And I follow many people who I don’t know hoping to have an opportunity to impact them with the Gospel.
One day he sent me the following message:
So umm… I see that you are following me, but I don’t understand why? I’m like a homosexual Satanist and I don’t believe in fairy tales — *cough, God, * cough
So, um yeah … unless you want something else from me … I would suggest blocking me.
If you had received this message, what would you have done?
How would you have responded?
I wanted to say something that wouldn’t turn him away.
Something that would keep the conversation going.
I thought for a moment, started to type, and hit enter.
Why do you consider yourself a Satanist??
I just kind of skipped over the homosexual part and got right to the heart of the matter. And he responded by saying:
Just kidding. I’m an atheist.
Then I wrote:
So you are a comedic atheist?
I guess … haha!
The next day I received this message from the guy:
What do you get from God? What does He do for you?
Wow, did I answer that question with joy! One of the many things I shared was:
I feel like I’m never alone. That I am blessed by God and that He has a plan, a direction for my life. I look up at the stars and think there must be a Creator; that none of this is an accident. And I just read the Bible, and it rang true.
And then I challenged him to try to read the Bible. I figured he probably didn’t own a Bible, so I wrote:
Google “James 1” and read it, and you will see how cool it is — and wise.
He wrote back:
I said … I don’t read fairy tales
So then I prayed, “Lord give me the perfect answer to pique his interest,” and I sent him this message:
James is a history book! Try just one chapter. What would it hurt? What if it was a vast treasure just at your fingertips? If … after reading one chapter, you think it’s meaningless, then I’ll understand.
A couple of days went by, and I received a new message in my inbox from him. It read in all caps:
BEST READ OF MY LIFE!
This pastor was working hard to be civil … and it is not always easy
But, often the best way to open the door to sharing Jesus with someone is to begin a civil conversation
This means we maintain a sincere, kind, and respectful tone as we dialogue
Not preach at, not monolog as we share, but discuss and dialogue
It also means praying for the Holy Spirit’s guidance about what to say, including when and how to say it
Many Christians fall into one of two categories – two different extremes
1> There are some who don’t engage with nonbelievers at all about spiritual matters because they feel afraid, intimidated, or ill-equipped
2> there are others who do engage with nonbelievers, but it can be in a manner that is obnoxious or argumentative; critical and judgmental
The solution or remedy to both of these extremes is found in 1 Peter 3:15
“… but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” (ESV)
“Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you’re living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy.” (MSG)
Our effectiveness for the Gospel begins with a reverence for Jesus as Lord in our hearts
And we are called to always be ready to give an answer to those who ask us the reason why we have hope
This must be done with gentleness and respect – in a civil manner -because it is coming from your heart which, as the verse states, is focused on Jesus
What the world needs now, more than ever before, is for believers to be open, engaging, and available to engage in civil conversations
Often difficult in a culture where people are becoming more and more hostile to Christianity — and to each other — and there are so many different ‘camps’
Just look at any comments section of a social media post or news article online
It can be the simplest topic to the most controversial — It doesn’t matter
In just about every instance, you will have people who disagree with one another and begin labeling and attacking without a filter
Civil discourse seems to have left the building
Having a civil conversation with someone when you disagree seems almost impossible
And, I admit, “sometimes it is hard to be civil”
And, we Christians are just as guilty of this as nonbelievers
The truth is:
We are not going to win anyone or convince anyone of anything with our harsh and obnoxious Facebook posts over petty differences
We are not going to argue anyone into God’s Kingdom
Instead, we need to engage in civil dialogues and civil conversations with those who do not know Jesus … and those who do, for that matter!
Throughout Scripture, almost every conversion story began with some type of civil conversation
In Acts 8, Philip had a conversation with an Ethiopian who ended up getting baptized
In Acts 10, Peter and a man named Cornelius had a conversation, and the next thing you know, Cornelius and his family surrendered their lives to Jesus Christ
It was in Acts 16:13-14, during a conversation with Paul and his companions, that a woman named Lydia opened her heart to receive Christ as Lord
Jesus peached and taught the people but in His one-on-one conversations we see that He would often take on a different approach by being civil, conversing and asking questions
One of the best examples of this is recorded in the third chapter of John
A man named Nicodemus had an encounter with Jesus — and his life was forever changed.
John 3:1-15 “Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can these things be?” Jesus answered him, “Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
Nicodemus was someone you might meet fo the first time and think, He’ll never become Christian
The guy had political influence and clout
He represented the status quo
He was wealthy
A guardian of the rules
A keeper of the laws
Nicodemus subscribed to all kinds of unwritten laws as a teacher of Israel
He represents the people who believe that by keeping all the rules they are somehow saved or made righteous
And yet Nicodemus came to Jesus at night because he was very intrigued by Him
He wanted to learn more about Him and the things He had been teaching, the healings, the signs and wonders
So, Nicodemus said, “Rabbi,” which means “teacher, “ and the conversation begins.
John 3:2 “Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.”
Some things to note within Jesus’ and Nicodemus’s exchange that will be immensely helpful to you and me as we share our faith … share in a civil manner
1> Straight to the point
Jesus was willing to have a civil conversation with Nicodemus, but He also got straight to the point
John 3:3 “Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
It could have been because it was late at night and Jesus was tired after a long day … and small talk was not something Jesus wanted to engage in
But it most likely had more to do with Jesus’s desire to see Nicodemus saved
He didn’t pull any punches
He did not shy away from this opportunity to speak openly and honestly with one of Israel’s most important and religious leaders
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
That’s pretty direct
“Truly, truly” means “Listen carefully, I’m not lying”
Nicodemus heard this phrase born again and he couldn’t figure it out
He didn’t understand it
So he asked the question:
“How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” (John 3:4)
Jesus answered, and once again, He did not mince words:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit…”
Of course, we know what this meant but Nicodemus didn’t…
What Jesus meant was that Nicodemus had already been born physically; he needed to be born spiritually
But Nicodemus did not get it
But to fair, consider where we are in history:
Jesus has not died on the cross yet
The Day of Pentecost was still three years away
The Church had not started yet
There were no pastors
No church buildings on the corner of the street
No crosses on church buildings
Jesus was speaking prophetically when He pointed out the truth about being born of water and the Spirit
No wonder Nicodemus didn’t understand
I’m not sure that at this point in the conversation he was suppose to understand
And Jesus might have been thinking ‘You can’t handle the truth!’ … But He laid everything out directly anyways
Sometimes when believers are talking with someone who doesn’t know Christ, we beat around the bush
We use too many words
We preface or sugarcoat or water down the message
Jesus’s civil conversation with Nicodemus teaches us that sometimes we need to get straight to the point.
This does not mean you should be frantic, rude, or abrupt
Jesus was gentle and at ease as He shared the truth
It may not be comfortable to confront someone’s beliefs, but you can learn to do it
As we practice sharing our testimony and the Gospel message, we must learn to cut out all the hemming and hawing and get down to what’s most important
The simple story of Christ’s transforming love
2> The Spirit is there and is always moving (ministering)
Next Jesus says to Nicodemus, “The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8)
Nicodemus ask, “How can this be?” (John 3:9)
The reason he asked this question is because he was convinced that the law was what saved a person
But since the law cannot save, there was a restlessness in Nicodemus’s soul
Despite the fact that he was a “law man” — and had money, fame, power, position, and religion — he was empty inside
He didn’t know why he was feeling what he was feeling
He was searching
He didn’t know what he was searching for
But, he was searching – or else he would not have come to Jesus in the first place
I think Jesus was trying to quiet all the noise in Nicodemus’s mind and heart by saying,
“Shh, Listen to the sound of the wind. The Holy Spirit of God is drawing you toward something that can save”
And here is the best part:
Even though Nicodemus came searching for Jesus that night, it was actually Jesus via the Holy Spirit who was searching for Nicodemus
Do you remember the story in the Bible about a man named Zacchaeus who was a short little guy?
He climbed a tree to look for Jesus, who was passing through the town of Jericho
Jesus looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today” (Luke 19:5)
Let me ask you a question:
Was Zacchaeus searching for Jesus, or was Jesus searching for Zacchaeus?
Even though Zacchaeus was a wealthy tax collector, a “sinner” by everyone else’s account, he was valuable to the Lord
Jesus was looking for him and wanted to be a guest in his home
After encountering the Lord, Zacchaeus repented of his sins, vowing to give half of what he owned to the poor and to pay restitution to anyone he cheated in the past
If there was any doubt that Jesus was in fact looking for Zacchaeus, what the Lord declared next should clear things up:
Luke 19:9-10 ““Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
The Spirit of God moved in the heart of a wealthy tax collector to climb that tree in Jericho in order to catch a glimpse of Jesus Christ, the Saviour of the world
God’s Spirit also moved in the heart of Nicodemus to seek out Jesus for the answers to his questions
Behind the scenes, this very moment, the Spirit of God is moving!
He blows wherever He wants to
As you approach casual conversations with others, take comfort in the fact that God’s Spirit is always moving and wooing — even in folks you think would never be saved
John 14:17 “…He is with you, and will be in you
John16:7-11 “… convict the world (the unsaved) of sin, righteousness, and judgment”
There is a blogger named Russell Moore and he wrote:
“The next Billy Graham might be passed our drunk in a fraternity house right now. The next Charles Spurgeon might be making posters for a Gay Pride March right now. The next Mother Teresa might be managing an abortion clinic right now. But the Spirit of God can turn all that around. And seems to delight to do so.”
Don’t ever doubt whom God can reach and whom God can save!
So, when speaking to anyone and everyone – be civil, polite, gentle, kind, and get to the point so the Holy Spirit can do His work
You share the truth of the Gospel
The Holy Spirit convicts them of sin and moves in their heart to receive Jesus
Here is what I know is true:
Right now there are people in your life — and perhaps even folks you have not met yet — who are restless in their heart and soul just like Nicodemus and Zacchaeus
They are wondering what it means to be alive – what’s my purpose and reason for living?
There is an emptiness in their hearts that the law, or self-righteousness, or money, or power, or fame, or sex, or relationships, or drugs, or alcohol cannot fill
The Spirit of God could be reaching out to them through you
Let that amazing truth be your confidence as you initiate civil conversations with them about matters of the faith
1> Straight to the point
2> The Spirit is always moving
3> Patience — even when they don’t understand
After Nicodemus asked, “How can this be?” Jesus continued to talk with him and explained Himself is quite some detail
Even though Nicodemus was a teacher of the law and should have been able to grasp these concepts
Even though, by all appearances, the conversation is going nowhere and his conversion is nowhere in sight
And what we learn from Christ’s approach and demeanour is that we must be patient with others, even when they don’t understand
Jesus patiently took Nicodemus back to a familiar story in Numbers, chapter 21 to explain salvation
The people of God were complaining when they should have been rejoicing because God had delivered them from captivity in Egypt and was leading them to the promised land
They questioned Moses’s leadership abilities
They didn’t like the monotonous and dry food God was supplying daily
They began to infect the camp with poisonous words
So the Lord sent real, live snakes into their midst, to do literally the very thing the people were guilty of doing figuratively: poisoning
Many of the Israelites died
Those who were left realized their sin and went to Moses to repent
They knew they were doomed and beyond hope
In recounting this story, Jesus reminded Nicodemus how Moses lifted up a bronze snake on a pole and whoever looked upon that snake would live
Just as He did with His “born again” statement earlier, Jesus was pointing out the spiritual with the physical
In fact, He told Nicodemus that He was speaking of heavenly things:
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.”
Jesus was patient with Nicodemus as He led him to the truth of the Gospel
We are called to do the same in our civil conversations with others
It may look like they don’t understand
It may look like they are never going to receive the message
But God has called us to lift up Jesus so that He can draw all people to Him (John 12:32)
That is our only job
That is all we have to be focused on
More and more every day, our world is becoming so divided and confused and poisoned
Like the Israelites who had snakes in the midst of their camp, it may seem as though we are all doomed
Our only hope is Jesus Christ
In everything we do
In every conversation we have
We believers must be loving, patient, truthful, and above all, lift up Jesus so that the entire world will believe.
1> Straight to the point
2> The Spirit is always moving
3> Patience — even when they don’t understand
As I attempt to put myself in Nicodemus’s sandals after this fascinating conversation with the Saviour of the world, her is what I imagine Nicodemus saying or thinking:
“Jesus, everything that You’re saying has completely turned my thought process upside down. Everything I have ever been taught since I was a child is that the law is what saves! You come along with these miracles and signs that force me to listen to You. You tell me I have to be born again of water and the Spirit. And that the Son of Man must be lifted up.”
I imagine him continuing, “Jesus, I’m an educated man, but I need You to simplify this for me. I’m very interested — but I don’t understand. I know the Scriptures front and back. I know what the rabbis have taught for thousands of years, but … I have no idea what You are saying.”
Then, in perhaps the greatest verse in John’s entire Gospel, Jesus really did simplify it all for Nicodemus when He declared:
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
People can keep all the laws, but the laws can’t save
They can be leaders among leaders, but fame and recognition can’t save
They can be wealthy, but material possessions cannot save
Only knowing the Son Of God — Jesus — can save a person
Christ went to the Cross and died for the sins of the world
All who believe in Him will not perish but have everlasting life!
As Jesus spoke in a very civil and friendly manner with Nicodemus, we can can show others through patient, civil conversations that it was all part of God’s plan
- God’s story
- God’s love
- God’s Spirit
- God’s calling
- God’s Son
- God’s salvation
Any time you see people getting saved, lives being changes, miracles and signs, and people moving from darkness to light — it is all God
Anything good you see is because God is at work around the world to redeem humankind before Jesus returns
Unbelievers may not understand this, but we can help them. However, “Sometimes it is hard to be civil.”