Debating Like Jesus—How to Confront Our Culture with Composure
Turn on any news channel and you will quickly become jaded by politicians. You can watch as they take the moral high ground while leaving a wake of moral decay behind them—yelling, name calling, trampling over others just to win an argument.
We as Christians have standards and convictions that place us at odds with our culture, and we should stand up and proclaim those convictions. But how can we be wise as serpents and as harmless as doves? How can we maintain our Christian composure in a confrontational age? How can we witness without sparring?
We can learn from Jesus. He was always strong, yet never rude. He spoke clearly and confidently, yet without venom or virulence. The apostle Peter, sometimes a loose cannon, learned that lesson well. Writing in his first epistle, he told us to handle opposition as Jesus did. The theme of 1 Peter is to walk in His steps, to deal with opposition as Christ did.
Speak Up – Respectfully
That means speaking up when needed. Peter told us to “proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9). We’re to speak as if delivering “the oracles of God” (4:11). We’re to preach the Gospel given by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven (1:12). So if you get the chance, say a word for the Lord.
But Peter also reminded us to present our defense of the faith “with meekness and fear, having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed” (3:15–16). He warned us about grumbling (4:9) and to be submissive to governing authorities (2:13–14).
It is important for Christians to be gracious and to be patient in conflict. Yes, Jesus spoke with fiery passion, and I’m amazed at the bluntness of His “Woe to You” sermon to the Pharisees and scribes in Matthew 24. But Christ always controlled His anger, and Peter said, “Arm yourselves also with the same mind” (1 Peter 4:1).
In our hostile world, a smile and a pleasant demeanor stand out like a redbird on a snow-covered landscape. We can fight the good fight, but we can do so in a Christlike manner. As someone once said: “To win some be winsome.”
Know When to Keep Quiet
We can also learn from Jesus the fine art of keeping quiet. By example Jesus taught us that sometimes a closed mouth offers the loudest testimony. Our Lord’s majestic silence still evokes dignity as we read of Him standing before Herod, Pilate, and the Sanhedrin, offering not a word of despair or defense.
One of the secrets of the martyrs has been their ability by God’s grace to maintain self-possession when being treated indignantly. They displayed a poise and peace that completely confounded those intent on destroying them. It was undoubtedly the glow on Stephen’s face and his words of forgiveness that haunted the young Saul of Tarsus until he became Paul the apostle.
In 1 Peter, wives of unbelievers are told to win their husbands to Christ, if possible, “without a word” by the power of “a gentle and quiet spirit” (3:1, 4).
We can always open our mouths to the Lord in prayer, however, for Peter told us to cast all our cares on Him (5:7). Jesus taught, “Love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you…” (Matthew 5:44). Why this advice? First, for our opponents’ sake. They badly need someone interceding for them. But another reason is for our own sake. Praying for our foes (think of some outspoken humanist, secularist, or atheist you know) helps keep our hearts in balance.
As we pray, we can also leave grievances with God lest a root of bitterness spring up. Peter told us, “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth, who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously” (1 Peter 2:21–23). We’re to “commit our souls to Him in doing good, as to a faithful Creator” (4:19). We can’t right all the wrongs, nor can we change people’s spots. But we can do our best, leave the rest to God, and shake the dust off our feet along the way.
Let Your Good Works Speak for Themselves
Finally, we find peace amid the conflict when we let our good works speak for themselves. “(Have) your conduct honorable among the Gentiles, that when they speak against you as evildoers, they may, by your good works which they observe, glorify God in the day of visitation” (1 Peter 2:12).
In Luke 14, Jesus went to a dinner where His foes were watching to see if He would violate Sabbath regulations. A diseased man was present. Jesus asked, “Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?” The Pharisees kept silent, so Jesus healed the man. Turning to the crowd, He asked, “Which of you, having a donkey or an ox that has fallen into a pit, will not immediately pull him out on the Sabbath day?”
Luke tells us, “They could not answer Him regarding these things” (verse 6).
The world has a hard time finding fault in good works. When we feed the hungry, care for the unfortunate, adopt orphans, provide relief, and live out our faith, they are silenced.
As Christians, we must confront our culture and speak the truth in love. We’re God’s ambassadors in a hostile world. This is no time to go mute. Morals are spiraling downward, marriage is being attacked, the church is being marginalized, atheists are scorning the truth, and humanists are relentlessly advancing an ungodly agenda on a new generation. We have to speak up. But we must do so as Christ did—and He was never ill-tempered, hot-headed, loose-lipped, or bad humored. We have to watch ourselves because the whole world is watching us; and when others see us, we want them to see Him.
Photo Credit: Chatting with a Shopkeeper – Garry Knight