What does Paul mean when he describes his work as an evangelist and an apostle as a job of persuading people?
Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. 2 Corinthians 5 v 11
For many of us, that means that we engage in discussion. We make arguments, seek to undermine or show the weaknesses or implications of alternative world-views to the truth of scripture; and we try to show how the Christian message is the one that makes sense of life, is founded on reliable truth and meets our deepest needs.
To help us with this we have a host of wonderful resources. Books, blogs, videos, apologetics courses and resources. Never have Christians been better armed to enter the arena to persuade others about the truth of the gospel and our need to respond.
And yet somewhere along the line, I wonder if we have not taken a wrong turn on this. To imagine that the deployment of data and logic will lead people to Christ is to ignore a central plank of Christian theology. That the battle for a soul is a spiritual one, not purely a mental one. If we had been eating Paul’s line about persuasion in context we would note the following:
1. Persuading people will not bring them to Christ.
Throughout chapter 4 Paul has been showing how it is only as God does a work of “re-creation” in someone’s life that they can see who Jesus really is. In our natural state we are blind:
The god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. 2 Corinthians 4 v 4
This means that any conversation, any discussion, any interchange online needs to be soaked through with our prayers that God will open their blind eyes.
2. It is not about winning arguments
One effect of social media has been to make us much more angry — and to polarise debates. In fact, it’s probably best not to call exchanges on Facebook or elsewhere “debates” at all. There are no rules to the game, no referee to keep participants on subject. And no personal connection to help people see the love in our hearts, or the smile on our face as we say things that may come across as sharp and hard in print. They need to understand that we are real people, with real lives, who have a real experience of a real God. It too often descends into mud slinging, or pointless point scoring.
3. We are to speak with humility
Paul’s statement about persuasion is nestled in a passage where he is talking about the arrogance and boasting of false apostles, and his own desire to boast about nothing but Christ. Even if we are trying to be gentle and cautions, we can come across as being boastful and arrogant when we have knowledge and are sure about things that others may have only have thought about. It’s a cliche, but it is true that you can win a battle, only to lose the war because you have come across as rude, aggressive and arrogant—and the “defeated” party ends up saying to themselves—“she’s got a point, but I would never want to be like her because she’s just horrible.”
4. It is about presenting evidence in a loving, attractive and compelling way
We are called to “bear testimony” to the facts and truth about Jesus. That’s not to say we do that with bald statements without the use of logic, reasons, and insight into the weaknesses of other worldviews, but our focus needs to be far wider than
What is more persuasive than loving concern for another person, that listens, and responds cautiously and carefully to their questions. What is more persuasive than to draw them in to see how a loving community of believers lives together? What is more persuasive than showing them slowly, steadily consistently how the Gospel impacts every area of our lives.What is more winsome than showing how we are prepared to persevere in suffering and grow through it. And what is more compelling than being prepared to apologise, repent and change when we have said or done something that is harsh, wrong or fake.
It is in the context of these kinds of lives and relationships that the power and truth of the Gospel facts and promises become truly and powerfully persuasive.