We live in an increasingly confrontational culture. More and more of our political leaders are taking to twitter causing an avalanche of responses. Technology has given us unprecedented access to each other and equally unprecedented angry conversations. Millions have entered the fray. In the present cultural morass, where millions can react with lightning speed, how do Christians confront a secular world with the Good News of Jesus? How would Jesus do it?
A Hard Question
A few years ago I wanted to preach a sermon series on the hard questions people are asking. In order to discover what people are asking we hit the streets. We started with one open-ended question — “What questions do you have about Christians or the Church?”
The responses surprised us — although, they shouldn’t have.
Why are Christians so angry? Why are Christians so intolerant? Why do Christians fight each other? Why do Christians hate Homosexuals?
These are a few of the most asked questions we received. Interestingly, they didn’t have many theological questions.
The most common questions a decade ago – “Why do bad things happen to good people?” or “Why does God allow so much suffering in the world?” – were never mentioned. Most of the questions were NOT centered on what Christians believe, but on the way Christians behave.
They don’t like the way we behave, so they could care less about what we believe.
All the polls agree that respect for Jesus is at an all-time high, while respect for Jesus-followers is in rapid decline.
Jesus warned us that the world would not always understand us (John 15:18; 1 John 3:13). One could, therefore, argue that some of this negative press comes with remaining faithful to God. However, Jesus also told us that we would be known by our love (John 13:34-35; 15:12; 1 John 3:11).
This signals a problem.
Although we never want to compromise our values or core beliefs, it also seems a good idea to take a hard look at our behavior and ask ourselves a single, governing question – What if we lived, loved, and spoke like Jesus?
Three Ways to Confront the Culture
How would Jesus confront the 21st-Century American culture? Here are three things I see Jesus doing in his 1st-Century culture.
1. Speak the truth in love.
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’” (John 14:6).
We are called to be salt and light to a hurting world (Matt. 5:13). We are called to “go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation” (Mark 16:15).
This is an inescapable mandate for any serious Christian. It is an imperative peppered throughout the New Testament.
Jesus said that you don’t light a candle and then hide it (Matt. 5:15) — that defeats the purpose of a candle! We must faithfully speak the truth of Jesus to a world that desperately needs it.
That being said — Jesus also told us that he was gentle (Matt. 11:29) and that we are to be gentle as well. He said to his disciples: “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves (Matt. 10:16).
Peter pointed to Jesus as our example in dealing with a hard confrontation with the culture: “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth. When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly” (1 Peter 2:22-23).
The bottom line: Speak your truth with calm assurance and don’t let anger take control of your speech. Don’t fall into the trap of becoming like those who dislike you.
2. Know when to listen.
Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires” (James 1:19-20).
Everyone wants to talk — few want to listen. Don’t add to the number of people who are more interested in being right than being good.
Think of it this way — Listening is ONE way to confront the culture.
Jesus met a Samaritan woman and he listened to her (John 4). Jesus met a crazy man and he listened to him (Mark 5:1-20). Jesus met the blind and the lame and the sinners and he listened to them.
Jesus even listened to his greatest earthly enemies — the Pharisees. Luke tells us that Jesus knew what they were thinking because he knew what was in their hearts (Luke 5:22). How did he know? He listened to them. He didn’t like what he heard — but, he listened.
There are so many who are talking without listening. They are simply waiting for the other person to stop talking so that they can blast away with their well-practiced, crystallized rhetoric.
Be sure to listen to people — understand why they disagree with you. Don’t try to convince them in one conversation. Build a relationship first.
Who knows? You might learn something yourself.
3. Let your actions speak louder than your words.
… faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead” (James 2:17).
Jesus told his disciples that the world would know they belonged to him by the way they loved each other (John 13:35). It wasn’t their preaching that would convince — it was their love.
Jesus painted a scene of Judgement Day where people were judged, NOT by what they said, but by how they treated people — how they cared enough to do something (Matt. 25:34-46).
Peter encouraged his fellow Christians to fight evil with goodness — harsh words with kind action.
He said, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).
Sometimes, it’s more effective to close your mouth and open your arms.
As Christians, we must confront our culture and speak the truth in love. We’re God’s ambassadors to a hostile world. This is not the time to go mute.
However, we must do it in a way that honors God and brings reconciliation to a lost and hurting world (2 Cor. 5:18)!