Sunday, February 10, 2013

Countering Critics

Christians have not always defended the cause of Christ in a productive manner. Yes, we are all ambassadors; no, it’s not a skill that develops automatically. As a result, we often respond poorly when our faith is attacked.

Some Christians retreat into a Christian subculture where they just stop engaging with anybody or anything outside of their comfort zone. But that’s hardly the best way to go into all the world and make disciples (Matthew 28:16-20).

Some Christians attack, fighting fire with fire. They get angry, defensive and hostile whenever their faith is questioned or challenged. Perhaps they remember how the disciples once asked Jesus to demolish a town because the people didn’t welcome him (Luke 9:51-56). But Jesus rebuked them, and I think He would rebuke those who have the same desire today.

Neither one of these approaches bears good fruit.  Fortunately, the Apostle Paul's letters have left a legacy that can inform how we respond to the critics of Christianity today. Though he was an apostle, Paul was often put in a place where he needed to defend himself from his detractors.
  • “I wonder if he really knows what he is talking about?” (1 Corinthians 15:12; 2 Corinthians 1:13) 
  • “Is this guy really an apostle?” (1 Corinthians 9:1, 1 Corinthians 9:2, 2 Corinthians 1:22; and 2 Corinthians 12:13) 
  • “He’s kind of a nerd, actually.” (2 Corinthians 1:13; 10:10) 
  • “He speaks out of both sides of his mouth.” (2 Corinthians 1) 
It must have been tempting to demolish his critics with his all-star credentials, to bring the thunder of apostolic authority and miraculous power, then walk away and shake the dust off his feet. But Paul didn’t want to shame or discourage the gullible crowd in Corinth; he wanted to add to their joy (2 Corinthians 1:24). He wanted to regain the relationship that was lost. He wanted his presence in their life to make their lives better. 

So how did Paul respond in order to accomplish his goal?
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1. Paul Lived Consistently 

Paul noted that the people of Corinth had read his letters and seen his life (2 Corinthians 1:13). When he wrote to the Colossian Christians, he noted:
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17)
The integrity of our lives must match the truth of our doctrine. We may claim to be citizens of heaven, but if we treat others like hell, it won’t matter what we say.

2. Paul Lived Transparently

Paul had no skeletons in his closet. He had a rough history, but that was hardly a secret. He understood this principle: You have nothing to fear as long as you have nothing to hide. Paul makes clear that was the goal of his life:
“We have renounced secret and shameful ways…” (Paul, in 2 Corinthians 4:1)
“I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” (Paul, as quoted in Acts 24:16)
Integrity brings freedom. We don't have to fear the insults of others if we know, before God and others, that transparency is our friend.

3. Paul Understood Grace

He writes, “I would rather that…. I can add to your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). The original word carries with it the image of “extending favor; leaning toward.” One concordance was even more specific: it’s “grace recognized.”  Paul, of all people, knew what it was like to be in need of grace.  Why wouldn't he want to pay it forward?
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What difference do you think it would make if we, the ambassadors of Christ, consciously moved from person to person with these thoughts:
  • Is what I claim to believe and what I actually do consistent? 
  • Is there any part of my life that I don’t want others to see? 
  • Is grace easily recognized by others in my attitude and actions? 
Truth must be told, of course. There is no gospel message without it.  But the best response to Christianity’s critics is one in which the lives of his ambassadors display integrity, openness, and grace empowered by the presence of Christ.


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