Saturday, November 5, 2011

Speaking the truth with love

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman
painted by Carl Bloch
The Gospel of John, chapter 4, records the perfect instance of witnessing by Jesus, which is a model for us to follow. He engages a Samaritan woman in a casual and non-confrontational manner by merely asking for a drink -- contrast that to the stereotypical street-corner preacher who debates with loudness and prepared polemics -- and notice that the first thing she does is reveal her religious background. Jesus then begins His discourse about the Holy Spirit being the life-giving water; this gently guides the discussion onto her personal life. The lesson to be taken from His example is that He "spoke truth in love" (Eph 4:15) and she left not feeling offended. Jesus did not come to debate her with prepared statements, with a point to prove, or to defend His pride (He had no pride); He instead held a genuine conversation that effectively conveyed the Truth. I am convinced that to imitate His witnessing, one must have great humility (Matt 11:29).

In the words of St. Peter, the Christian must “always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope” and to do it with “gentleness and reverence” (1 Pet 3:15). Three keywords are:
  1. Reason. A Christian well-versed in in his beliefs will certainly have a gaggle of explanations in mind, but they may also be too complex, technical, and academic sounding. What sounds comprehensible to you may sound like a “resounding gong or a clashing cymbal” (1 Cor 13:1) to another. What are the intellectual and emotional levels of your audience? Take the liberty to manufacture your understanding into a style accessible for others so that you may communicate to all types of people with great success. 
  2. Gentleness. It is all too easy to offend someone by flaunting wisdom at the wrong time (Sirach 32:4), being judgmental, insensitive, and ignorant. No one knows how the Samaritan woman would have reacted if Jesus immediately attacked her personal life like gangbusters, but one could reasonably guess she would have responded unfavorably. Continuously examine your speaking methods and ask the Holy Spirit to purify them. Gentleness is a fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal 5:22-23). 
  3. Reverance. Every man and woman was, is, and will be thought about by God from all eternity. It is His choice to create all human beings, and creation would not be complete without each one. Therefore, human decency is owed to every man and woman since all are made in the "image of God" (Gen 1:27). Do you show basic respect to those who are unable or unwilling to accept the Gospel? 
In the event your explanations are not welcomed, "shake off the dust of your feet" (Matt 10:14), which means be done with them and move on. Some Christians can't handle being rejected and so they try harder. Wrong strategy. God does not harass. I define harassing as the continued attempt of unwelcomed behavior. When a Christian harasses, tall walls are built from the other side to keep you (and maybe even God) out. Don't build that tower!