How ought we practice apologetics with unbelievers? The answer is easy: with gentleness and reverence. In social media, it is easy to be an armchair warrior. The sense of security that comes from anonymity means that Christians can often be quite rude in their discussions with unbelievers. I’ve seen it happen many times, and it is wrong. Now, we all blow it from time to time. When we do, we should admit our error, repent, and move forward. But, there’s a difference between occasionally messing up with unbelievers and repeatedly attacking and badgering them. Of course, foul language should never be part of our witness (Colossians 3:8). This is wrong because Scripture tells us that we should be gentle, patient, kind, etc.
Unfortunately, I’ve seen a lot of Christians who fail to show the for the spirit: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law,” (Gal. 5:22). If we represent Christ to unbelievers, then let us do it with kindness and patience. Consider the following verse.
“Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).
God is kind to us. We should show that same kindness to unbelievers as much as possible. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if a Christian who defends the faith to unbelievers cannot control himself and is repeatedly rude, condescending, and even insulting, then he ought not speak. Apologetics with unbelievers is a serious undertaking and we ought to not let our flesh get in the way.
Let’s take a look at what the word of God says to us Christians on how we are to interact with unbelievers.
Colossians 4:5–6, “Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. 6 Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.”
2 Timothy 2:24–26, “The Lord’s bond-servant must not be quarrelsome, but be kind to all, able to teach, patient when wronged, 25 with gentleness correcting those who are in opposition, if perhaps God may grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will.”
1 Peter 3:15, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;”
As you can see, we are commanded in Scripture to behave a certain way with grace that is seasoned with salt (Col. 4:5-6), not be quarrelsome, but be kind and patient (2 Tim. 2:24-25), and defend the faith with gentless and reverence (1 Peter 3:15). That is our standard.
Jesus insulted people and was harsh with them
While it is true that Jesus called people whitewash tombs (Matthew 23:27), that they were of their father the devil (John 8:44), and He even overturned the temple tables (Mark 11:15), it does not mean that we have the excuse to be rude and insulting. Jesus’ harshness was reserved for the false religious hypocrites inside the Jewish faith. They were corrupt and were misleading people. But for others, He displayed gentleness to the centurion (Luke 7:2–10), forgiveness to the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1–11), kindness to the woman with the issue of blood (Luke 8:43–48), ate with the sinner Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), showed gentleness to the Samaritan woman at the well (Luhn 4:1-4), forgave those who hurt Him physically (Luke 22:47-52), and He even washed the disciples’ feet (John 13:5). That is our example. That should be our practice.
1 Peter 3:15
Let us look one more time at 1 Pet. 3:15. It says, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence.” The word there “defense” is the Greek word ἀπολογία, apologia. It is where we get the English word ‘apologetics.’ So, the command is to practice apologetics with unbelievers (defense of the faith) by being gentle and reverent. But, I would go so far as to say that if you can’t do that, then don’t practice apologetics, keep quiet.
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