“Why do Christians hate gays?” “Why do I need Jesus when I’m a good enough person on my own?” Have you ever encountered tough questions like these from your friends and couldn’t find an answer? I used to marvel at Paul’s eloquence whenever I read his sermon at Mars Hill (Acts 17:22–31). It seemed so easy for him to respond to those who disagreed with him. All he did was to go to the courts where religious matters were addressed, stand up and speak about God — and people listened.
Many controversial topics have arisen around us lately, such as economic equality, social justice, religious and LGBTQ issues. Wouldn’t it take someone with brilliance, guts and a gift of the gab like Paul to convince and convict people? What if we aren’t like him? Remaining silent doesn’t seem to be the right way forward as we called to be salt and light for Christ (Matt 5:13–16). This is where we can learn from Paul.
Paul didn’t remain silent, but he wasn’t reckless either. Here are three thoughts to consider when speaking to your friends about Jesus:
When difficult issues come up, don’t be afraid to ask questions (gently!) to clarify what your friends are saying; listen first to what they have to say and ask the Holy Spirit to help you understand what’s really on their minds. Paul didn’t simply barge into the Areopagus and spill facts for no reason. He was actually invited to do so (Acts 17:19–21)! Before this, Paul had gone down to engage Jews and Gentiles every day. He was observing, listening, and understanding — he was present. This surely helped him to address the people of Athens meaningfully (vv. 23–31). If you find yourself in the middle of a heated debate, helpful questions could include, “What makes you feel this way?” and “What was your experience with [the topic] before? Tell me more.” Remember: what we may know as the “right answer” may not always be the best answer for that moment.
Continue to love your friends as people — don’t just focus on the issue! Those whom Paul spoke to rejected his content, not his person nor the time he spent with them. You may disagree with your friends on certain issues of faith, but you are still in the best position to love them the way Christ would. This is where we practise the Great Commandment of loving our neighbours! Loving our neighbours doesn’t start with making them follow our law — that is precisely what the Pharisees were condemned for (Matt 23:4). Loving our neighbours is being with them in their brokenness and caring for them as a fellow sinful human being (Luke 10:25–37). Do your friends know you as someone who cares for them, or someone who is only concerned about “looking right”? When they know you care, they’re more likely to listen to what you have to say.
Perhaps we have an uphill task today because Christians are better known for what we are against, rather than what we are for. When someone shares their sexual struggles with a Christian, they’re probably expecting them to start judging what they’re doing right or wrong. We don’t have to (and probably shouldn’t) do that. In fact, it’s a great privilege that someone would share their deep struggles with you. Just as Christ meets us in our sins and failures, we should do likewise with our friends, while praying that they may experience His love for them through us and that we may be given the opportunity to have important conversations with them. Finally, remember: After all that, it’s not our responsibility to win the argument and make them change their minds. It is their responsibility to respond, and it is the Holy Spirit who will do His transforming work!