When we evangelize and contend for the faith, there will be various reactions and outcomes. One may be debate, and though debate can in itself often be healthy and helpful by motivating us to delve deeper into truth, it is necessary to be wary of those who try to suck us into a “war of words.” Respectful debate and obstinate arguing are two different things. I keep in mind a classroom poster I once had up; but I’ve changed it to this: “Arguing with a fool is like mud-wrestling with a pig. You get dirty, but the pig loves it.” In other words, fools enjoy word-wars. They thrive on getting dirty in their minds, hearts, spirits, and mouths. They care less if they defame the Lord’s name, the Lord’s work, the Lord’s servants, and the Lord’s way of perfect righteousness, justice, and love. They like to spit out “shock words” and “shock statements.” Of them, this verse applies: “Concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before his eyes. For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin. The words of his mouth are wicked and deceitful; he has ceased to be wise and to do good. Even on his bed he plots evil; he commits himself to a sinful course and does not reject what is wrong.” (Ps. 36:1-4)
However, we who are righteous, do not enjoy getting dirty. We speak in order to uplift the name and gospel of Jesus. Our discussions are to sharpen one another. (See Prov. 27:17) If someone is not interested in coming to the truth, we are to avoid them. How do we know who has a true seeking heart and who is heckling just for the sake of indulging their blasphemous, vindictive, and/or arrogant spirit? Well, we ask for guidance from the Holy Spirit. If He is in us, He will rise to answer this.
As representatives of Christ and the Word of God, it is important in any kind of relationship encounter, to be completely Christlike. Our goal on this earth is “to be conformed to the image of His Son” (Rom. 8:29) –Christ Jesus– and we do so by submitting to His Lordship constantly. Does this mean we never rebuke? No. But we do not waste time listening to, or even rebuking, those who are fools. As Prov. 23:9 says, “Do not speak to a fool, for he will scorn the wisdom of your words.”
Let me give a few examples from Scripture to support what I’m saying.
1. Jesus, when being tempted and harassed in the desert by the devil, finally said, “Away from me, Satan!” (Matt. 4:10) He did not try to convert, or even change the devil’s mind. He just quoted Scripture and then said “Get away from me!”
2. Jesus, in seeing those selling in the temple, didn’t sit around debating on whether or not it was evil. He already knew what God’s Word said about God’s temple. So He made a whip and drove them out –quoting Scripture as He did so. (Luke 19:45,46 & John 2:14-16)
3. David, the boy, came against Goliath, a “great and famous” Philistine warrior, with faith and courage in God, and a hearty rebuke for the wicked. “… but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I’ll strike you down and cut off your head… For the battle is the LORD’s…” (1 Sam. 17:45-47) We don’t get (or talk) violence, but we are warriors in the spiritual –using spiritual weapons. And let’s note that David did not sit around in discussion with such a foul servant of Satan’s. No, he rebuked him, then he killed him. Us? Titus 3:10 tells us we are to warn or rebuke once, maybe twice, and then we kill the conversation –before we give them any more platform to defy our Great God or spread their teachings of gangrene (2 Tim. 2:17) into our spirits.
4. Let’s look at 1 Sam. 15 where the LORD rejects Saul as king. Saul had actually been chosen by God Himself, but later, because he was found to be disobedient and unrepentant, “the LORD was grieved that He had made Saul king over Israel.” (v. 35) How did Samuel respond to Saul’s irreverence and rebellion? Did he sit around in discussion? No. Samuel rebuked Saul for his sin, he did not “forgive” him, he killed the Amalekite king that Saul had refused to kill, he “cried out to the LORD all night” (v. 11) on behalf of Saul, he “mourned for Saul” (v. 35), he did not go to visit Saul ever again, and he rejected Saul as king, just as the LORD had also rejected Saul as king.
It is the same with us: We are to reject having fellowship and conversations with those whom the Lord rejects –unless they first step into a repentant or at least a willing-to-listen attitude. For if we invite a blasphemer, heretic, or even a mere troublemaker into our fellowship, conversation, or home (even via internet), we are “welcoming” him; and “Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work.” (2 John 1:11) The “wicked work” is deception (v. 7) and “false teachings” coming from those “who do not have God.” (v. 9) We have nothing to learn from these types of people. We have the Word of God we can go to when we have questions, or we can ask a solid, godly, righteous person a question.
This does not mean that we should not engage each other’s sincere questions as we seek to correctly interpret the truth, or that we should not listen respectfully to unregenerate people’s views on spirituality. We should, just as we expect to be listened to respectfully. But dialogue does not apply to rude, argumentative individuals, blasphemers, or those who want to talk in circles with their “godless chatter” about “knowledge” (1 Tim. 6:20), “always trying to learn but who can never come to know the truth.” (2 Tim.3:7) Verse 5 says of these types: “Have nothing to do with them.” For “Bad company corrupts good character.” (1 Cor. 15:33) And as 2 Chron. 19:2 warns, “Should you help the wicked and make alliances [or friendships –James 4:4) with those who hate the LORD? Because of this, the wrath of the LORD is upon you.” No wonder so many are under His wrath. If it’s not the consequence our own sin, it’s the consequence of aiding or tolerating another’s sin –who we should have long ago rebuked and then severed ourselves from.
5. Jesus rebuked Peter, who though it somewhat seems that Peter was only in ignorance resisting God’s will, Jesus said to him, “Out of My sight, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.” (Matt. 16:23) I believe we should, though ONLY under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, do more rebuking like this. Then when people are being pawns of the evil one, they would either leave or shut up. Few Christians exercise this authority we’ve been given (John 20:21-23) because we are too afraid of retaliatory insults, slander, or loss of friendships. But that merely means we “love praise from men more than praise from God.” (John 12:43)
6. Jesus told his 72 disciples, upon sending them out to proclaim the Kingdom of God, “But when you enter a town and are not welcomed, go into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that sticks to our feet we wipe off against you…” (Luke 10:10,11) There are plenty of people who are thirsting to have someone clearly present to them the Good News and who are willing to consider carefully, even humbly, if it could be true. So move on to those dear souls. Do not fall for this trick of Satan’s. He is merely attempting to frustrate and keep evangelists tied up with hardened “deceitful workmen” (2 Cor. 11:13,14) so that they have no time to help, edify, and point truth out to those who are eager to listen.
7. When someone becomes abusive toward us in our efforts to help them find Christ, we are to leave them. Acts 18:6 says, “But when the Jews opposed Paul and became abusive, he shook out his clothes in protest and said to them, ‘Your blood be on your own heads! I am clear of my responsibility. From now on I will go to the Gentiles.'”
8. When someone starts heckling us as we are preaching or witnessing, whether it is in the street, store, church, internet, or group Bible study, we are not to engage. This is contrary to what I’ve heard some other street preachers (or those who blog) do. I’ve heard of a well-known evangelist who even prays to have hecklers come his way. Why? –To draw a crowd. Well sorry, but I am firmly opposed to this approach. The only crowd that is drawn is one who likes a circus show –whose hearts might pretend to be seeking God, yet in actuality are seeking entertainment –cloaking their desires in religiosity so as to pacify their consciences. No. Let’s look at how Paul responded to a heckler in Acts 16:16-18: “… we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit by which she predicted the future… This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’ She kept this up for many days. Finally Paul became so troubled that he turned around and said to the spirit, ‘In the name of Jesus Christ I command you to come out of her!’ At that moment the spirit left her.”
Let’s see… was Paul happy about this? I mean, he was getting free advertisement. No. He was troubled. But notice he ignored her for many days. Then finally he rebuked her, putting a complete end to her heckling. So, I believe that anyone who likes shows like this could have a very similar heart to what Jesus refers to in Matt. 12:39, “A wicked and adulterous generation asks for a miraculous sign!” These types of hearts love the dazzle, the showy, the entertaining, the magical, the dramatic… –anything that feeds their fleshly appetites. Well, when that is mixed with the proclamation of the gospel, it is wicked spiritual adultery, it is idolatrous, and it can slip straight into a demonic counterfeit.
9. Study Acts 8:9-24. Simon was a sorcerer who “himself believed and was baptized.” (v. 13) But since he had wrong motives for wanting the ability to impart the Holy Spirit into others, Peter rebuked him severely, saying Simon had no part in the ministry, was wicked, bitter, captive to sin, not right with God, destined to perish, and better repent! And a similar rebuke was given by Paul to another sorcerer in Acts 13:6-12, and Paul even cursed him with temporary blindness for his “deceit and trickery”, and for continuously “perverting the right ways of the Lord.” I am not advocating the pronouncement of curses, for in Luke 9:55 Jesus rebuked his disciples who suggested that response for those who did not welcome them. But did Peter and Paul hang out in discussions with such “children of the devil”? (v. 10) No. They condemned their actions, their hearts, their thoughts, and their motives… and left them.
This should be our type of response toward anyone, especially those who claim to be Christians –or those who were raised as Christians, but have turned sour and rude, and who seem to enjoy flaunting their sinful lifestyles. Such people are to be expelled from church (1 Cor. 5:12,13), from Bible Studies and/or theological discussions, and handed “over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit [hopefully be] saved on the day of the Lord.” (v. 5) If holy church leaders would abide by this command, we would not have God’s judgment on our very defiled, stinking Christian church! But no, the “lovey, dovey unity” philosophy prevails, as does the results of Prov. 29:25 –“Fear of man will prove to be a snare.”
Now, after saying all this, let me again add that this is not the response we should have for everyone. For those who are willing to respectfully and sincerely debate, then we are to show enormous gentleness, love, and patience. We are to employ in our minds such verses as Rom. 2:4, –It is “God’s kindness [that] leads you toward repentance.” And Gal. 6:1 –“Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted.” And James 5:20 –“Whoever turns a sinner away from his error will save him from death [spiritual death] and cover over a multitude of sins.”
So, yes, keep contending for the faith (Jude 1:3), but do so by the leading of the Holy Spirit. (Matt. 10:19,20 & 1 Peter 4:11 & 1 John 4:4-6) As the LORD says to all His watchmen (–that’s ALL of us who are filled with His Spirit– see Matt. 28:18-20 & Acts 1:8 & 2:14-18), “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; so hear the word I speak and give them warning from Me. When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you will surely die [spiritually],’ and you do not speak out to dissuade him from his ways, that wicked man will die for/in his sin, and I will hold you accountable for his blood. But if you do warn the wicked man to turn from his ways and he does not do so, he will die for his sin, but you will have saved yourself.” (Ezek. 33:7-9)
Therefore, how do we really have victory over the evil side and all those who rant from that shore?
It is by the witness we give through yes, our words, using the Word of God. But even Satan can cunningly do that. So, differently from him, we have these additional tools for combat:
1) –our faith –“This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.” (1 John 5:4) And “anyone who has faith in Me will DO what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these…” (John 14:12)
2) –our abiding in Christ –walking in Him who is the Truth and the Light, for “if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7) The purity gives us fellowship with God and with those others who abide in Him; and this unity is the means by which the world knows that God sent Jesus. (See John 17:21,23)
3) –our obedience — This is precisely the means by which the Trinity will indwell us. As Jesus says in John 14:23, “If anyone loves Me, he will obey My teaching. My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him.” And v. 15-17 –“If you love Me, you will obey what I command. And I will ask the Father, and He will give you another Counselor to be with you forever– the Spirit of truth… [and] He will be in you.” Rom. 8:9,14,17 is only one of the many passages that makes this truth crystal clear: No obedience means not having the Spirit; not having the Spirit means not belonging to Christ. Not belonging to Christ means not being a child of God. Not being a child of God means not inheriting eternal life.
4) –our peace –“MY peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.” (Jesus in John 14:27) For “You will keep him in perfect peace whose mind is focused on You, because he trusts in You.” (Isa. 26:3)
5) –our LOVE –Now, this is the greatest command. Nothing else we do in witnessing, proclaiming the Gospel, preaching the Word, exhorting people to holy living… NOTHING compares to love. For even if we have all the gifts, “and even if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Cor. 13:2) For “the only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love.” (Gal. 5:6) “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'” (v. 14) “Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.” (Rom. 13:10) And “let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.” (1 John 3:18) (Here the “in truth” would mean not allowing for lies, deception, false doctrines, sin, etc.)
But here’s a real good verse that pertains to loving in order to testify to the Gospel: “All men will know that you are My disciples if you love one another.” (John 13:35) And in the verse before this, Jesus says, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” And then in 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.” Which is what Jesus did for us –as well as for the whole world. (1 John 2:2 & John 3:16)
These five things are our fruit, and the world watches our fruit. But it must be fruit that lasts (John 15:16), that endures (Matt. 24:13), and then they WILL know that Jesus “really is the Savior of the world.” (John 4:42) If all Christians would consistently exhibit these fruits –always –to everyone, then most arrogant mouths would be stopped and many would willingly UNplug their ears.