The art of communication
"Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come. Now all these things are from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation, namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God was making an appeal through us; we beg you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God." [2 Corinthians 5:17-20]
As of first importance for us as Christians is to recognize the responsibility that has been entrusted to us by God Himself: that He has committed to us the word of reconciliation. Reconciliation is the act of bringing people or parties back into harmony and peace. As Christians we understand that before we were called by God we were hostile before Him, our sins had separated us from Him and that made it impossible for us to be at peace with Him. Furthermore, we understood that this harmony could only be established through the Person of Jesus Christ who became the only one capable of putting away that sin and hostility through the sacrifice of Himself. It is only through believing the good news of the gospel and turning from sin that this relationship with God is restored and brought back into harmony. This is the message and as we speak this word the Holy Spirit can make effectual inward change in others- this spoken word is the word of reconciliation.
Needless to say, the only people who can bring this message of reconciliation to others are those who have been reconciled. Also note that this word is a spoken word, it is not merely exhibiting a certain manner of living before others, nor is this reconciliation primarily for those who may be reconciled. The reconciliation is through us but for Him, for His sake. This is an important distinction that is often overlooked and has led to many misunderstandings about the reason God desires to reconcile others.
At first glance, it might appear by the title of this article above that their is some kind of inherent power in the manner we as individuals speak with one another. Surely we've heard statements such as, "You're too harsh," "You're scaring people away," "That's not very loving" or most people's favorite, "Stop being so judgmental!" Most of us have been on the end of one of these statements before, some like myself- all of the above. Just how important is it that we learn to speak properly or effectively when we're sharing the gospel with those around us? Is this as important as people often make it out to be?
Consider this statement from what appears in my bible to be quite an effectual servant of the Lord, paul the apostle;
"And when I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God" [1 Corinthians 2:1]
We ought to be able to quickly ascertain here that being a good communicator (whether through fancy words or the formation of such) has absolutely nothing to do with an individual's effectiveness in communicating the gospel. Many a man or woman have been found who are excellent communicators, who excell in bringing their points across with intricate detail and with one example after another and yet produce little if no lasting results in others. How can this be?
New Rules for a New Creation
It doesn't take long to see the differences between what Jesus taught and lived throughout His earthly life and what has always been the status quo living of mankind in general. Whether in those days or today, note some of the obvious contrasts between what Jesus lived out and what earthly men refused to religuish.
|Nothing derived from Himself [John 5:30, 8:28, 12:49]||Creates all manner of self-made ministry ideas/tools.|
|Freely gives [Romans 8:32]||A cost in the name of "my rights"|
|No partiality shown [Galatians 2:6]||Esteems educated men over others|
Had no earthly treasures [2 Corinthiaans 8:9]
|Man accumulates worldly wealth|
|Did not defend Himself [1 Peter 2:21-23]||Continuously defends his "beliefs," "actions" and "ministry"|
|Obeyed His Father [Philippians 2:8]||Exchanges sacrifice for obedience|
|Lived a life of service [Mark 10:45]||Serves for selfish reasons|
|Always pleases His Father [John 8:29]||Pleases men verses God|
|Leaves the 99 to find the 1||Throws out the 1 and judges the 99|
Now let's make an assumption that those who practice any of the traits upon both sides of this chart claim to be Christians. We know for a fact that this is true but how do those under the column of "mankind" justify these positions and practices?
Webster's definition of inherent: involved in the constitution or essential character of something: belonging by nature or habit.
Now here's the million dollar question. Do you believe that human beings are by nature or habit constitutionally or essentially good? For if this is so, you will find it very natural and comfortable putting into practice the things under the right column because you believe you are "capable" either by constitution or by habit to perform things for God. In other words, you will find yourselves saying things as such:
- I can do all things through Christ (not meaning Christ is capable through you but you can because you're a christian)
- God will not give me more than I can handle (meaning exactly what this says) which by the way is not a bible verse.
- God gave me this thing or blessing (despite you attaining it by your own strength, wisdom or ingenuity) which proves its not from Him.
= you believe in yourself and your own abilities, including your ability to live the christian life. Sadly, this belief is not only not christian nor scriptural, it is also fatal.
The chart above and this issue of inherent goodness ties in to our study upon communication. For if I believe that I have all this ability to affect others in a positive way then that means the opposite of that must also be true as well. I must also be able to adversely affect others just as I can positively affect them. In other words, just as I would be able to "push people away" I can also "draw people near" by a change in how I communicate with them. This is only partially true and I'd like to attempt to explain to you the difference.
Basic principles in communication
It goes without saying that God desires us to communicate with people in a proper manner. This proper manner must stem from a sincere love for both the sinners and the saints and be driven by an overarching desire to be faithful to what God Himself desires us to speak and share with given individuals or groups of people. Obviously these "engagements" have numerous variables that do not always allow for a uniform manner of communication. For example, a street preacher is quite unlikely to use the same tone of voice as an individual speaking to another individual at a public restaurant. This is mere common sense. It is not an issue of right or wrong but what is necessary within a given framework.
Regardless of the type and style of communication one might utilize in a particular venue, there is never any excuse for failing to carry one's person as a representative of Jesus Christ with a proper attitude and appropriate conduct. This does not mean specific rules should govern our conduct like "never raising one's voice" or "being nice all the time." This having been said, the bible makes clear that there are certain ways in which we can become more persuasive as:
"The wise in heart will be called understanding, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness" and "The heart of the wise instructs his mouth and adds persuasiveness to his lips" [Proverbs 16:21, 23] and "By forebearance a ruler may be persuaded, and a soft tongue breaks the bone" [Proverbs 25:15]
The above principles and practices should be utilized when possible but keep in mind that those with alterior motives use the very same things:
"His speech was smoother than butter, but his heart was war, his words were softer than oil, yet they were drawn swords. [Psalm 55:21]
"For the lips of an adultress drip honey and smoother than oil is her speech; but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword" [Proverbs 5:3, 4] Even the apostle Paul made it clear that some have alterior motives despite their speech:
"For we never came with flattering speech, as you know, nor with a pretext for greed- God is our witness- nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or others, even though as apostles of Christ we may have asserted our authority" [1 Thessalonians 2:5, 6] [Philippians 1:15-17]
Is our manner of speech and sincerity important before God when we share with others? Absolutely. But is that what ultimately makes the difference between people receiving Christ or walking away from us. Absolutely not.
I'd like to divide this section into three potential "engagements" those reading this site and agreeing with it's contents are bound to encounter. All Christians will encounter the first two- only those having abandoned institutionalized religion will encounter the third.
Your average joe without Christ
We should praise God for every opportunity our Father gives us in sharing the truth of His word and gospel with others in need. Needless to say these people are all around us and as we pray for these opportunities our Father will orchestrate them for us. Praying along these lines keeps the responsibility to share the gospel with others forefront in our minds and motivates us to be expectant and willing to share when these opportunities occur.
When we share with those we meet on these occasions it is most helpful to get to know someone somewhat before dumping truth in their lap. It is very difficult to know how to present the gospel properly if I don't understand a little about the person I'm talking to. For example, if I know someone has attended some kind of 12 step program in their lives (something I've also done) I can use that as a means to talk to them about God. If you have prayed for these opportunities their will almost always be an opening but sometimes that takes a little searching, listening or questioning to find it.
Listening and asking questions tells you alot. The person you're talking to may have had a troubling experience with religion of some sort. They may have been abused, a parent or sibling may have died, a hundred other things could be standing between them and Christ. It's your job if you'll accept it, to discover what that issue is. You'll eventually discover either what preferred excuse they are using or whether they just prefer to keep sinning, after all that is one's natural tendency.
Remember that the person you're sharing with is not the enemy. You are a representative of Jesus Christ who has a responsibility to lovingly and graciously as possible speak the truth to this person. Never forget that regardless of what this persons reaction is to your speech or words, ultimately they are going to remember and judge you based upon how you treated them. The goal is not to get someone to convert or say a prayer, the goal is for you to identify with the pains and sufferings of a fallen world and people and bear those burdens with them. I'll bet that last part was a suprise, no?
The proffessing Christian who is not a Christian
Ouch. I have a feeling quite a few of you are judging me right now. I'll let you. That's one quality you will always find with one truly living for Christ.
Obviously just because someone claims to be a Christian doesn't make that so. Many, many people have all kinds of religious beliefs and practice all manner of those beliefs. Despite Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Chrisian Scientists, Seventh Day Adventists and a host of other religions all claiming allegiance to Christ, we would be hard pressed to find one in a hundred of these people who could describe what God Himself really says a Christian is according to the Bible. Just think about it. If you had to describe in one sentence what it means to be a Christian what would you say? Clue: If you're answer has any hint whatsoever of ANY religion, you might want to pick up a bible and start reading it. In the end, God's not forgiving anyone who's too lazy or neglectful to discover what it really means to serve Him. You need to find out now- today.
Periodically I'll have people come up to me in restaurants as I have books strewn all over the table when I study. My bible, a concordance and a few other things. Quite often these people ask me what I'm doing and this affords an excellent opportunity to tell them. Ninety nine times out of a hundred I'm studying for something I plan on writing on this site or sending mail to my friends around the world. Both provide an opportunity to share the hope I have found in Christ.
After talking for a few minutes these people gather that I'm quite serious about what I believe. I'm not doing a Sunday or Wednesday obligatory thing- I want to serve God and that daily. I spend the majority of my time reading, writing, praying and thinking about Him- not some religion. Many of these people are quick to listen to me, some will listen to my comparisons between ekklesia and church while others have questions for me. Sooner or later someone will approach me claiming to be a christian and that's when they get my undivided attention. "You are?"
It would be really easy to just assume their claim to be christian is legit before God. But if I make that assumption I must also act in accordance with the manner God says I must treat fellow believers. If they are christian I must accept them, I must welcome their fellowship, I must allow them to exercize their particular gifts. In short, I must afford them every privilege that I also share as a member of the body of Christ. If I do this, then I subject myself, my friends, family and any others true christians to their influence, words, wisdom, mannerisms etc. Is it wise to do that without knowing for sure what they really believe?
If one reads the bible, the warnings are aplenty that their will be people claiming to be God's who are no such thing. Many of these people are not just merely mistaken about what they think they believe, they are actually imposters attempting to infiltrate the people of God in order to adveresly influence them. Those who are older in the faith (spoken of as elders) are responsible to protect the flock of believers from error (false beliefs) and immoral behavior which has a leavening affect on the people as a whole. This is one reason we must be careful to not just take people's word who claim to be christian. Furthermore, and in light of God's plain scriptural declarations, the most loving thing I can do for any person is to make absolutely sure the people I know are upon the narrow road that leads to life. That's because Jesus says;
"Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it" [Matthew 7:13, 14] Pay close attention to the words in green above. The very next verse echoes what I said above:
"Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves" In the bible a sheep is illustrated of a child of God, a goat a child of the devil. Above we have goats attempting to look and act like sheep, thus the warning. Another warning is here:
"Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven" Once again a dire warning to those who claim to know God but do not obey Him.
An overriding characteristic of true christians is their desire to have fellowship one with another. Where those claiming to know God hesitate to fellowship, make excuses for not doing so or just don't want to talk about God something is seriously wrong. That person may or may not know Him personally, they may be caught up in sin or they may have been influenced by other professing christians who led them in an unhealthy direction. If you care about these people you meet, ask them questions like:
- How does a person become a Christian?
- How do you live out your life as a Christian?
- What are a Christian's responsibilities?
There are a hundred questions you might ask to discover whether they really know God, to what extent and who or what may have influenced them in their beliefs. Even if they offer where they attend church, that will also help you understand how and what they have been taught. Yes, they will very likely think you are judging them and indeed you are! Just like a parent judges their child's behavior or a teacher judges the attention span and the progress of their students. They judge because they care, not because they are trying to put others down or tower over them. They care enough to tell you the truth about yourself and circumstances and how to avoid the pitfalls and dangers that lay in the road ahead. In one sense they can either have our concerned judgment in relation to their beliefs now, or God's condemnation of them after it's too late. The day of mercy and grace is today, not when others pick and choose it to be.
Most of my conversations with professing believers don't last very long. Most don't really want to talk, they just want someone to confirm their own uncertanties about the truth. Never do that, never give them comfort in their uncertainty. Start from the beginning, with the simple gospel and proceed from there. Even if you do discover they have true saving faith, still attempt to discover where they are in their walk with Christ. This is an ongoing journey for all believers, we must continually be pressing into Christ lest we drift away from what we've heard:
"For this reason we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away from it" [Hebrews 2:1]
Be gentle with "professors" until you understand their real spiritual state before God. Yes, He will show you. We ought not treat a misguided or even deceived believer like we would an older person purposely deceiving others into falsehood. Every single individual warrants a very specific avenue in which to address that persons need. That need may be to be shown mercy, uproot weeds or to give a very stern rebuke. Be wise in your estimation of these things and yes, these people. Remember, the goal is not to get someone to convert or say a prayer, the goal is for you to identify with the pains and sufferings of a fallen world and people and bear those burdens with them.
The church going professing christian
I'm well aware that most of those going to church these days are not real biblical born-again believers. This obviously varies from one country to another, one city to another and from one church to another. I want to address these people from the standpoint of one who no longer attends church or any religious institution or organization. This section is for those who share and live this out as well.
The bible makes it quite plain that those most hostile to the message of Jesus Himself were religious people. This should not be quickly overlooked but studied carefully. Why was this so? Why would people in New Testament times who claimed to know God be so opposed to Jesus' teaching that they eventually had Him crucified? Can we know why?
The power of an investment
Have you ever made an investment? Of course you have, we all have. Some have invested in specific friendships, marriages and business projects. Others have invested in real estate, money markets and even in their own abilities. Some have even invested in religion.
What do all these investments have in common? The same things all investments have in common- risk and hopefully return. Like any investment, a risk must be taken in the hope of gleaning some beneficial return- we invest specifically so we can get something for ourselves, so we can gain an advantage for ourselves. Just curious, does that sound like the life that Jesus Himself lived when He walked this earth? Did He come to earth hoping for a return upon His sacrificed life or did He simply offer everything He had for the benefit of those who couldn't help themselves?
There is one certainty in relation to investments. The longer we have invested (our time, money or even ourselves) the more profound the attachment to that investment. More than any other investment, this is found predominately true through men's religions. Despite the obvious failures and foibles of mankind, we just can't seem to grasp the fact that those same men are running religious institutions- institutions that center around those men. The attachment to those places, people and rituals are very powerful, so much more because it is claimed that God Himself is behind it all- that God is the one who directed us in this manner in our service to Him. Is this actually true?
Most of us outside of religious institutions understand the power behind these places and people and where that power derives from. As Jesus, we would long to gather them as chicks but they would not come…..they are far too preocupied with their own "doings" just like the religious people of Jesus' day. They just couldn't fathom that all the good they were accomplishing was not from and of God…and so it is today. As Jesus made so very clear….."to you (to the few) it has been granted to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been granted." This my friends may be the most sobering phrase in the whole of scripture. If so, how do we communicate to those to whom it has not been granted? Why would we?
Eyes fixed upon whom?
"Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entagles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of God" [Hebrews 12:1, 2]
The "offense" of men
There is a very good explanation why professing Christians are so often labeled hypocrites by those outside the faith. That's because they so often are. Is it realistic to think that those professing Christ can have an effective witness upon others when far too often individual believers fail miserably in the sight of this world's people, when church after church is caught up in some religious scandal? No it is not. Regardless of how the gospel is communicated, with what tone of voice or with how many people or in what venue, the result will be the same- the offense of men will hinder any real advance of the truth. Regardless of whether an individual is walking in the flesh or a local assembly is utilizing fleshly tools and methodologies, these conflict and "cancel out" if you will- the offense of the cross. It is no suprise when sinful men are offended by the gospel message that contradicts their sinful lifestyles. That is the very offense that should be present and is exhibited when one both speaks and lives the message of reconciliation. This is an acceptable offense for it derives from God Himself. On the other hand, the works of the flesh are contrary to the offense of the cross.and must be considered as dead in Christ:
"Therefore consider the members of your earthly body as dead to immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed, which amounts to idolatry. But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander and abusive speech from your mouth." [Colossians 3:5-8] The opposite of these fleshly actions is here below and the result:
"Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed. AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but santify 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; and keep a good conscience so that in the thing in which you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ will be put to shame. For it is better, if God should will it so, that you suffer for doing what is right rather than for doing what is wrong." [1 Peter 3:13-17]
Is the real issue really about sincerity, speech or power?
To the apostle Paul, sincerity was important, but more important was the proclamation of the gospel.
"Some, to be sure, are preaching Christ from envy and strife, but some also from good will; the latter do it out of love, knowing that I am appointed for the defense of the gospel; the former proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition rather than from pure motives, thinking to cause me distress in my imprisonment. What then? Only that in every way, whether in pretense or in truth, Christ is proclaimed; and in this I rejoice" [Philippians 1:15-18]
To the apostle Paul, our manner of speech was also important as it relates to proclaiming that gospel:
"Let you speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person" [Colossians 4:6]
But where does the power to influence people come from? In an adverese way from us in the flesh, yet in a positive way here:
"For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek" [Romans 1:16, 17] and
"And when I came to you brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you but Jesus Christ, and Him crucified"
Paul is talking here about living a crucified life, practically. A life crucified with Christ has no wisdom of its own, nor is it reliant upon anything deriving from itself. It's sustanance and resources are derived outside of oneself, namely through Christ alone.
"I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling, and my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith would not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God"
In the ministry of reconciliation, the less you have, the more you can be. Less dependent upon ourselves, more dependent upon Him. The cross is the instrument that initiates us into this life and brings us out into the glorious resurrection power of Jesus Christ.
We know sinful men need to be reconciled. Do we also realize the need for believers to be reconciled one to another?
For those on the outside, we stand like Jesus as a bridge between God's heart and intentions and the dictates and creations of men. How is it that Jesus was able to triumph and call many sons and daughters unto Himself? Was it with anything that derived from Himself?
In a world surrounded by witnesses, we can choose to follow the plans of men or lay aside every religious encumbrance and sectarian sin that entangles us, allowing us to run the race set before us with endurance. With our eyes fixed upon Jesus alone, the author and perfector of our faith, we also for the joy set before us in pleasing Him endure the cross, despising the shame and someday soon reap the rewards of doing so as we stand before the throne of God. We consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that we do not grow weary and lose heart. – paraphrase.
The most effective communication in all the world, was and is, a crucified life.