Think about the last time you had a disagreement. It could have been about sports, politics, movies, or perhaps a more personal topic—like your faith. When you left the conversation, did you feel like you managed to make your point? Did you feel like there was any kind of mutual agreement reached—even if it meant agreeing to disagree? Often our failure (or the failure of another) to see an alternative viewpoint has a lot to do with delivery.
Several years ago, I struck up a conversation with a man preaching the gospel on a street corner in Los Angeles. I noticed him because he was doing quite a bit of yelling at people about going to hell. Yet not one person, while I stood and watched, paid any attention to him or took his materials. I asked him why he thought that was. He just shook his head and said he trusted God to turn their hearts. While I applaud his faith in God’s ability and desire to change the hearts of people, I suggested that perhaps his methods could better represent the God he wanted them to follow.
The Apostle Peter’s first letter is addressed to Roman Christians, who were faced with some intense suffering and persecution as a result of their faith in Christ. He reminds them that even in the midst of what might look like a dire situation, how they represent Christ matters. No matter the harm a person intends, no matter what a person says about you or actions they take against you, do good and be above reproach (1 Peter 3:13-14). Because when we set Christ apart as Lord, we have nothing to fear.
But just as our actions speak volumes about who and what we put our faith in, our words ought to give the reason behind those actions. But because both word and deed matter, how their words were expressed would matter just as much. The command is to always be prepared to give an answer—to always be ready to offer why, despite the persecution, their hopes remained in Christ (v. 15). However, doing so required supernatural levels of gentleness and respect. Doing so would prove to be the ultimate display of Christ-likeness, “so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (v.16).
Our effective witness to others as followers of Christ is so much more than just communicating the gospel when given the opportunity. It’s more than just talking about Jesus and asking another person to “accept” Jesus. Effective disciple-making requires the formation of a relationship—even if that relationship is only for a small moment in time. It requires us to listen to another’s story, their concerns, objections, frustrations, and questions—and to do so with gentleness and respect. For you, it may not be a matter of solidarity in the face of persecution. It may, however, be more about giving another a reason to hear you when you do share the gospel. Peter’s words are still as relevant now as they were then.
How we share, Christ, is just as important as what we share about him. Our gentleness and respect towards others, our insistence on listening, and persistence to create valuable relationships are critical if we hope to create the necessary inroads for the gospel. Remember, as ambassadors of Christ, you may be the only Bible a person ever reads and the only Jesus they ever meet.