Depends on whom you’re talking to

We call little girls big girls and they are proud. I suspect calling big girls big girls would not elicit the same reaction. (I have not tried it personally and do not recommend attempting it, at the risk of one’s health and well-being.)

Words must be measured. The person to whom we address ourselves determines our approach.

Teaching the gospel demands the same attention. In Cl 4.6 Paul wrote, “Your speech should always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person” (HCSB).

“Each person” (some versions: “everyone”) translates the Greek term “heis”, the numeral one, sometimes translated as “each one” Ac 2.3, and is similarly translated by ASV, ESV, LEB, Mounce, NASB, and NKJV. It seems to indicate an individualized approach to responding to others with the gospel.

I often use a standardized study when I teach people the gospel. But such studies have their limits. One must be careful not to let love for a method overpower the need to tailor the truth of the message to specific individuals.

P.T. O’Brien understands “answer” to be a response of Christians “with the right word to those who ask questions, perhaps in connection with their beliefs and behaviour” (NBC21). V.P. Furnish thinks the answer under consideration here is the need of the Christian “to respond to challenge” (IOVC). This responsiveness certainly doesn’t rule out the initiative of the Christian in taking the gospel to others; one doesn’t merely wait to be questioned in order to proclaim the gospel.

This individualized response is a “must” (HCSB: “should;” Greek: “dei”). Christians cannot (1) leave off speaking and responding; (2) subject others to a “stock harangue” (G.B. Caird, cited in O’Brien); (2) plead ignorance or lack of gifts or talents — they must “know” how to answer; (4) leave it to professionals, since situations arise that demand their personal response.

If Christians fail to speak, they surrender their mission in the world and become guilty of refusing to confess Christ in the world. The consequences are disastrous for all: pagans will not be saved, and the silent Christian will be denied by Christ.

#evangelism, #knowledge, #mission, #obligations, #speech