Tailor the Message

By Johnny O. Trail — We are continually looking for ways to share Christ with those around us. In the name of evangelism, some have pursued ways of attracting crowds of people with very little attention to God’s word (Col. 2.23). Suffice it to say, we should never compromise the truth or the practice thereof. It is not within our purview to contradict the authority of God’s word.

Nonetheless, we want to communicate with our friends, family, and neighbors about Jesus (Matt. 28.19). The god of this world has blinded the minds of many who might have otherwise obeyed the word. 2 Corinthians 4:3-4 says, “But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost: In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.” Given the current climate and the postmodern mindset, how does one effectively communicate with others about Jesus?

First, we need to be tactful regarding the way we approach people who are not Christians. Colossians 4:5-6 says, “Walk in wisdom toward them that are without, redeeming the time. Let your speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt, that ye may know how ye ought to answer every man.” Those that “are without” refers to those who are not Christians. Again, it is not about compromise inasmuch as it is about method of presentation. To that end, Paul admonishes all Christians to let their “speech be always with grace, seasoned with salt.”

I was once privy to a situation where a person was completely turned off from attending the Lord’s church. A good faithful member of the church was desperately trying to get her spouse to attend worship and engage the preacher with a Bible study. In order to accomplish this, she invited her husband to a gospel meeting that her congregation was conducting. During the sermon, the man preaching the lesson was critical of the denomination that her husband attended. He called the religious group by name and condemned the followers of their doctrine. He was correct in refuting false doctrine, but his methods of confronting error could have been more tactful. Suffice it to say, this man left in middle of the sermon and never came back to church again with his wife.

Sadly, I do not believe this is a unique occurrence. Do not misunderstand me. Faithful gospel preachers need to refute false teachings in the strongest possible manner. However, we can use tact in our teaching and win infinitely more souls for Christ.

I firmly believe that using tact in teaching others is biblical. The apostle Paul was sound in his teaching and encouraged others to refute false doctrine (II Timothy 4.1-5). One could never accuse this man who had endured so much for Christ of compromising the truth. This same Paul wrote, “For though I be free from all men, yet have I made myself servant unto all, that I might gain the more. And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law. To the weak became I as weak, that I might gain the weak: I am made all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” [emp. J.O.T.] (I Corinthians 9.19-22). Paul adapted his methods of teaching to appeal to the specific group or person he was addressing. He tailored his approach to convert others to Christ.

In some instances, you see an example of one who was very blunt in his proclamation. I once heard of one who was critical of Stephen and even said, “If he had been more tactful, he might not have been stoned upon this occasion.” This is blasphemous of Stephen as a Christian Martyr and deacon of the church. Again, his message was tailored to his audience. His auditors were blood thirsty Jews who rejected Christ and the message of God. This fact is that they should have been spiritually mature enough to have known better. The Jews should have recognized that Jesus was the Messiah.

Scripture demonstrates that it is sometimes necessary to proclaim names. Sometimes a name is tied to a specific doctrine or problem in the church. Considering that fact, we occasionally must mention a person, doctrine, or religious group by name (cf. II Timothy 4.10; Titus 1.12; Revelation 1.11). In my estimation, the level of criticism needs to be proportional to the maturity of the one being critiqued.

About two decades ago, I worked with inmates from the Cannon County jail. Through our studies of God’s word, we were successful in converting many of them to Christianity. As we continued our Bible study and interacted on a more personal level, the inmates would occasionally let profanities slip out in our conversations. In such cases, they would immediately say, “sorry.”

While I would never condone profane language, it was understandable and a habit they were desperately trying to change. In the grand scheme of their struggles, it was small potatoes. At the very least, it demonstrated a sensibility towards controlling the tongue in a godly manner. They were “babes” in Christ—thriving on the milk but maturing toward solid food that would give them even greater control over the language they used.

On the other hand, one who is supposedly mature in the faith might require a sharper retort for sinful behaviors. About a decade ago, a preaching brother related a situation in the congregation he preached for at that time. It seems that an elder came into his office one day and admitted to having an affair with one of the women who attended their congregation. While the preacher was glad that he repented of his sins and came clean about his transgressions, he knew that more was required regarding the situation. He told the elder that when he came forward before the entire congregation, he was going to “rebuke” him.

To the dismay of some, the preacher’s actions were biblical. For a moment one might consider 1Timothy 5:19-20 which says, “Against an elder receive not an accusation, but before two or three witnesses. Them that sin rebuke before all, that others also may fear.” Given the public nature of an elder’s role and his responsibilities as a leader who should be above reproach, and one who should be mature in the faith, a more public chastening might be required by scripture to let people in the body and in the community know that such sinful behaviors are not tolerated by God nor the body of Christ. To that end, others in the congregation should never think it is okay to follow suit in transgressing God’s will.

Contrariwise, Jesus warned against “offending” those newly converted to Christ. Matthew 18:6 says, “But whoso shall offend one of these little ones which believe in me, it were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.” The “little ones” mentioned in these passages most likely refer to those who were newly converted disciples of Jesus.

Thus, it seems that some discernment must be used in how one approaches someone about Christ and Christian living (Gal. 6.1) based upon their maturity and level of understanding. Ephesians 4:15 says, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” Love in truth should be our overarching concern in reaching others about Jesus and spiritual shortcomings.

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