This is a story about one of the rudest things I’ve ever said to anyone.
I was 21 years old and working at a large clinic where I was on a team of college-aged students who did things like transport patients to the hospital, pick up blood samples, and deliver medical supplies. I also spent hot summer days opening car doors with a coworker named Jeff, whom I often unsuccessfully attempted to proselytize. I did not, however, use our time to get to know much about him.
One day, in a burst of exasperation, I said, “Do you know what your problem is, Jeff?”
“You’re evil,” I said.
To my surprise (really!), Jeff rolled his eyes, turned around and walked off. We never had another substantive conversation.
Someone recently reminded me that we, as believers, carry an offensive message. They’re right. The Bible says that Jesus is the source of all truth, and He’s the only way to God (John 14:6). It also says everyone is evil and spiritually dead without the resurrection power of Christ inside (Romans 3:9-20; Ephesians 2:1-3). That’s a terribly offensive message in a world where it’s a cardinal sin to claim exclusive truth or pass judgment on someone else’s beliefs — whatever those beliefs may be.
So what was wrong with me telling Jeff he was evil? Because while we may carry an offensive message, that doesn’t mean we have to carry it offensively.
There’s a way to go about speaking the truth — and it’s by doing so “in love” (Ephesians 4:15). People who are speaking truth in love will do a lot of listening and won’t be easily irritated by people who simply don’t agree. As James 1:19 says, “You must all be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to get angry.” But more importantly, Christians who are speaking the truth in love will actually love people, regardless of whether those people eventually give their lives to Jesus.
We better have larger goals than getting people to the point of conversion. Otherwise, we’ll objectify unbelievers, and our evangelism will only lead us to those who appear to be easily persuadable. In the meantime, we may be missing out on the opportunity to get to know the undiscovered Mary Magdalenes, Matthews and Nicodemuses whom God may be calling into a deeper relationship.
Sometimes people inaccurately quote Saint Francis of Assisi to say, “Preach the Gospel at all times — when necessary, use words.” This has taken on a life of its own and is often used to justify Christian cowardice when it comes to evangelism. So forget that quote, and just remember what Scripture actually tells us to do: In word and deed, preach the Gospel at all times, and do so in love.