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Sunday, August 24, 2014 pm           

DISCUSSING RELIGION WITH OTHERS

                 We live in a society where religion is greatly debated.  For some it is whether or not there should be religion in the first place.  For others there may be little or no interest in discussing religion.  Beyond that, every point of faith is discussed and debated in details.   Sometimes it is done harshly and at other times with timidity.  Sometimes it is hateful and arrogant and at other times it is done with genuine love.

While there are many who want nothing to do with religion (Atheistic groups such as “Freedom from Religion Foundation” seek to remove every reminder of God or religion from public view, etc.), there are others who ARE willing to discuss their faith and yours.   Such are opportunities that we ought to prepare for and take advantage of (1 Pet. 3:15, 2 Cor. 5:10-11).  Jesus said, ““Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 10:32–33)

In Acts 17:16 Paul was in Athens and his spirit was provoked at how it was given over to idols.  Paul found opportunities in the city and discussed the gospel with both Jews and Greek philosophers. (17:16-34) But how did he do it?  He proclaimed the gospel boldly, but he also did so with a proper attitude.

It is that attitude that I want to discuss tonight!  There are some who are well meaning but fail to consider some Biblical principles that often do more damage than good.  The damage often deals with future opportunities.  We need to boldly proclaim the whole counsel of God, but it must be “seasoned with salt.” (Col. 4:6)   Jesus said, “Be wise as serpents and harmless as doves.”  (Matt. 10:16) 

Let us therefore notices some suggestions as we discuss our faith with others.  Most of the following I gleaned from some other sources while thinking about this lesson.

 

I.                     Live it!  It starts with our example.  Matt. 5:13-16 – we are salt and light.  You best opportunities are going to come from an observation of your proper conduct. 
If you are a hypocrite, inconsistent or only half committed, people will see that and they will be less likely to consider what you teach because you are not truly convicted.   Furthermore, your lack of example lessens the chance they can turn to YOU instead of someone else for spiritual answers.

II.                    Select a proper time and place – there are times when a discussion needs to be arranged.   There are circumstances when the time is not right – not enough time, not enough knowledge, perhaps something has happened where one’s mind is not in the right place, others present, etc.  You might be in the wrong place to engage in a discussion – while one is supposed to be working, etc. 
Note: This includes realizing that some people are not ready for a particular discussion (groundwork needs to be laid).

III.                  Start with something you agree with – the more common ground you find, the better off you are.  With everyone, except the atheist, you can find a starting place.  KNOW IT and keep it in mind as you discuss religious issues. 
For example: It is pointless to debate the sin of same-sex marriage with someone who doesn’t understand how to establish authority in scripture.
 I think of Philip as he engaged in discussion with the Ethiopian Eunuch (Acts 8:30-40).  Philip began with the passage the proselyte was reading.  He turned that into a meaningful discussion that lead to his obeying the Gospel. 
It is important that we understand this today. 

IV.                  Seek first to understand, then be understood
Proverbs 18:13, “He who answers a matter before he hears it, It is folly and shame to him.

The very definition of prejudice is to pre-judge.  It exists because people react without all the facts.  We need to be informed before we speak (Jas. 5:19).  That is why I emphasize understanding background in studying the Bible. It helps puts a text in its proper context. 
It is equally true when studying with one who differs with you.   ASK questions.  When one makes a statement, clarify what is meant so that you can know where to start a discussion. 
The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, But the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil.” (Proverbs 15:28)

V.                   Don’t get caught up in foolish arguments. We need to be careful WHAT we say and HOW we say it.   There are some who love to argue.  That should not be our goal.  If we have the truth, our goal is to plant the seed of truth and let it grow in their lives.   We don’t do that by arguing. 
As Paul writes to Timothy, he continually admonishes him to avoid useless arguments -
1 Timothy 1:3-4 “As I urged you when I went into Macedonia—remain in Ephesus that you may charge some that they teach no other doctrine, nor give heed to fables and endless genealogies, which cause disputes rather than godly edification which is in faith.

1 Timothy 4:7, “But reject profane and old wives’ fables, and exercise yourself toward godliness.

1 Timothy 6:3–5, “If anyone teaches otherwise and does not consent to wholesome words, even the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the doctrine which accords with godliness, he is proud, knowing nothing, but is obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions, useless wranglings of men of corrupt minds and destitute of the truth, who suppose that godliness is a means of gain. From such withdraw yourself.

2 Timothy 2:14–16, “Remind them of these things, charging them before the Lord not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers. Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. But shun profane and idle babblings, for they will increase to more ungodliness.

2 Timothy 2:23–24 “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient,
IN these verses, I find Paul is dealing with both brethren and unbelievers.   Some might say it is primarily with believers, but if that is the case, then isn’t there even MORE reason to avoid these things with those you are discussing religion with.

VI.                  Don’t force your faith on others – if someone doesn’t want the truth, you CANNOT make them accept it.  You can plant the seed, water it and leave it in God’s hands.  That’s it. (1 Cor. 3:5-6)    This doesn’t mean you don’t invite others to hear the truth (if you truly value their souls you cannot help but do that), or that you IGNORE their errors, insults, attacks, etc. and fail to fight for your right to worship God (even Paul appealed to Caesar and used his citizenship when it was helpful).  But if they don’t want to hear the gospel, they don’t want to hear it.  It is NOT your fault.

VII.                Know what you are teaching -
2Tim. 2:24 – a servant of the Lord must be able to teach.
1 Pet. 3:15 – can you defend your hope? Can you show in the Bible why you believe you are saved (i.e. God’s plan of salvation, the importance of respecting authority, that you are part of a church sincerely striving to follow God’s pattern, etc.)?
Are you “rightly dividing the word of truth? (2 Tim. 2:15)
In this age of information, this is increasingly a challenge when we are used to getting our information in sound bytes.  But that means information is readily available at our fingertips.  And that means you might need to be able to answer questions about what you believe, or refute objections to the truth.
As Christians, we need to be spend time with God’s word and not just take the word of others. 
The more you know the more confident you will be in discussing religion with others.

VIII.               Be gentle and loving -   2 Timothy 2:24 continues by telling us to “be gentle to all.”  The idea of being gentle is to not be harsh.  We have heard so much about so-called churches acting hatefully toward the world (protesting funerals, trying to provoke “quarrels”, using hateful and inflammatory language, etc.).  In addition to the doctrinal errors they teach, such groups are NOT speaking “the truth in love.”  (Ephesians 4:15)
With only a basic reading of scripture (in contrast with in-depth study) it becomes clear very quickly that we need to care about others and it needs to be reflected in our conversations and conduct.
Again we note Colossians 4:6, “Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt.  That you may know how you ought to answer each one.
While there are times for harsh rebuke (Jesus used it, Paul used it, etc.) it is not how you START a religious discussion with someone!  Galatians 6:1 tells us as we deal with brethren overtaken in a trespass, we need gentleness.
And even if those you are discussing your faith with are harsh, it is still no excuse to respond in kind.
 A soft answer turns away wrath, But a harsh word stirs up anger.” (Proverbs 15:1)
 By long forbearance a ruler is persuaded, And a gentle tongue breaks a bone.” (Proverbs 25:15)

IX.                  Be patient - in 2 Timothy 2:24 we find next we are to be patient. 
In our fast paced society, we want results right now.  But when discussing important differences in faith, we must realize that changes usually don’t come quickly.   If someone comes to me with something different that sounds convincing, I am not going to blindly change without seriously thinking it through.  I believe that is what the Bible teaches as to how we are grounded (Eph. 4:14, Heb. 13:9, “Do not be carried about with various and strange doctrines.  For it is good that the heart be established by grace…”).  I need to give others the same consideration if we differ.
Realize, you are talking about someone changing their lives and doing so, possibly with consequences.

X.                   Be humble when correcting - 2 Timothy 2:25.  Arrogance has no place in the life of a Christian.  That does not mean we are not confident, but we must never forget that as humans we are no better than anyone else.  And we ALL need God’s grace and mercy! 
Philippians 2:3–4,  Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.

XI.                  Let inquirers read it for themselves – a practical suggestion that goes a long way.  Don’t just say, “the Bible says…”, SHOW THEM!  That takes it out of your personal opinions and puts it in God’s domain.  
Jesus did this often - cf. Luke 10:26, “What is written in the law?  What is your reading of it?”
1 Corinthians 2:1–2, “And I, brethren, when I came to you, did not come with excellence of speech or of wisdom declaring to you the testimony of God. For I determined not to know anything among you except Jesus Christ and Him crucified.
What made the Bereans noble? Acts 17:11 – the searched the scriptures daily to find out if what was taught was true.

XII.                Be fair with the truth – IF you have opportunity to discuss with others, be honest and conduct yourself with integrity.  Don’t leave a false impression; don’t twist scriptures to win the argument. (2 Peter 3:16) To deliberately misapply a passage is a form of lying!

XIII.               Use difficult questions to set up future studies.  Sometimes discussing religion can lead to future opportunities.  Always try!  BUT for this to happen, we need to consider the other qualities we have discussed in this lesson.

Ultimately, we will all stand before God and give an accounting for ourselves.  All we can do is plant the seed and let their heart determine how it is received.  BUT, every gardener knows there are rules that must be followed for a good crop.   Let us consider these things as we seek to share our faith, God’s word with others.