Thank you for the question. It is a very good one. We are living in an age in history where information is power. It’s not enough to have an advert saying your soda is the best; people want to know why and if it really is the best. They need authority. It’s not enough to support a political candidate because you like his/her good looks; people want to know why and if they really will deliver what they promise. They need authority. Similarly, it’s not enough to say you hold a conviction simply because your parents told you so or because you grew up in a Christian home; people want to know why you believe what you believe and if it really is true. They need authority. Followers of Christ now more than ever need to put their best foot forward because of the basic spiritual fact that the biggest battle since Creation is coming to a close. God does not need to be defended. He is the Lion of Judah, under whom demons tremble and the Universe declares supreme. However, the same Lion of Judah in the Bible calls us to contend for our faith (See Jude 3) because we have real spiritual opponents. Also the words says that we ought to be ready to give a reason for our hope in Christ.
1st Peter 3:15 says “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.”
Note the requirement at the end- gentleness and respect. That must be a vital element in any debate a Christian engages themselves in. I will get back to that in a moment. Also, in Ephesians 3:10, God says he wants to use ordinary humans to display godly wisdom that makes the spiritual realm wonder! God has chosen his Church to be the arms and feet of his work. And by the church I do not mean the congregants who go to the buildings during the weekends; the Church is that glorious shimmering body of saved believers who truly live the faith and show the love of God. There is a special arm of contending for the faith called Apologetics. There are believers who think that Apologetics is unbiblical. Paul the Apostle begs to differ. Apart from prayer, scripture tells that contending through words can be indicative of engaging in a spiritual war.
2 Corinthians 10:3-5 says: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.”
Through words, arguments are demolished and thoughts are changed. When arguments and pretensions oppose the word of God, the Lord gives us permission to demolish them. How? Like Paul did; we decry them. Well, someone may say, couldn’t we demolish arguments just by living our lives in a way that others will see? Isn’t living my life the best way to show God’s transformative work? Actually, Beloved, you are quite right. It is! With lots of hypocrisy going on, we Christians need to live out what we preach so that the world can see the truth. When you give your life to Christ, you are immediately enrolled into spiritual warfare- you become a soldier of war; when you reject the Grace of God and his sacrifice of Christ, you prove yourself to be a prisoner of war. Soldiers of war are called by Christ to set free prisoners of war (See Jude 23). However, prisoners of war will never want to leave their prison with a non-credible witness; the sermon on your lips must be reflected on your feet; you have to walk the talk, Soldier.
However, Beloved, I put it to you that it is not enough; we also need to preach what we live. Someone may oppose this by quoting the famous live-your-faith-quote: “Preach the Gospel at all times and when necessary use words.” It is rumoured that St. Francis of Assisi said these words, however, there is no hard evidence to prove that he did. In fact, none of historical manuscripts of his life or disciples have this quote. The author is unknown. Either way, I don’t like to quote a man (even an anonymous one) out of context because I believe context clears up a lot of misunderstanding. However, if the context of the man who said those words is to be taken at face value, then I’m afraid they are not biblical words. The scriptures tell us in Romans 10:14 that the essential message of Christianity, the gospel, cannot be preached without words:
“How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? How will they believe in Him whom they have not heard? And how will they hear without a preacher?”
Therefore I say unto you, Beloved, “Preach the gospel; and since it is necessary, use words.” So, words (through prayer and contending for our faith) do help in spiritual battles. BUT (you saw that coming, I’m sure) there is a caveat in all this. The caveat is maturity. A believer who is not growing into maturity can exacerbate the war instead of fighting it. If the debate is going to produce strife and hurt, the Bible says to avoid it. It takes maturity to keep mum when you think you are right. You see, every war has many battles. At times you have to lose a few battles in order to win the war. The ultimate war going on is between the Kingdom of God and the Kingdom of Darkness. There is a point when we must surrender our words! I say again, if the debate is going to produce strife and hurt, the Bible says to avoid it. Why? Because when people’s feelings are hurt, words increase to avenge, justify and nurse themselves. And the Bible warns us clearly:
Proverbs 10:19“When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise.”
2nd Timothy 2:16 “Avoid godless chatter because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.”
2 Timothy 2:23 “Don’t have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments because you know they produce quarrels and the Lord’s servant must not quarrel; instead he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful.”
If you argue to prove that you are right or that you know a lot, you may end up alienating the opponent from God’s kingdom. Knowledge puffs up. And the Lord’s name will be blasphemed by the world on account of you. Every war has many battles; at times you have to lose a few battles in order to win the war. I hope that answers the question, Beloved.