Hi Ernest. Thanks for your blogs. I’m learning quite a lot from them. I know many people ask you questions about relationships, but mine’s different. I’m learning about apologetics and contending for the Christian faith. I used to think it was unbiblical until I read Paul doing that when he reasoned with the Jews from the scriptures and challenged the gentiles in their own culture. I’ve come across some pretty good resources that are fantastic to use. However, I get afraid to use them because I can’t help but notice at times how some (not all) professing believers can be uncouth and brash while debating, especially online. I know I can get passionate too, so I wanted your advice. I remember you had shared with me some guidelines for situations like this. Do you mind reminding me about it?
Hey bro, thanks for writing. First of all let me say that I am glad you are growing in this area. I am too. And indeed scripture does charge us to earnestly contend for the faith (Jude 3). This is quite an issue for our post-modern believer. I have been caught in online tussles too and later realized that I did more harm than good. It is to our shame if we do so because the Bible tells us that those who listen grab their popcorn and it leaves them worse for having listened. That is my own paraphrase of 2 Timothy 2:14 that states “Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarreling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen.” (NIV). I find it unprofitable if I win an argument and lose a brother. Here are a few guidelines I always stand by:
Guideline One: People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care
I have seen believers spit scriptures and drop the mic when they are done, feeling like rock stars from a performance. Even in some fellowship circles you can’t help but notice how some people want to sound deeper, more spiritual, more Tim-Keller-ish than the others. Knowledge puffs up, Beloved, even Biblical knowledge. Paul said in 1 Corinthians 13 that when we don’t love people but have the knowledge we are but clanging cymbals. Your love for God is proven by how you love people according to 1 John 4:20: “…For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.” (NIV). It is easy to quickly assume that your opponent is militant and that they want to argue with you to the death. You may be embarrassed to find that they are actually truly seeking for truth. Love them! “But what if they are a scoffer?” you ask. The scriptures give us two options from the book of Proverbs 26:4-5: Verse 4 says: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him. Verse 5 says: Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes.” Those verses are not contradictory. They are a beautiful play of words that demonstrate wisdom. There is a time to respond to such arguments and there is a time not to. When the Holy Spirit implores you to let it go, then practice verse 4: “Do not answer a fool according to his folly, or you will also be like him.” But if he implores you to respond, then employ verse 5: “Answer a fool as his folly deserves, that he not be wise in his own eyes.” And if you are led by wisdom to reply to them, you are still to love them. For Jesus commanded in Matthew 5:46-48 “If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much. If you are kind only to your friends, how are you different from anyone else? Even pagans do that. But you are to be perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect.” (NLT). Scoffers or not, remember that people don’t care how much you know until they known how much you care.
Guideline Two: When contending, I don’t have to agree with you to love you
While I do not expect everyone to share my worldview, I must remember that the 21st Century pop culture message on love is false. Our pop culture states that to love a brother you must agree with them or you mustn’t contradict them. That is untrue. Our very God contradicts our worldviews to demonstrate his love. Pastor Rick Warren put it best when he said, “Our culture has accepted two huge lies. The first is that if you disagree with someone’s lifestyle, you must fear or hate them. The second is that to love someone means you agree with everything they believe or do. Both are nonsense. You don’t have to compromise convictions to be compassionate.” When contending, I don’t have to agree with my opponent to show that I love them.
Guideline Three: When contending, I mustn’t call good evil and call evil good
The fear of man can cause us to dissolve the fear of God. When we give in to the fear of man and call what is evil good, we weary the LORD. See what Malachi 3:17 says: You have wearied the LORD with your words. “How have we wearied him?” you ask. You have wearied him by saying that all who do evil are good in the LORD ’s sight, and he is pleased with them. You have wearied him by asking, “Where is the God of justice?” (NLT) When contending, be careful not to endorse what God abhors. I found that many of my critics use this angle during debates. If they can get me to approve an unbiblical stance, they can justify their actions. When contending, I mustn’t call good evil and call evil good. This will undoubtedly put many Christians in the unpopular bandwagon but isn’t that what we were promised when we received eternal life? Did Jesus not affirm this in John 15:18 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” (NIV)
Guideline Four: When contending, Scripture is my authority not my experience
The moment believers raise their experiences above the scriptures, they may misrepresent the LORD. Now don’t get me wrong. I often teach using my experiences but I ensure they align with scripture. When my experience does not align with scripture, I should be careful not to use it to contend for the faith. Pastor Voddie Baucham once said, “God told me” is no substitute for “the Bible says.” For each time someone says “God told me”, they must be ready to back it up with scripture. Scripture is the authority for all believers. If our experiences are scriptural, by all means use them! As the Latin language would famously state, “Sola Scriptura.”
Guideline Five: When contending, the more I speak, the more I am prone to sin
Let’s be honest, many people don’t play clean when discussing, matters of faith. Especially when they are hiding behind a false username, a computer screen, a keyboard and a strong Wi-Fi connection. Your opponent may hurl a ghastly meme mocking the virgin birth, the flood or some incredible bible narrative. They may throw sarcastic comments your way, whose chief purpose is to do one thing despite your best argument front- to embarrass you. Ravi Zacharias once said “The goal in most conflicts is to destroy your opponent. The goal in apologetics is to win your opponent.” Recently someone commented on my blog. They gave themselves the name “God” in the comment section and endorsed pornography as a good creation of the Almighty which the false prophet Ernest was speaking against. I obviously refuted and to that end, they abused me and threatened to throw me in the lake of fire. What do you do in such a scenario? We are often tempted to prove our wit with words. But the Bible says in Proverbs 10:19 that “In the multitude of words sin is not lacking.” The believer must realize that the more they speak, the more they are prone to sin. Know when to quit.
Guideline Six: When contending, realize it is a spiritual war
It was with words that the enemy deceived Eve- crafty words! It is through words that many in the world live in deception and unbelief. The Bible says that it is also with words that we undo the work of the enemy. 2 Corinthians 10:3-5 states that “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.” (NIV) This verse helps me pray in my heart when contending. I pray for peace and for understanding. I also pray for the heart of my opponent. When I sense myself getting angry and out of line, I pray for God to calm me and it usually works. It’s a debate to them but it is a spiritual war for you.
Guideline Seven: Be led by the Spirit
A brash and uncouth believer is one not walking in the Spirit. The Spirit of God cultivates gentleness in such opposition and the believer is clearly required of it during contending for the faith. See 1st Peter 3:15: “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.”
When I study that verse, I can tell that being led by the Spirit when contending requires three things: preparedness, gentleness and respect. Gentleness and respect have to do with a believer’s spiritual maturity. But I want to focus on preparedness which has to do with a believer’s faithfulness. If you know that contending is a spiritual war, then you know you must prepare for war. 1 Peter 3:15 says always be prepared. How are we prepared? Beloved, you need to be prepared with the Word of God. We are living in a generation where a professing Christian can cram three songs in a new playlist but struggle to memorize four verses of the Bible in a week. Our minds are not the issue, our hearts and attitudes are. As a Christian, how do you respond biblically to your child when they ask you about Evolution? Do you use the because-I-said-so-and-I-am-the-parent approach or do you present a concrete solid teaching from the scriptures? Handed-down beliefs don’t work, Beloved. You must know why you believe what you believe. Unfortunately, Beloved, the poor excuses professing believers give include:
- I’m not a pastor
- I don’t have time
- I’m not a books person
- I don’t have to know exactly where the scripture comes from as long as it’s in the Bible
- I don’t think my kids would turn out that way
- Let the professionals handle
All these confessions prove that the believer is not mature to understand that a spiritual war is taking place. An unprepared heart will poorly represent Christ in the world. The Sword of the Spirit in Ephesians 6 is the only offensive gear in the spiritual war; and Paul the Apostle calls the sword of the spirit as The Word of God. We are living in a very privileged age where the scriptures are not kept by one person and read to all but rather made available for everyone through books, apps, printed works etc. God will hold us accountable for our preparedness or lack of it. Surely we have all the freedom and resources we need to be prepared! The world is spending tons of time accumulating data from everywhere. God wants you to grasp the right kind of knowledge. “But Ernest, there is so much to learn from the Bible! I will never be ready!” Look at what John Piper says, Beloved:
You don’t have to know a lot of things for your life to make a lasting difference in the world. But you do have to know the few great things that matter, perhaps just one, and then be willing to live for them and die for them. The people that make a durable difference in the world are not the people who have mastered many things, but who have been mastered by one great thing. If you want your life to count, you don’t need to have a high IQ. You don’t have to have good looks or riches or come from a fine family or a fine school. Instead you have to know a few great, majestic, unchanging, obvious, simple, glorious things — or one great all-embracing thing — and be set on fire by them.
Don’t give up in your quest to know the scriptures. Remember that success is birthed when the hunger for victory outweighs the discouragement from failure.
Do you know of other guidelines that can help believers when they contend for the faith?