Saturday, July 18, 2009

To flush it out or to flesh it out?

Interacting with people who for various reasons haven't understood or believed the gospel of the finished work of Christ is not always necessarily a black and white process. I think the Apostle Paul showed that in his various dealing with others. Not that we always look to Paul and his ways of handling confrontation and debate as "the" ways for us to handle it, as he had his own personality and his own calling from God, but I for sure can say that I've gleaned a lot from him.

When speaking with others who are not walking in the freedom of the gospel, do you nip it in the bud quickly or do you take time to reason things out? Do you flush it out or do you flesh it out? I think it all depends upon getting a feel for where the other person is coming from.

At times Paul spoke harshly to and about those who rejected the gospel by putting any sort of confidence in the flesh - in their own fleshly attempts to become justified or remain justified. He would trample underfoot those who "trampled the Son of God underfoot." He flushed them down the toilet. He didn't really hold back at all. "Beware of dogs!" he said in Philippians 3. "Beware of evil workers, beware of the mutilation!" Those definitely aren't "tame" words. He had serious words for those who put any confidence in their own actions.

Read on in Philippians 3 and see how Paul said that he would have every reason to put confidence in his own actions, but yet he chucked it all aside and he counted it all as loss and traded it in "for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord... and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ..." He, of all people, would be the world's number one contender for putting confidence in his own deeds, but he knew that in order to have Christ he had to renounce it all. Therefore he had very harsh words for those dogs, those evil workers, those mutilators of the flesh!

On the other hand, there are those who he took time with. Instead of flushing them down the toilet, he fleshed it out with them. I see a form of the phrase, "he reasoned with them," at least seven times in the book of Acts. For example, "...and for three Sabbaths reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and demonstrating that the Christ had to suffer and rise again from the dead, and saying, 'This Jesus whom I preach to you is the Christ.'" (Acts 17:2-3). "And he went into the synagogue and spoke boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading concerning the things of the kingdom of God." (Acts 19:8).

In these seven instances (and of course not only in these seven instances), there were people who heard Paul out and were persuaded and joined with Paul and the other believers, or at least wanted to hear more, and there were people who flatly rejected what he had to say. But at times, "some were hardened and did not believe," and Paul and his disciples withdrew from them. At times, people started mobs in reaction to Paul's "reasoning," and Paul and his friends ended up getting brought before rulers and thrown out of cities. Other times Paul stayed with the people for weeks, months or even a couple of years.

I said at the beginning that we don't necessarily follow Paul and all of his ways of dealing with those who hear and receive or reject the gospel. I think that to try to be a copycat of Paul is a huge mistake. The point here is that we can gauge where other people are at, and our response to them is not black and white. It often depends upon each given situation, and it's often a good thing to take time to get to know where someone is coming from rather than using a preconceived "speech" or way of handling things. Our own unique personalities play a big part as well. And most of all, obviously, we rely on the fact that we only go where God brings us and as we rest in Him we let His life in us do the confronting, persuading, reasoning, etc.


  1. Great post, Joel, and I agree. I don't think the Bible was ever meant to be an instruction book for how we are supposed to act. Instead, I believe it's a record of other believers' journeys and what they learned. We can take what they learned to help us see the unique way that we've been created and how we are to act based on our own uniqueness.

    As you said, each situation demands individual action. No two circumstances are alike. We've just got to care enough about the other person to share in line with where they're at and that will probably be different each time.

  2. You described exactly how I feel because sometimes people say its being a 'grace pharisee' to tell people that they're wrong. While I don't believe in forcing anything on someone who refuses to believe, I also do not believe in the idea that we're suppose to sit back and try not to offend anyone. Bologna.

    I hate America's attitude of not offending anyone. Of course we aren't to be malicious, but if someone is offended by the Gospel, that isn't my sin. Its their own.

  3. Aida,

    Someone sent me a message a while ago asking about the 'rules' of the Bible, and I responded in a somewhat similar fashion as your comments here. What I get out of Paul's "exhortations" is that that's what it can look like when the grace-life is lived out. Not rules or principles for us to "try to follow." Indeed, we are truly all unique, and we need to give one another much breathing room to be who they were created to be, rather than trying to get everyone to conform to "our" way.


    I'm with you on that! I think there's a legitimate place for calling people on Grace-Phariseeism, but you're absolutely correct, we don't have to feel that we need to sit back and just watch legalism or other lies walk on by without us ever confronting it. Truly, the gospel is offensive, and there's no need to hold back just because someone is offended by it.

    Again, I think our individual gifts and personalities, etc, play a huge role in all of this, that is, in how we individually interact with others.