Striving for the Gospel Without Strife

Marshall McLuhan was famous for his aphorism “the medium is the message.” McLuhan meant that the way in which a message is delivered shapes how it is received. To cite an example of a few years ago, when LeBron James decided he was leaving the Cleveland Cavaliers, Dan Gilbert, the team owner, put out a statement decrying James’s decision. It was an angry retort, but Gilbert’s message was largely overshadowed because he chose Comic Sans as the font for the letter. Readers derided this choice, and clearly it undercut the actual words Gilbert wanted to say. One journalist likened using Comic Sans as “analogous to showing up for a black tie event in a clown costume.”1

When it comes to the Gospel, and our interaction with those we are trying to win, this same thing can happen. That is, to paraphrase McLuhan, “the messenger shapes the message.” The apostle Paul gives Timothy counsel about his demeanor, and I would argue that of all those who speak God’s word in any way, through any forum.

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will” (2 Timothy 2:24-26).

We see a few things here. Quarrelsomeness or an argumentative spirit are not to characterize one who serves the Lord. Because we believe the truths of the Gospel are indeed matters of life and death, it is tempting to strenuously insist on them, sometimes to the point of stridency. But in all the pastoral advice Paul gives, he never tells us that the success of the message depends on how hard we shake our fist. On the contrary, he says we are to be kind to everyone, patiently enduring evil, and correcting his opponents with gentleness.

Consider how opposite this is to what one often sees online. Social media in particular thrives on engagement, and engagement is fueled by outrage, by a shrill tone and by “owning” one’s opponents. None of this accords with what the apostle says here. Kindness and gentleness are, by some, viewed as weakness, and no one who is weak can expect to prevail (so the thinking goes.) Yet Paul tells Timothy he is to patiently endure evil. How many have been turned away from the Gospel, not because they found the message offensive, but the messenger?

If it was possible in person to “block” another you are talking to, consider the insult, the offense this would cause. In the same way, when we block those online who ask questions, or even those who oppose us, is it “patiently enduring evil”? Many believers give too little thought to this aspect of their exchanges, and have forgotten that the goal of our Gospel interaction is not to win an argument, but to win a person to Christ. This is also why Paul says we should correct with gentleness, because God may grant that person repentance, leading to the knowledge of the truth. Even if it’s a family discussion, Christians with other Christians discussing something, others are watching.

The apostle sees the big picture. Those who oppose the Gospel are ensnared by the devil, taken captive to his will. Rescue is what is needed rather than reviling. We stand a better chance to get a hearing if, as Thomas Jefferson said, we “take things by their smooth handles.” With online interactions in particular, let us use the medium carefully, charitably. To paraphrase Paul, “See that no one replies to anyone evil for evil, but always seek to post good to one another and to everyone” (1 Thessalonians 5:15).

Photo by Small Group Network on Unsplash

Matt Ferris
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