We live in tricky times for Christian witness and living. There is hostility to the gospel and its proclamation.
We see the hand of the evil one in laws against extremism manipulated against believers, even though their lifestyle is opposed to violence and they only aim to live out Christ’s words, ‘Love your enemies’.
In this politically correct world disagreement equals ‘hatred’, and the suffix ‘phobia’ is readily attached to words describing those who oppose sin. In the open air and in private, we can be sure to be asked difficult questions about the Christian faith, as was Jesus.
How to answer them is always difficult, especially if the subject is controversial — homosexuality being the obvious one today.
There is, however, a principle of conduct that should govern our interactions, no matter how provocative our challengers: ‘And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel, but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth’ (2 Timothy 2:24-25).
Some feel that the only way they can defend the faith is to be strident in condemnation. But is that biblical? We must certainly be on the watch for entrapment, particularly on homosexuality. But we need too to look at the way Jesus handled hostile questions.
Shortly after Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he was challenged about his authority: ‘The chief priests and the elders of the people confronted him as he was teaching, and said, By what authority are you doing these things? And who gave you this authority?
‘But Jesus answered and said to them, I also will ask you one thing, which if you tell me, I likewise will tell you by what authority I do these things: the baptism of John — where was it from? From heaven or from men?
‘And they reasoned among themselves, saying, If we say from heaven, he will say to us, Why then did you not believe him? But if we say from men, we fear the multitude, for all count John as a prophet.
‘So they answered Jesus and said, We do not know. And he said to them, Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things’ (Matthew 21:23-27).
The important thing to note here is that Jesus didn’t answer the question! Remember, we don’t have to answer questions, especially when our answer could well be misused against us. We must always answer truthfully, but to refuse to answer is not lying.
The true answer to their question was, of course, ‘God’. But Jesus knew that they weren’t in the business of submitting to God, but of attacking God’s Son. So he refused to answer.
Just how he responded gives us another way to deal with these things. Answer a question with another question. This was a common practice of the Lord Jesus, and the question he asked was brilliant, because it put them in a dilemma. It was a question that, if they answered one way, opened them up to the charge of hypocrisy.
Note the aptness of Christ’s final reply at their silence: ‘And he said to them, Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things’.
Even a simple ‘Why do you ask?’ or ‘What do you think?’ can be a way of handling those trying to catch us out.
They also came to Jesus with flattering, trick questions. ‘Then they sent to him some of the Pharisees and the Herodians, to catch him in his words. When they had come, they said to him, Teacher, we know that you are true, and care about no one; for you do not regard the person of men, but teach the way of God in truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to Caesar, or not? Shall we pay, or shall we not pay?
‘But he, knowing their hypocrisy, said to them, Why do you test me? Bring me a denarius that I may see it. So they brought it.
‘And he said to them, Whose image and inscription is this? They said to him, Caesar’s. And Jesus answered and said to them, Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s. And they marvelled at him’ (Mark 12:13-17).
They set out to trap him with his words and to get him to say something they could report to the authorities. By asking him a question about paying taxes to Caesar, they were trying to accuse him whatever answer he gave. Sounds familiar?
They also flattered him in a vain attempt to put him off his guard, but he was not taken in. Again, he answers a question with a question and sets them thinking. And his answer is not a get-out, but a biblical principle, which he uses to avoid giving a ‘provocative’ answer. Yet he still answers correctly, accurately and truthfully.
How do we deal with questions we get about homosexuality? We could, of course, quote ‘red-rag to a bull’ passages from Leviticus and Romans, but do we need to? If they are only out to get us into trouble, surely we can be as wise as serpents and harmless as doves?
One possible answer is this: ‘God’s plan is one man, one woman for life. Anything other than this — fornication, adultery, etc. — is a sin’. If possible, we could then move on to 1 Corinthians 6:11 and emphasise the broad nature of sin and the cleansing of the gospel. We aren’t to avoid the Bible’s teaching on sexual sin, but we are seeking to put it all into the context of a loving Saviour and a so great salvation.
Sadly, I think that we can sometimes be tempted to think we are not being faithful to the gospel if we are not forever condemning sin, often in strident or outspoken terms, instead of speaking of a tender and loving Saviour who came into the world to save sinners.
We should remember the example of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose condemnation was reserved for self-righteous, religious hypocrites, but whose compassion and forgiveness was offered to those in real need.
It is worth reading the account of the woman taken in adultery (John 8:1-11), especially Christ’s closing words to her: ‘When Jesus had raised himself up and saw no one but the woman, he said to her, Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you? She said, No one, Lord. And Jesus said to her, Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more’.
To be concluded
Geoff Cox is a retired evangelist and an associate of the Open-Air Mission.