Rock of Offense

From: Keith Ingram
Sent: Friday, September 30, 2005 2:50 PM
To: Keith Ingram
Subject: this week

Hey Everybody,

I sent an email earlier this week that included a devotion about our commission to fish for people. I am copying it again below my signature block for your review. In response to that email, I received the following question/comment:

I liked the devotion too, but I have an issue with this statement:
We need to be sensitive to those who may have been the target of someone’s witnessing campaign that did not come with the gentleness, love and respect that should underlie any missionary effort.
When Jesus witnessed to the woman at the well, would his style be considered to have “gentleness, love, and respect?”
16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”
17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband.
18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have
is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.” (NIV John chapter 4)
I don’t know that is is possible to “throw out the truth and gather in those who respond” without offending some people. I doubt the offended people would say that you witnessed with “gentleness, love, and respect.”
We have to be careful not to water down the truth in order to witness with “gentleness, love, and respect.”

Obviously, the commenter is absolutely correct. We have an obligation to give the gospel straight and without apology or watering down.

I do think it is important to keep in mind that there are two levels of offense. First, the gospel itself is offensive to the natural man. See I Cor. 1:23, I Pet. 2:8 as well as Romans 9:31-33 (Israel as a nation tripped over the stumbling stone of Jesus). People do not like being told that they are sinners and that as sinners they are separated from God and that if they die while so separated, they will spend eternity in that condition. People do not like being told that God’s way of fixing the separation gap is the only way and that nothing they do will ever be good enough to fix the problem. All of these things are offensive to non believers. All of these things are necessary parts of communicating the gospel to those nonbelievers and none of them can be compromised.

However, we must keep in mind that we can add another layer of offensiveness to the gospel presentation. Paul was mindful of that possibility and expressed several times, his desire to avoid being the reason people rejected Christ. See I Cor. 10:32-33 and II Cor. 6:3.

We can add to the offense of the gospel with our tone, our word choice, our attitude etc. during the gospel presentation. We can add to the offense by any hint of deception or trickery when presenting the gospel. To avoid extra offense, we must be careful to demonstrate throughout the conversation that we are deeply and genuinely concerned about the recipient’s well being. We must be open and transparent throughout the conversation. We must let the Holy Spirit do the convicting and not try to help Him out.

Let us look more closely at the example of Jesus quoted by the commenter above.

Jesus could have started the conversation that day by pointing his finger at the Samaritan woman at the well and loudly accusing her of living in adulterous sin. He would have been correct. Instead, he did the unthinkable and began by asking her for a drink. John 4:7. He was a Jew and she was a Samaritan. Jews generally thought of the Samaritans as less than human. They thought of them as dogs. She would have been shocked that he spoke to her at all and she was further shocked that he asked her for a drink. John 4:9.

From the beginning of their encounter, Jesus was communicating to her that he cared about her as a person and that he thought she was worthwhile. She responded to that caring approach positively.

They had a brief conversation about water and living water. Then Jesus moved in to demonstrate her sinfulness to her. He didn’t accuse. He made a request the response to which he knew would reveal the sin. John 4:16. She was the one who said she had no husband and then He demonstrated his power by giving the full truth behind her statement. John 4:17-18. Was this offensive? Probably so. No one likes to have their dirty laundry on display or discussed. However, He had already established that He cared about her as a person and she accepted the truth of his statement about her behavior.

She moved then to shift focus from herself to discussion of religious places and things. Jesus directed the conversation back to true worship which is in Spirit and Truth and not bound by physical locations. John 4:21-24

She then tried to divert the converstation to a theoretical discussion of a future time when the Messiah would come and explain everything. John 4:25. Jesus quickly put the end to that diversion by declaring His identity to her. John 4:26.

That she accepted Him at His word and believed is demonstrated by her next actions. She left her water pot and ran to town to tell everybody who she had met. John 4:28-30. Her witnessing based on her own personal testimony was effective in producing salvation in the hearts of many of her fellow Samaritans. John 4:39-42

From this beautiful encounter we see that the natural offensiveness of the gospel can be offset by gentleness, caring and respect. Jesus cared about her enough to talk to her. He respected her enough to ask her for water in violation of all the cultural taboos of the time. Finally, he was gentle in pointing out her sin and in redirecting the conversation twice from things that were beside the point and back to her need for Him.

Similarly, we need to care about the lost enough to talk to them about Jesus; to respect them as fellow humans in need of a savior; and to gently point out their fallen state and the path to reconciliation. The devotion below reminds us that as we do these things, God will take care of what fish we catch.

I look forward to seeing you all Sunday. If you can, go to Overflow tomorrow. It will be a great opportunity to show God’s love to Austin. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to or respond to this email.
Keith Ingram

by John Fischer

I took Chandler for his first camping trip this week to say good-by to summer and give him a great send-off for his first day of Kindergarten. We ended up with an empty campsite to ourselves, and an all-around great experience that included catching his first fish. It was a nice fat rainbow trout that would have cooked up beautifully had we kept it.

Now the whole time leading up to this moment, he had talked of nothing but bringing a couple fish home for dinner, but the one thing Chandler hadn’t counted on was the fact that eating a fish means it has to die first. There was no way he could have been prepared for the reality of seeing a fish flop around gasping for water. I even had it on ice for a moment when Chandler announced he didn’t want to take it home; he wanted to put it back in the water. So I quickly threw it back in, and for a moment it floated upside down, and then flipped itself over and swam away.

So somewhere in the Kern River, or maybe in Lake Isabella by now, is a very lucky rainbow trout that has seen the inside of an ice chest and lived to tell about it.

When Jesus told Peter he was going to fish for men instead of fish, His disciples were used to a different style of fishing. They primarily used nets to capture a number of fish and gather them in. Baiting a fish, deceiving it, hooking it, reeling it in, grasping it in your hands, pulling out the hook and throwing it in an ice chest were not a part of a fish’s reality at the time.

I wonder how many people out there have been hooked by a Christian, reeled in, and still managed to escape and are swimming around in the world with a bad experience to tell about. We need to be sensitive to those who may have been the target of someone’s witnessing campaign that did not come with the gentleness, love and respect that should underlie any missionary effort. Part of our mission among those who are not Christians may include undoing mistakes that have gone before.

Remember, Jesus was talking about gathering in a “catch.” To do so, you throw your net in the water, hope and pray for fish, and pull it up. It’s really up to God to put the fish there, as He did for Peter before Peter even met Him. We throw out the truth and gather in those who respond. There may be one or none. There may be more than we can haul in. That’s up to God, not us.

(Copyright 2005 by Purpose Driven Life.)


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