Have you ever had this awkward moment? Someone begins singing the praises to you about their favorite new “Christian” teacher, book, or movie in which you have serious doctrinal concerns. As you listen politely, trying to keep your poker face fixed and steady, you inwardly cringe because you’re not sure how to respond.
What do you do? Do you ignore what they’re saying? Change the subject? Pray Jesus returns right then and there, so you won’t have to have an uncomfortable conversation? Or, do you share with them the wisdom you’ve gained through your years of studying and applying God’s Word to your life?
While you certainly don’t think you know it all (not by a long shot) you do have a good measure of understanding about central doctrines and the importance of watching them closely (1 Timothy 4:16).
There are many variables to consider when it comes to these awkward moments. Every situation is different, and so it’s impossible to say what you should do exactly. There is no simple step-by-step process to follow. But, I can offer you a few things to think about the next time this happens (Yeah, sorry, but chances are, there will be a next time).
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Consider the Person
What comes out of your mouth next, if anything, will depend greatly on the individual and the kind of relationship you have with them. Would you consider them your friend or more of an acquaintance? Do they have affection and respect for you or disdain?
If it’s the latter, chances are any disagreement you have with their position won’t go over very well. Hard as it is to believe, there are a few people in the world that don’t like you very much (or me either). We can’t be everyone’s cup of tea.
If it’s someone you know, think about your interactions with them in the past. Are they typically responsive and open to discussion? Are they teachable, eager to learn and grow in biblical discernment? Or, do they have a death grip on their beliefs, closing their ears to anything opposed to what they already think?
The Bible has a term for this kind of person – a fool. Now, I know that sounds kind of harsh but check out these descriptors.
- (Proverbs 23:9) They won’t listen to advice, and in fact, they despise it.
- (Proverbs 12:15) They think they’re right in their own eyes.
- (Proverbs 18:2) They have no desire to gain understanding and can’t wait to voice their opinions.
Boy, do we see a lot of that happening on social media! A wise person, conversely, is eager to grow in biblical knowledge and apply themselves to understanding (Proverbs 15:14). They are open to hearing you out (Proverbs 13:10). They realize their need for others to help them mature in Christ (Colossians 3:16, Proverbs 27:17).
We all vacillate at least occasionally between the two. No person is wise 100% of the time, or for that matter, foolish 100% of the time. So before you respond, think: is this person typically wise or foolish?
Consider Your Position
There are some hills to die on and others you should just walk around. While there are certain doctrines to be dogmatic about (the deity of Christ, His substitutionary death for our sins, salvation by grace through faith in Christ alone), there are others you can overlook.
Think about whether or not this matter is crucial to their spiritual life. Is it essential or is it secondary? Even though it might be important, you’ll want to be careful about getting into discussions that lead to endless disputes (2 Timothy 2:23-25).
It may be something you simply need to entrust to the LORD. Ask Him to bring clarity to their misconception. Sometimes it’s better to talk to the LORD about the situation than to them (Ephesians 1:17).
Consider Your Purpose
Is your primary concern what’s best for the person? Do you think about their specific needs and how you can build them up (Ephesians 4:29)? Your aim is not to be right, but redemptive.
Deciding on whether to address the situation should never be about whether they’ll like you or reject what you’re saying. It’s impossible for you to make that kind of judgment call anyway. You’re not omniscient. Only God is (1 John 3:20).
Check yourself to see if your motives are pure: to honor God and love them well (1 Thessalonians 2:3-4). If this is your purpose, you’ll be compelled to speak to them because you have their best interest at heart, regardless of your personal comfort.
Consider Your Presentation
Are you winsome with your words or more of a weenie? What I mean is, when you speak to others to share your wisdom, do you do it in a condescending way with an air of superiority (1 Corinthians 8:1)? Or, are you kind and humble in your approach, choosing your words thoughtfully (Colossians 4:6, Proverbs 11:2, 16:21)? Things like your tone, mannerisms, and even facial expressions, are all important when you talk to others, especially if you’re exhorting them.
You should deliver your words through the goal posts of truth and love (Ephesians 4:15). In fact, it’s unwise to correct someone with whom you don’t have affection. If you do, you will sound more like an annoying clanging cymbal than a voice of grace and truth (1 Corinthians 13:1).
Consider the Place
Think about where you are and what’s going on. It could be entirely inappropriate to get into a discussion like this at a birthday party, the grocery store, a funeral, or your Uncle Bob’s retirement party. Yeah, certain times and places are not always the right times and places (Ecclesiastes 3:1, 7).
If it’s essential, pray and ask the LORD to give you a more opportune time to discuss the matter.
Silence Can Be Golden
I have a good friend. Someone I consider a mature Christian mentor to me. I greatly respect her faith and understanding of the Scriptures. One time I was sharing with her something about a popular teacher that I admired at the time. She didn’t say a single word, not one (Proverbs 17:27).
She didn’t nod her head in agreement or show any support to what I was saying. She just looked directly at me in the eyes.
I still remember the look on her face. It’s etched in my mind. It was not condemning in any way, but more of a concerned, caring expression. She had a loving and quiet demeanor that caused me to ponder why as I walked away. Later that day I texted her to find out what was up.
She told me the concerns she had with some of the doctrines of that teacher. I appreciated her honesty and humbleness in handling the situation. She didn’t feel the need to correct me, but because of her silence, I sought after her myself and what she thought.
The lesson? Sometimes not uttering a word speaks more loudly than anything you could ever say (James 1:19)!
Maybe instead of being forthright with your concerns, you could come at it by asking some probing questions that will cause them to reflect. You could ask: What did you like about it? Why do you feel that way? How do you think these teachings/thoughts/ideas align with Scripture?
Jesus was a master at this! He would often ask questions that led the hearer to pause and think. He wasn’t always straightforward with what He wanted to convey. In the feeding of the 4,000, Jesus asked all sorts of questions.
- Practical: “How many loaves do you have?” (Mark 8:5, 19, 20).
- Examining: “Why does this generation ask for a miraculous sign?” (Mark 8:12).”
- Pointed: “Do you still not see or understand?” (Mark 8:17-18).
Jesus wanted His disciples to recognize what had taken place before their very eyes. He caused them to think about what happened through a series of questions. He didn’t come right out and say, “Come on guys. Think about it. I just took a few measly loaves of bread and fed a ton of people. I did something impossible because I’m the Messiah. Duh.” (I know He wouldn’t say the duh part, but that’s what I’d be thinking)!
I believe He used this method to get people to understand and grasp truth for themselves. So the next time you’re in one of those awkward moments, maybe a few well-pointed questions would help. Perhaps you’ll pique their interest enough that they’ll search for answers on their own or ask you a few questions in response.
Wrapping It Up
I read this quote somewhere that sums up perfectly these encounters I’ve had recently: “What is right is not always popular, and what is popular is not always right.”
When discernment is lacking, and deceit is rampant, false doctrines will result. Because of that, you should prepare for the increase in these awkward situations and how to respond thoughtfully and lovingly.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t enjoy having these types of conversations. It’s uncomfortable and challenging to know what to say and do exactly.
But your concern should never be for man’s approval, but for God’s glory (Galatians 1:10). If your love for the Lord and others is your starting point, you can leave the rest up to Him. He is the truth, and His truth will prevail (John 8:31-32, John 17:17)!