Rules of Engagement

Quite a lot has happened in the last week, hasn't it?  The recent ruling of the Supreme Court has pushed central questions back into the public conversation - questions like:

  • What makes human life valuable? 
  • How do we know right from wrong?
  • Are we as individuals (and a society) subject to God's external law, or are we free to make our own law as we see fit? 

Believers know that the Bible gives clear answers to these questions.  But if you've spent any time in conversation with your unbelieving family, friends, or acquaintances this past week you'll also know just how much confusion there is in our culture over these very issues. 

How can we as Christians speak faithfully and helpfully into the chaos?  What "rules of engagement" should we follow as we seek to interact with people who disagree sharply with the teaching of Scripture?  There are several biblical principles that can guide us.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, the books known as the Pastoral Epistles (1 & 2 Timothy and Titus) offer us several rules for how to engage unbelievers with the truth of God's Word in a way that is both faithful and fruitful. 

1. Be willing to stand for truth with boldness

In 2 Timothy, Paul spurs us on to boldness in the proclamation of God's Word.  2 Timothy 1:7-8 says: "For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.  Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord[.]"  Some of us can be tempted to be ashamed of the truth of God's Word.  When we encounter opposition and argument (sometimes violent opposition and vitriolic arguments!) we can be tempted to try and soften the Bible's answers when they challenge the reigning assumptions of our culture.  But God calls us to boldness. 

We can sometimes convince ourselves that softening the hard lines of Scripture is a mark of our sensitivity and winsomeness, but Paul tells us that the Bible can stand on its own two feet.  God doesn't need us to massage and manipulate His message. Rather, He calls us to be bold in sharing the plain teaching of the Bible.  As Paul puts it in 2 Timothy 3:16-4:2, "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work."  As Spurgeon famously quipped, "The Word of God is like a lion. You don’t have to defend a lion. All you have to do is let the lion loose, and the lion will defend itself." 

So Christian, be willing to stand for the truth with boldness. 

2. Be willing to persuade people of the truth with patience

Some have no difficulty being bold — indeed, some of us enjoy a good fight a little too much!  Here is where the Scriptures beautifully balance us out.  In the same verse where Paul charges us to proclaim the truth of God's Word boldly, he also calls us to: "preach the word [...] with complete patience and teaching." (2 Timothy 4:2)  The goal of our engagement then is not merely to be a bold witness for the truth but also to be a wise witness to win people to the truth.  

This requires wisdom to know when to answer a fool according to his folly and when not to answer a fool according to his folly (Proverbs 26:4-5).  Here's how the apostle Paul helps us to thread that needle in 2 Timothy 2:23-26, "Have nothing to do with foolish, ignorant controversies; you know that they breed quarrels.  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."

Perhaps the most powerful witness we can offer in a fractious and argumentative culture like ours is to proclaim the truth with patience.  This requires a Christ-like spirit, a willingness to be misunderstood (and perhaps mistreated) for taking unpopular stands in a way that eschews the neat categories of our current culture wars.  But that is also what can make our witness stand out as "other-worldly." 

So Christian, be willing to persuade people of the truth with patience.

3. Be willing to adorn the truth in righteousness

Finally, Paul calls us to "put our money where our mouth is." The faithful witness doesn't just speak the truth in patience; they also live lives that have been shaped by that truth.  Here's how Paul puts it in Titus 2:7, "Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us."  The Bible calls us then to let our words and our life be as one.  I love the phrase Paul uses for this idea in Titus 2:10 when he calls on Christians to "adorn the doctrine of God our Savior." 

This becomes a particularly practical command when we take up the fight for life.  While Christians can have good faith disagreements about the best method to care for pregnant mothers and children (should we expand government programs, or redouble volunteer efforts in the private sphere?) there can be no debate about what we are called to do.  To be pro-life is to live as Christ did, not to be served but to serve.  Applying this principle will look different for different people.  Some may apply this by becoming foster or adoptive parents.  Others may give of their money or time to support the work of local churches and pro-life pregnancy centers who help women and children in need.  Others may engage in the necessary work of public policy and debate over how we as a society can support life at every stage.  Whatever the personal application, as we express the truths of Scripture (and express those truths with both the boldness and the patience that the Scripture commands) we must also look for ways that we can practically and tangible apply the things we're arguing for. 

So Christian, be willing to adorn the truth in righteousness.

There are no doubt many other "rules of engagement" which we could draw from the Scriptures. But perhaps if the church can keep these three principles in mind it will help us to generate more light and less heat in a world that desperately needs the truth of God's Word.

Ben Franks serves as the Senior Pastor of Ketoctin Covenant Presbyterian Church (OPC) in Purcellville, VA. A native son of the PCA, he has done mission work in England with the EPCEW and served with churches in the PCA and OPC. He studied at Patrick Henry College, completed his B.A. in Classical Christian Education through Whitefield College, and earned his M.Div from Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary. His writings have been published in the Puritan Reformed Journal, the Confessional Presbyterian Journal, and the Banner of Truth Magazine.

Related Links

"Yes, I Am a Single-Issue Voter" by Stephen Spinnenweber

"He Won't Be Silent Forever" by Nick Batzig

"Patience and Maturity" by Gabriel Williams

Life, Bioethics, Christianity by C. Everett Koop

Man, Marriage, and the Mad Sexual Revolution by Jonathan Gibson and