Speaking the truth without love is worthless (1 Corinthians 14). However, speaking the truth in love is the most powerful weapon we Christians have.
Have you ever been insulted and wanted to return the favor? In some ways this is a silly question because of course you have. This past week, Brett Kunkle (student impact speaker for Stand to Reason) and I took 26 high school students on an apologetics mission trip to UC Berkeley. Yes, UC Berkeley! We invited in local atheists, agnostics, and even a homosexual activist to interact with our students and to challenge their faith. We also sent our students out with surveys to get in conversations with the Berkeley students about God, ethics, and the meaning of life. In case you are thinking that this may be irresponsible, please keep in mind that we carefully selected the students and thoroughly prepared them for such an experience.
My favorite part of the trip was our meeting with a student atheist group at Berkeley. The group included some undergrads, but also some Masters and Ph.D. students in philosophy and physics. Brett and I had the opportunity to speak for about 45 minutes and then field questions for another hour. Our approach was not to try to defend the Bible, the existence of God, or the resurrection of Jesus. Rather, we simply argued that any thoughtful person on a truth quest would begin with Christianity. Our reasons were that Christianity is testable, it offers a unique worldview fit, and it offers free salvation (free is always good!)
After our presentation one of the atheist students challenged me personally. He began by saying, “Your arguments were so bad that if I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that you were stoned on crack. What source do you have to back up your claims?” My initial thought was to return insult for insult. After all, no one likes being publicly attacked! But I decided to heed Paul’s advice in Romans 12:17-21
Never pay back evil for evil to anyone. Respect what is right in the sight of all men.
If possible, so far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men. Never take your own
revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written,
“VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord. “BUT IF YOUR ENEMY IS HUNGRY, FEED HIM, AND IF HE IS THIRSTY, GIVE HIM A DRINK; FOR IN SO DOING YOU WILL HEAP BURNING COALS ON HIS HEAD.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
In jest I responded, “Was that an insult or a compliment?” People laughed and the tension was diffused. I then proceeded to give my specific source and to defend my position. As Christians in changing culture, we absolutely must be prepared to give an answer for the questions non-believers have (1 Peter 3:15), but we must always do it with gentleness and respect. Truth without love is worthless (1 Corinthians 14). However, speaking the truth in love is the most powerful weapon we have.