When I was in college, I remember a particular conversation I had with someone over Facebook. We were discussing the existence of God and whether or not it is plausible to believe in a divine and imminent creator. Of course when I say "discussing" here, I really mean arguing, as ultimately any controversial discussion on any of the social media platforms tends to become militant rather quickly. To spare you most of the details, I remember winning a point of contention quite distinctly, and I remember the joy and ecstasy of putting this stranger in his place.
I cannot say I remember leading him to Christ.
The current lock-down and self-isolation has further solidified our innate inability to respond cordially to someone who disagrees with us. Even "discussions" in which clever participants offer polite rebuttals tend to devolve into petty squabbles. One does not have to scroll far into their Facebook feed to find such arguments, and, after reading through them, I am often left with a bewildered sense of meaninglessness. What was the point of that argument?
This is the poignant question I find myself asking whenever I get into an argument. Looking back to my debacle with the stranger on Facebook, I gained absolutely nothing from "winning" the argument. In fact, it is probable that my opponent believed that he himself had won the argument and had made me the fool. At the end of the day, nothing was gained and everything was lost.
Does this mean we should avoid conflict with other worldviews and philosophies at all cost? On the contrary, the Bible actually advocates for a sturdy defense of what we believe. Apologists use 1 Peter 3:15 quite often in citing why they do what they do. Peter writes, "... but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord, as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you..." The word defense here, translated ἀπολογία, is where the word apologetic finds its origin. We absolutely love this passage because it paints the portrait of the strong and intellectual Christian confident in his or her faith. This heroic image unfortunately might eclipse the latter part of the verse. Peter continues his thoughts, "...yet do it with gentleness and respect...".
Peter recognizes the importance of both a strong defense and a loving attitude. One commentator writes, "a quiet dignity is far more effective than argument and belligerence". If we are to be representatives of Christ, we must don his loving attitude in the face of all hostilities. If we find ourselves writing a comment on Facebook in all of our self-righteous hubris, we must ask ourselves if we are being gentle. Are we being respectful? Are we about say what we are going to say because we love the person we are talking to? Or do we simply want to put them in their place? Every single time we are rude, pedantic, and belittling, we miss out on an opportunity for the Holy Spirit to use us to further the kingdom of God. It is far less important to win an argument than it is to win a soul, and if we continue to ignore the respect we need to have for others, we will only devalue our role as ambassadors of Christ.
The key to maintaining a gentle and respectful demeanor is love. Had I any love for the Facebook stranger, perhaps I could have showed him Christ's love instead of my pride. If we have love for the reluctant acquaintance, we will probably treat them with respect. It would be wise to head Paul's thoughts on the importance in love:
If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels but have not love, I am a noisy gong or clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing. (1 Corinthians 13:1-3)
For Paul, love is the measure of all things. It is the ruler by which we determine if we have done something worthwhile. This means that, with whatever we do, whether its explaining our thoughts on the Coronavirus or commenting on the recent political blunder of the week, if we are not actively showing love to our neighbor, we are rendering ourselves useless to the kingdom of God.
The good news is, despite our past mistakes and even current temperament, God is gracious and merciful. He can still use us as a conduit for his love. Regardless of what our post history looks like, God can still humble our hearts and shift our attitudes. We will be infinitely more effective for the kingdom of God if we brandish Christ's love instead of our supposed knowledge and wisdom. Let us then strive to be image bearers instead of conquerors.