My friend Amy Snapp started coming to Lockwood years ago. Her sister Cindy had been bringing Amy’s daughter Kathryn to our kids ministry. Because Kathryn liked it, Amy started coming and bringing the younger kids too. But dad Glenn was another matter. He told me he identified as an agnostic but was really more of an atheist. He just wasn’t calling himself that.
The fact that his wife was now following Jesus was driving him crazy. She was different! One day he came to my office and for an hour or more he grilled me with questions – some of the ones I just listed for you. I don’t know that my answers were all that helpful, but they allowed Glenn to see that there were answers. He hadn’t known that. Amy later told me that he didn’t sleep that night. He kept thinking about God. He was rattled. God was closing in and he felt cornered.
The answers I gave Glenn were not the effective cause of his conversion; they just removed some obstacles he was hiding behind. After a few miserable days, Amy said to Glenn: “Don’t you want to be like Jesus?” And that was all it took to bring Glenn across the line and into the kingdom. Today, he is a licensed minister of the gospel.
We might think, “But I don’t know enough! My answers need better content. Maybe I should read a book. Maybe I should go to seminary.”
Maybe. Certainly have good content, but content is not the most important thing. There is something else that God will use even more. St. Paul says our speech “should be always full of grace, seasoned with salt.” In Greek, there are no definite articles or conjunctions between “full of grace” and “seasoned with salt.” That probably means that “full of grace” and “seasoned with salt” describe the same thing. Grace is the seasoning.
Remember the instruction from Peter? He told his readers they needed always to be prepared to give an answer “but do this with gentleness and respect.” Remember who is talking here: brash Peter, the loud, assertive apostle. “But do this with gentleness and respect,” he says. Don’t be pushy. Don’t get argumentative. Don’t twist arms.
Paul says, “Make sure your answer is full of grace.” Peter says, “Make sure your answer demonstrates gentleness and respect.” Even if the content of your answer doesn’t satisfy the inquirer, the manner of your answer – the graciousness, gentleness, and respect – will. I suspect more people have been won by gracious, respectful answers than have been won by brilliant ones.
Think about how people talk to each other in our day: The toxic comments on Facebook and Twitter; the malice, condemnation, and vulgarity that pepper remarks from the halls of congress to the elementary schoolyard. But we don’t pepper our remarks with insults. We season them with grace.
Talk about a contrast society! That is not what people expect. It is not what they are used to. It surprises them. I write a column that appears in newspapers nationally and I have received my fair share of unpleasant responses. I have been very intentional about answering them in a Proverbs 15:1 manner: “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word stirs up anger.” I’ve been amazed to see how effective that is. I’ve had people call me names in their first email who are corresponding like an old friend by their third. What made the difference? Not the brilliance but the gentleness of my answer.
Respect is a rare commodity and, because it is rare, it is valued. Good content is important but good conduct is even more so. “Do this with gentleness and respect.”
One other thing from 1 Peter. The gentle and respectful answer is given in the context of a life of good deeds and blessing (that is in verses 9-11). So we have three things here: good content; gracious conduct; and the proper context of good deeds and blessing. There is a parallel to film, where the three things are: a good script; believable acting; and the right soundtrack.