Dealing with People
“Walk in wisdom towards those without, redeeming opportunities. [Let] your word [be] always with grace, seasoned with salt, [so as] to know how ye ought to answer each one.” (Colossians 4:5/6)
The previous three verses to those quoted above are also useful in connection with the matter I propose to consider. I would say at the outset that I do not think that I am personally qualified to help people as to the way of salvation or with other problems of a subjective nature as I have too much the feelings and outlook of a child.
Firstly, one would say that in dealing with people wisdom would be involved. In referring to wisdom Paul is effectively drawing our attention to the book of Proverbs which is a book which deals particularly with wisdom. Solomon who was the source of most of the proverbs was noted for his wisdom (1 Kings 3:12). Paul also drew the attention of the Ephesians to the need for wisdom (Ephesians 5:14-17) . There is quite a well known story about a newly converted barber who thought he should testify to the man in the chair. However, when stropping a razor he said to the man in the chair: “Are you ready to die?”. The man immediately jumped out of the chair and ran off, presumably thinking that the barber was about to cut his throat. Though the barber’s intention was laudable his way of going about it was foolish. It is the wise that winneth souls (Proverbs 11:30). Christ spoke of his disciples becoming fishers of men (Matthew 4:19). To be a fisherman one must be quiet so as not to frighten the fish away. We should remember that the words of the wise are heard in quiet (Ecclesiastes 9:17).
When Christ was on earth He dealt differently with each one who came into contact with Him. If it was little children he did not deal with them as He did with those who were mocking (sneering at Him - see JND note) (compare Mark 10:16 and Luke 16:14-31). Talking to little children about things such as hell fire can do damage to them as it can just work on their imagination and give a handle to atheists and the like to condemn Christianity. An atheist web site makes a lot of the grossly unwise books of a father Furniss (a Romanist) who wrote about his idea of hell in children’s books. Hell, incidentally is not spoken of in the preachings in the Acts. Of the Gospels the most severe one is Matthew, no doubt, because it was written with the Jews particularly in mind who were in a more serious situation than the Gentiles having had more light and privilege.
There are openly Godless people who, we may say, sin with impunity. To such persons we may have to stress warning passages such as: “Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die” (Ezekiel 33:11) and “He that being often reproved hardeneth his neck, shall suddenly be destroyed, and without remedy” (Proverbs 29:1).
Others may be self righteous: think their way of life is good enough for God. To such we may need to present what Christ said as to the Pharisee who went up to the temple to pray. Contrariwise, to one who is conscious of his sinfulness such as the tax gatherer we may be able to draw attention to God’s mercifulness using the same parable (Luke 18:9-14). The tax gatherer went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee.
Some persons may be simply lethargic (apathetic). Such we may have to wake up, as it was said to Jonah: “What meanest thou, sleeper? (Jonah1:6).
There are other cases: those who worship idols. To such we may have to present certain basic truths such as the fact that there is only one true God who is the creator of all things (e.g. Mark 13:19) and that He is the judge of all (Hebrews 12:23). Without this basis we cannot really present the Gospel of God’s grace.
There are also the sceptics: the atheists, agnostics and assorted infidels. Such will no doubt claim that they do not believe what is presented in the Christian Bible. One cannot rightly impose one’s own spiritual judgement on them, but one can draw attention to passages of Scripture such as John 17 and the epistle to the Ephesians. Were these passages just the product of man’s mind? Could man invent such things? Read novels by the thousand. You will never find such uplifting thoughts. Books like the Koran and the Book of Mormon sometimes sound relatively OK, but that is simply because in some places they are using Scripture. What about all the genealogies in the Old Testament? Were they just made up or are they lists of real people? A fairy story does not give anyone lengthy genealogies. Rather what we get is: “Once upon a time”. Further, we have the creation that is around us to turn to for support. “Who hath created these things (the stars), bringing out their host by number?” (Isaiah 40:26) What about all the evidences of God’s provision for us in the creation around us: all the fruit trees for example (Genesis 1;11/12). And so we might go on. It is a solemn thing that in Scripture we have Pharisees who were believers: Paul and others (Acts 15:5), but as far as I can see no Sadducees, who were the sceptics in their day (Acts 23:8).
Apart from persons who are not Christians we have to deal with those that are but need help. Some people are very forward - have much to say for themselves like Peter. In one case he actually rebuked Christ and had to be spoken severely to by Him (Matthew 16:21-23). Maybe what Christ had said to him earlier in the chapter had gone to his head, so to speak (Matthew 16:13-20). On the other hand one of Christ’s disciples: James the son of Alphaeus did not, according to the record, ever say anything; he was we may say, backward. Such an one may have to be encouraged to speak as Moses (Exodus 4:10-17) and Jeremiah (1:6-10).
Some people may be naturally fanatical. Simon the zealot amongst Christ’s disciples was no doubt of that kind. He would have no doubt liked to have thrown the Romans out of Palestine. Matthew the taxgatherer on the other hand was a collaborator with the Romans. However, being with Christ they could cooperate. No doubt Simon came to see that he could not achieve what he desired by his own efforts (consider Acts 1:6/7) and Matthew (also called Levi) no doubt gave up his tax gathering (Matthew 9:9-13; Mark 2:13-17 and Luke 5:27-32).
We all have physical characteristics and natural aptitudes. These are not in themselves evil and may be usable in the Lord’s service (Romans 6:13 and Exodus 4:14-17). However, the Lord can cure physical disabilities if He so wishes, but we cannot assume that he always will. He may give relief, but it is at least as likely that He will give us grace, we may say, to put up with them as He did Paul (2 Corinthians 12:9). The disabilities may be needed to keep us in check so that we don’t get blown up with pride (2 Corinthians 12:7). Further, in dealing with people we may have to consider that the disabilities from which people suffer may be of the Lord. We may have to accept them. We may then have to make allowances for them (Hebrews 12:12/13). Even Moses had to have his hands held up on one occasion (Exodus 17:12). Further, we find that Christ Himself had an angel strengthening Him (Luke 22:43). However, if we come up against evil it may be necessary to convict (reprove) the one at fault (1 Timothy 5:20). Evil has to be judged (1 Corinthians 11:31), not accepted. As to Saul himself (later called Paul), he was “an insolent overbearing [man]” (1 Timothy 1:13), but when he was converted he was much changed, so in one place he says: “I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling” (1 Corinthians 2:3). Timothy apparently had a rather timid nature and had to be reminded by Paul that we have not been given “a spirit of cowardice, but of power, and of love, and of wise discretion” (2 Timothy 1:7).
We may also have to take into account a person’s age when dealing with them as Paul says: “Rebuke not an elder sharply, but exhort [him] as a father” (1 Timothy 5:1). Much more could be quoted on a similar line, but I think I have said enough to show that we need to be wise in dealing with persons, whether Christians or not. We have to honour the king (1 Peter 2:17). It is a question of giving all their due (Romans 13:7). Paul did (Acts 26:25) and also Luke (Luke 1:3).