Does your conversation engage and influence others in a positive way? We, as believers, have a part to play in God's plan of salvation. How can we be ready to give an answer for the Christian hope that lies within each one of us? This message presents five points that can help us be ready to give an answer of hope to others.
[Chris Rowland] For some of us, talking to other people isn’t easy. I’m an introverted person, and sometimes I just don’t know how to make conversation. I might be standing right next to somebody interesting, having just said “hello” and then desperately trying to think of some kind of topic to begin a discussion. Should I talk about the weather? It’s kind of sunny today. Should I talk about my kids? Should I ask this person some kind of question? But about what? I don’t even know where to begin! Or even when I’ve begun a conversation, I’m not sure how to sustain it.
Because I do find conversation difficult, I came up with a “challenge” a few years ago when I was a computer programmer. I worked in a little cubicle, in a huge room full of computer programmers and IT professionals. And my cubicle was next to the printer. Most of the employees didn’t want to sit next to the printer because of all the people coming and going all of the time, which could be distracting to your concentration
Well, when someone would come to pick up a document they printed, they would often have to wait a little while for it to finish printing, it wasn’t the fastest printer. So people would come by quite often, and they would be standing behind me, kind of hovering in the aisle behind me.
I had two good friends who were across the aisle from me, and we would often find ourselves turned around, engaged in conversation with whoever had stopped by to get something off of the printer.
So the “challenge” I made for myself at that time is that I would use these opportunities to increase my ability to have random conversations with people. It was also a good diversion to help me avoid dangerously high levels of productivity.
We never knew what the topic would be. Somebody showed up—what were we going to talk about? That’s partly because one of the little “games” we loved to play during these conversations was to intentionally try to steer every conversation off on strange but funny tangents, so that we never actually finished discussing any of the topics that we brought up.
Surprisingly, I found that some of us on occasions would have opinions that we wanted to express. Sometimes someone would stop by and want to talk about politics, or science, or computers, or travel, or linguistics, or anything else that might come to mind. It’s pretty easy to begin an argument or a debate with somebody about some unimportant subject, and begin to get pretty worked up about it from time to time.
Do you interact with different groups of people, and maybe you don’t really think about those opportunities? You may not realize that those interactions that you have with other people could be opportunities to influence someone else’s life.
I had one friend who I worked with named Gary, who I talked with a lot about a car I had recently purchased, and he started asking more and more questions about my car. He heard me talking about how much I liked it, and he rode to lunch with me in it a few times. A few months later, when it came time for him to buy a new car, he bought the same model that I had. I was surprised.
I’m pretty sure that it was partly due to my influence and my example that my friend spent a significant amount of money to buy that car. His decision was partially based on how I portrayed something that I believed in, along with his own personal observations of it.
If you’ve ever talked with someone about things that you believe in, you probably realize that not every listener is going to be convinced and then goes out and make a major life decision based on what you have told them.
For instance, if we have a conversation with someone about God, the Bible, or the Christian way of life, it’s not often that the person you’re talking to is going to respond to you and say: “you know what, that makes a lot of sense! I’m going to change my life and go and do that too!”
With such a low success rate, is it even worth talking about our beliefs with other people? Or is it something we should just avoid?
How many people do you think I would run across who would have been interested in buying the same model of Toyota Echo that I did? Probably not that many. But if I had started a big campaign and I started every conversation with my co-workers by saying: “look at this amazing gas mileage that I am getting with my car!” and I had steered every conversation to how great that particular model was, then I think that everyone would soon find a way to avoid me.
In the same way, if you advertise your religious beliefs like that and try to work those into every conversation with other people, you’ll find that most people will avoid having conversations with you, too.
Instead of trying to proselytize, which means to attempt to convert someone from one idea to another, we simply need to be an example. We have to believe in our way of life, and then show by our own example that it works.
Opportunities—they’ll still come up in conversation to talk about our beliefs, just as opportunities came up for me to talk about my car. And when those questions arise naturally in conversation, that is when the listener is most attuned to listening and paying attention to our responses.
I’d like to turn to 2 Timothy chapter 2 and look at some guidelines that we need to use when we engage other people in discussion about what we believe. Paul gives some excellent advice to Timothy, explaining to him some principles to use when communicating with other people.
In 2 Timothy 2:23 2 Timothy 2:23But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do engender strifes.
American King James Version×, Paul wrote: “But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife.” Or as the New Living Translation puts it: “Again I say, don’t get involved in foolish, ignorant arguments that only start fights.”
I’d have to say that sometimes I get involved in some pretty foolish arguments. However, I can’t say that any of them have actually started a fistfight, but I am probably guilty of some that are rather foolish, causing some people to be hurt, causing some people to be upset.
Sometimes people want to argue about foolish things just to make us angry, it seems. We need to choose first, whether to respond at all to that person, and second, if we decide that we do need to respond—how do we respond?
I see a lot of foolish, ignorant arguments on Facebook. Typically somebody will share a post or an article that they have read that says something that I can’t agree with. Sometimes, several people from the church will make comments for that person about the article, trying to educate them or trying to correct them about the situation. In most cases, it doesn’t go well. They begin an on-line argument, screen after screen, where nobody changes their mind and nobody wins.
Often, a person who makes inflammatory comments or puts out foolish ideas, they don’t want to hear the truth. They maybe want to start a dispute and they’d like to start a fight to argue their side. But Paul tells us here not to get involved in arguments that only start fights.
So we need to decide, before we respond to someone, before we respond to something, whether that person is truly searching for an answer, or whether they are just trying to “bait” us just to start an argument with them. We need to stay away from engaging that type of person. Just because you disagree with someone doesn’t mean that you are required to respond to them.
Let’s continue in verse 24 of 2 Timothy 2: “And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all.” It’s hard to be kind to everybody. Especially if you have gotten engaged in one of these foolish arguments, you’ll likely feel your blood begin to boil inside of you because the person you are arguing with is just so unreasonable! Why can’t they see it?
But “a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all.”
Sometimes it seems like the reason I have gotten into an argument might be that I have not been able to really get my point across, I’m not able to say those words that I want to say. When we speak to others, it’s important that we figure out how to organize our thoughts—how to be a good teacher.
Paul goes on to write that a servant of the Lord must be “able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition” (vv. 24-25).
In the New Living Translation, it says that “They must be able to teach effectively and be patient with difficult people. They should gently teach those who oppose the truth.”
These are some difficult principles. It’s not easy to teach effectively. That takes planning. It takes a deep understanding about the subject matter that you want to teach to someone. And it’s also difficult to be patient with difficult people. And when someone is opposing the truth in front of you, it’s hard to sometimes maintain humility and to “gently” teach them instead of reacting to what you’ve heard.
Many church members don’t really consider it their responsibility to teach those people who oppose the truth. They may tell themselves, “well, that’s something that can be handled by the church home office, or by a pastor. Certainly there’s nothing that I need to do personally to correct someone who is in opposition to God’s way. I’m never going to convince them or cause them to change their lifestyle.”
So why would we want to teach these people, anyway? What’s the value of it? Let’s continue reading in the second half of verse 25: “if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will” (vv. 25-26).
Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts—perhaps they will repent and believe the truth. We don’t know. If they do, then they can come to their senses and escape what Paul describes as the devil’s trap. We don’t always know how someone will respond to the truth of God.
So what’s the order that Paul is describing here? Does God change these people’s hearts first , and then , once we see evidence of that and acknowledge it, then we can begin teaching them? I don’t think that’s what this verse is describing. It says that we need to teach effectively and gently those who oppose the truth, those who are against it, and then perhaps God will change those people’s hearts. We have a role to play here. We, believers , have a part to play in God’s plan of salvation for mankind.
I’d like to you to turn to another passage now, this one from Peter—1 Peter 3:13 1 Peter 3:13And who is he that will harm you, if you be followers of that which is good?
American King James Version×. You’ve likely heard this passage quoted many times—it tells us a little bit about our responsibility to be able to explain things to other people.
God has given us a great opportunity in this life—He has called us, He has shown us the path to eternal life. And having given us that great gift, one of the ways that He expects us to be accountable for that gift is by being able to explain it to other people.
I will begin reading in 1 Peter 3:13 1 Peter 3:13And who is he that will harm you, if you be followers of that which is good?
American King James Version×. I’ll just read through verses 13 to 17, and then we’ll look a little deeper: “And who is he who will harm you if you become followers of what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you are blessed. ‘And do not be afraid of their threats, nor be troubled.’ But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts, and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear; having a good conscience, that when they defame you as evildoers, those who revile your good conduct in Christ may be ashamed. For it is better, if it is the will of God, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”
Peter writes that sometimes we are going to suffer for the sake of righteousness—we can suffer for doing what is right. But we shouldn’t let that trouble us. We shouldn’t let that cause us to fear.
Peter gives some important directives in verse 15. First, he tells us to sanctify the Lord God in our hearts. What does that mean?
To paraphrase Matthew Henry’s Commentary, we sanctify God in our hearts when we love Him, when we rely on His power, when we trust in His faithfulness, when we submit to His wisdom, when we imitate His holiness, and give Him the glory He is due. We also sanctify God before other people when our behavior invites and encourages other people to glorify and honor him, too.
So we are obligated to show that we believe in God and that we believe He is holy through our personal relationship with him and also through the way that we respond to that relationship and the way we live our lives before other people.
The second thing that Peter mentions in verse 15 is to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear.”
The King James Version says “be ready always to give an answer.” You’ve likely heard this phrase “ready to give an answer” as an obligation that we have as Christians. I do think that perhaps this verse gets pulled out of this context, or sometimes extended or misused.
When we are told to always be ready to give an answer, what does that mean? Well, it doesn’t mean that we need to all become like contestants on a television game show—maybe like Jeopardy! —where no matter what the category of Bible trivia might come up, we’ve got to know the answer and be ready to buzz in and get a high score. That is not what Peter was instructing us to do.
I’ve also heard this verse used to explain that if someone wishes you a Merry Christmas or a Happy New Year, that instead of simply telling them “I don’t keep Christmas” that instead you need to give them a history lesson about paganism and sun worship. Or that if you are invited to a dinner, instead of just telling the host that you don’t eat pork, that you need to tell them all about the food laws of the Bible and there are these different types of scavenger animals and God isn’t really pleased with the things in your kitchen. Is that what this verse is telling us to do?
Let’s look at it again. What are we supposed to be ready to give an answer to? Are we supposed to be ready for any eventuality and any detail that somebody could pull out of their back pocket? Peter wrote: “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you.” The New Living Translation puts it this way: “And if you are asked about your Christian hope, always be ready to explain it.”
What is your Christian hope? Is not eating pork your Christian hope? Is not keeping Christmas that “hope” that lies within you? Those things may be things that you do because of your Christian hope, they may be an outward view of that, or they may be things that you believe as a result of your Christian hope, but that’s not what Peter is telling us to be prepared to explain.
Ask yourself this question. What is the hope that is in you? What is your Christian hope, you as an individual? Is your “hope” simply a page listing a lot of doctrines: ways that you are different from this world, ways that you are different from friends around you? Or is your “hope” something deeper than that, a core belief that you live your life for each and every day?
If you haven’t thought about it, I really suggest that you write that question down in your notes: What is the hope that is in me? And circle that question—take it home and think about it. Think about how you are going to answer it. We aren’t all going to answer that exactly the same way. Perhaps it will include the hope of the resurrection, the hope of God’s Kingdom, the hope of eternal life, Christ in you—the hope of glory. There are a lot of different ways that we can express that hope that lies within us.
And you need to figure out how you are going to explain it. How do you explain that hope that lies within you, individually. Why do you follow this way of life? Why are you here? Why is it meaningful? What motivates you to follow God?
This instruction from Peter isn’t telling every Christian that they need to be able to recite and defend every Christian doctrine or teaching—that they have to defend every teaching and every truth of the Bible. It’s more vital than that. It’s more to the core of our beliefs. We have to be able to explain—not the What of what we believe, as much as the Why for why we believe. That’s what people want to know. And if you’ve never sat down and figured out why you believe what you do. If you haven’t figured out the hope—the goal—then you’ve got a homework assignment.
God doesn’t expect us all to be experts at all of the finer points of His law: the Hebrew calendar, or every single fish that would have both fins and scales, or being able to list all the kings of ancient Israel in chronological order. Compared to that hope that lies within us, those things are all details way out on the branches, and not part of the trunk of the tree. He does expect us all to be able to explain some things! Like who Christ is, what did Christ do, and what has Christ promised for those who trust in Him? That’s the type of “answer” that’s the type of defense we need to be able to give—as the last part of verse 15 describes: “with meekness and fear.” In a gentle and respectful way.
It says that we must always be ready to explain why we follow Christ. The New International Version says it this way, that we should “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”
So how can we be ready to give an answer? I have five points today that I want to share with you—things to keep in mind so that you can be ready to give an answer. And I don’t know about you, but I like having lists and points. And to hopefully make these points just a little more memorable, if you put together the first letter for each of these points, they will spell out the word “Ready”—see what I did there? It goes with the title of the sermon: “Ready to Give an Answer.”
Now, we aren’t talking here about just being defensive by having memorized some doctrinal statement that we can quote verbatim if someone asks us. Giving an answer doesn’t have to be just a “defensive” thing—it’s not like we’re usually on trial with these people that we’re talking to, and if we could just prove to them that what we’re doing is right, and maybe present just the right evidence at just the right time, then all is well. Giving an answer also has an outwardly focused dimension of love for the people we’re talking to. We want to provoke the questions so that we can spread the knowledge of God’s truth.
So how do we prepare to talk about the things that we believe? What do we need to do to be ready ? Well, here’s the first point. For the letter R, I think it is important that we:
1) Respect others: The end of verse 15 in 1 Peter 3 says that we need to answer “in meekness and fear.” The NIV translates this: “gentleness and respect.” We should give an answer to people that is gentle, an answer that’s respectful.
Now don’t get the wrong idea—that doesn’t mean that we should compromise the truth—but we shouldn’t argue with someone just for the sake of arguing. It is sometimes tempting to get into a debate with someone, but to be effective, how do you need to come across? We need to sound more like their friends and less like preachers or even worse, their enemies.
Perhaps the best approach to talk to someone about Christianity is not to start out by telling them that they are pagan sun worshippers just masquerading as Christians. Is that respectful? Is that the way to get them to listen further? “Tell me more!” No, we have to show respect to the people we are talking with—we can share the hope that lies within us, we can share God’s truth with them without needing to be insulting.
Paul told the church at Ephesus that we should be “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15 Ephesians 4:15But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ:
American King James Version×). So whoever we might be answering, we need to remember that God loves that person, and that we need to love that person too—and show them respect when we teach them the truth, no matter what it is they may currently be involved with that we might disagree with.
There are a few Proverbs that we can look at briefly that reinforce the importance of responding to people in a respectful way. Let’s turn to Proverbs 15 and look at verses 1 and 2. Proverbs 15:1-2 Proverbs 15:1-2 1 A soft answer turns away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.
2 The tongue of the wise uses knowledge aright: but the mouth of fools pours out foolishness.
American King James Version×“A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise uses knowledge rightly, but the mouth of fools pours forth foolishness.”
When we were looking at the context of being “ready to give an answer” back in 1 Peter 3, the context was being persecuted for doing what is right. Well, how do you answer someone who wants to persecute you? Do you speak to them harshly? Do we incite them into another argument? No. This proverb instructs us how to respond: “a soft answer turns away wrath.” A soft answer doesn’t mean just soft in terms of volume level—that we just mumble so they can’t hear us. No, it means that we need to be respectful and not escalate any situation that may be developing or that we might be involved in.
It may be as simple as saying something that comes across like: “this is why I believe what I believe” instead coming across with something that sounds like: “this is what I believe, and if you don’t accept it, too, you’re going to burn forever in the lake of fire!”
There’s a right way and that’s a wrong way to use knowledge. Verse 2 reminds us that the wise will use knowledge rightly. Fools might also use knowledge, but if they don’t use it rightly, it is just pouring forth foolishness.
Let’s move down to verse 28 and see a little bit more about how to answer respectfully. Proverbs 15:28 Proverbs 15:28The heart of the righteous studies to answer: but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
American King James Version×“The heart of the righteous studies how to answer, but the mouth of the wicked pours forth evil.”
So before we speak, before we answer, we need to get the right frame of mind. We don’t have to respond immediately—there’s not a timer counting down. Maybe we need to offer a silent prayer to God for help, or maybe we need to think for a few moments about the best way to respond to this person. We should be circumspect about what we say, so that we can use knowledge wisely, so that we can show the proper respect to the person we are talking to. And by showing them respect, they are much more likely to listen to what you have to say.
So the letter R represents the need to “Respect Others”. For the second point, the letter E, I think it is imperative that we:
2) Exemplify Christ: We read a few moments ago from 1 Peter 3:16 1 Peter 3:16Having a good conscience; that, whereas they speak evil of you, as of evildoers, they may be ashamed that falsely accuse your good conversation in Christ.
American King James Version×where Peter wrote about: “your good conduct in Christ.” I think it should be clear to most of us that we need to follow the example of behavior that Jesus Christ set for us.
Let’s turn back again to 1 Peter, but this time to the previous chapter, 1 Peter 2:15 1 Peter 2:15For so is the will of God, that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:
American King James Version×, and see this mentioned. 1 Peter 2:15 1 Peter 2:15For so is the will of God, that with well doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men:
American King James Version×“For this is the will of God, that by doing good you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men.”
We are instructed to do good—we should practice good deeds. By doing good as Christ would do, it says that we can silence the foolish. Our good conduct can win some arguments before they ever start.
Let’s look down at verse 21, still in 1 Peter 2. 1 Peter 2:21-23 1 Peter 2:21-23 21 For even hereunto were you called: because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow his steps:
22 Who did no sin, neither was guile found in his mouth:
23 Who, when he was reviled, reviled not again; when he suffered, he threatened not; but committed himself to him that judges righteously:
American King James Version×: “For to this you were called, because Christ also suffered for us, leaving us an example, that you should follow His steps: ‘Who committed no sin, nor was deceit found in His mouth’; who, when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered, He did not threaten, but committed Himself to Him who judges righteously.”
So to exemplify Christ, we need to follow in His steps. We should not habitually be committing sin; we should not have deceit found in our mouths; we should not revile in return or threaten our adversaries. When we act like Jesus Christ would act, it puts our “answer” or our defense in the right context and in the right framework. If we don’t act like Christ did, then we are hypocritical, and often our answers and the things that we are telling them will be dismissed as hollow or insincere.
Just as most people didn’t accept Christ and believe Him when He walked this earth, most people won’t immediately warm up to you because you’re acting like Him. But by exemplifying Christ, God can use your example as a motivation for somebody who is being called by Him. To exemplify Christ is really to go against many of the trends of our society, and a lot of people are going to take notice of that.
When we exemplify Christ, what do we do? We show love to other people. We shouldn’t become annoyed by their questions. We need to really care about other people. We need to genuinely want what is best for them. We can’t be hypocritical, or talk about the right way to live—it sounds really nice!—without actually living it in front of our neighbors.
So the letter E represents the need to “Exemplify Christ”. For the third point, the letter A, I want to suggest that in our conversations with other people that we:
3) Ask Questions: When we respond to someone, do I do all of the talking? I know that often I get stuck talking with someone who will just never stop talking! And I don’t have the skills to know when or how to interrupt or how to redirect that conversation back to something I’m comfortable talking about. There are some people who talk and talk and they seem to never take a second to catch their breath, they never pause to let you speak.
When someone asks us a question, do we immediately launch into a long-winded explanation that goes back before the foundation of the world?
I’ve seen that sometimes, maybe you have, too. A new visitor might come to services one week. They’ll make a comment about the Sabbath or something, and a well-meaning Church member comes up there and launches into a long explanation all about the Catholic Church and the Council of Nicea and the mark of the beast or whatever and then they transition into clean and unclean meats and somehow work in first, second and third tithe. And they haven’t caught their breath yet. And that poor visitor is just sitting there, lost. They’re sitting there overwhelmed: “what have I gotten into?”—because they’ve been subjected to all sorts of explanations and ideas but none of them actually answered the question they were asking in the first place.
My wife has worked in libraries for many years, and one of the things that they train reference librarians to do is to be good at asking questions. If someone comes into the library and they go to the reference desk and they say: “I’d like a book about dogs.” The reference librarian just doesn’t point them down and say “third shelf on the left.” No, a good librarian will ask questions: “What type of dog books are you interested in? Do you want picture books about dogs? Do you want to know about keeping a dog for a pet? Do you want to know how to train a guide dog for the blind? Are you looking for dog food recipes?” Until you know the reason why that person is looking for a book about dogs, you can’t really give them the answer that would be most helpful for them.
The same is true when you’re answering a question about God’s truth. If the person isn’t familiar with the Bible or with God’s truth, it is probably more useful to start by asking them questions: “What do you mean?” or “What do you currently believe about these things?”
Let’s turn to Proverbs 18:13 Proverbs 18:13He that answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.
American King James Version×and see some advice on how to answer someone. Proverbs 18:13 Proverbs 18:13He that answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.
American King James Version×: “He who answers a matter before he hears it, it is folly and shame to him.”
This proverb stresses the importance for us to listen. We have to hear a matter before we answer it. Often we might think we may know what someone is asking—we make certain assumptions based on how they look or some things that they’ve said that they might have a certain understanding or a certain background. And then we answer them based on those assumptions that we’ve made. But this proverb explains that such behavior is foolish. We need to hear the person out. We need to understand what’s being asked. We should ask them: “So do you think that ‘such and such’ is what happens? Or do you think that this is the case?” And then listen to what they have to say and try to see where that question is coming from.
Let’s look at verse 2 of this same chapter. Proverbs 18:2 Proverbs 18:2A fool has no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.
American King James Version×“A fool has no delight in understanding, but in expressing his own heart.”
When we are teaching or when we’re instructing someone by responding to their questions, we need to have an understanding of where they’re coming from. It is more important that we address what they need to hear than simply to spew forth our own wisdom on that subject.
Let’s turn to Job 32:10 Job 32:10Therefore I said, Listen to me; I also will show my opinion.
American King James Version×. Job is just a couple books back, before the book of Psalms. These are the words of Elihu, who spoke to Job after he listened to Job and his three friends spend days in discussion together.
Job 32:10-12 Job 32:10-12 10 Therefore I said, Listen to me; I also will show my opinion.
11 Behold, I waited for your words; I gave ear to your reasons, whilst you searched out what to say.
12 Yes, I attended to you, and, behold, there was none of you that convinced Job, or that answered his words:
American King James Version×, Elihu says: “Therefore I say, ‘Listen to me, I also will declare my opinion.’ Indeed I waited for your words, I listened to your reasonings, while you searched out what to say. I paid close attention to you; and surely not one of you convinced Job, or answered his words.”
Elihu indicates that he paid close attention to Job’s friends and what they said—he listened to their reasonings. He didn’t interrupt them. He let them fully explain their points of view. And Elihu recognized that none of them “answered” Job’s words. Job had asked some specific questions, but his friends, they didn’t answer those questions—instead they went off on other subjects.
We should be like Elihu and when we are talking with someone, give them time. Listen to their reasonings. Get to know them and what they’re having to say. We need to pay attention to what they have to say so that we can be sure that we’re answering the real question that they have. They’ll appreciate that.
Jesus Christ was an expert at answering a question with another question. It’s not a bad technique at all if He used it. Instead of answering with a full explanation of the truth, which Jesus Christ could have very easily done, Jesus would often simply respond by asking them a question. I think that we would be well served to consider that in our responses to people, too.
For instance, when the Pharisees came to Him and they asked: “‘Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?’ testing Him.” What did He say? Well, He said to them: “‘What did Moses command you?’” (Mark 10:2-3 Mark 10:2-3 2 And the Pharisees came to him, and asked him, Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife? tempting him.
3 And he answered and said to them, What did Moses command you?
American King James Version×).
When Jesus knew that they wanted to test Him, how did He answer? He responded back by asking what Moses commanded. That’s good instruction for us, too. We can use that same type of answer. For instance, we can respond, with “Well, what does the Bible say on that subject?” And see how they respond, and then based on that response we can build from there.
Let’s turn to Luke 10:25 Luke 10:25And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
American King James Version×and read an example of Jesus Christ doing this.
Luke 10:25-26 Luke 10:25-26 25 And, behold, a certain lawyer stood up, and tempted him, saying, Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?
26 He said to him, What is written in the law? how read you?
American King James Version×: “And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’” That’s a good question! But what did Christ say? “He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?’” He was even asking him to interpret what he read. Answering a question with another question is very biblical.
I get the impression that some people think that since the Bible says you should be ready to give an answer, that it means you have to kind of wait around until that day when someone comes to you out of the blue and they ask you “the question.” That’s a very defensive way of looking at that—spreading the gospel by waiting for people to come to you and ask you “the question.” Sometimes we have to actively take the truth to other people. We can provoke others with our conversation—conversation that will make them want to ask us the questions that we are ready to answer.
For example, if you know someone who mentions that they’re going to their church, do you ever ask them about their church? Do you ever ask them what they believe? It can be very interesting to find out. Do you show an interest in them—do you show them that you are interested in them? You have to know where someone is coming from before you can more clearly show them the way to go. You don’t necessarily have to even start out by saying anything about your own beliefs or your church, but some people will politely ask you about what you believe in return about those same items. That’s where gentleness, that’s where respectfulness can pay off. Build that friendship.
Maybe it’s someone who doesn’t believe in God at all—well what kind of questions can you ask them? You can ask them how they look at life and death. Ask them about any topic and just understand what their beliefs are. And by showing an interest in other people, that’s a good way to open up a conversation, to open up a relationship so that they’re willing to talk with you.
We should ask questions when we talk with other people—not just when we’re “giving an answer.” That is one of the things that I learned from talking with people who were waiting on the printer next to my workstation—asking questions is a great way to begin conversations. God can open doors. God can guide those conversations once they’ve started. If we work to develop good questions that are tailored to different audiences, that is one way that we can be ready to give an answer.
So the letter A represents the approach where we “Ask Questions”. For the fourth point, the letter D, I want to stress that we:
4) Depend on the Bible: When giving an answer to other people, we have to be careful to rely totally on God’s Word. We can’t try to trick them. We can’t try to intimidate them, or manipulate them into believing what we believe. We’re not trying to rally people around a cause, a movement. We’re not trying to get them to join the United Church of God.
Our obligation is to share the truth of God and to explain it the best that we can—why I believe what I believe. I shouldn’t say things like “well, my church believes this” or “my church believes that.” Most people, they don’t care what your church believes.
We need to tell them what God expects. We need to tell them what He has revealed in the Bible and encourage them to read it and believe that what they read applies to their lives, too. A lot of people think that the Bible is outdated, but we want to let them know that the words in the Bible mean a lot to us—and that yes, it is possible for someone to believe them and to strive to follow them.
Let’s turn to Proverbs 22:20 Proverbs 22:20Have not I written to you excellent things in counsels and knowledge,
American King James Version×. Proverbs 22:20-21 Proverbs 22:20-21 20 Have not I written to you excellent things in counsels and knowledge, 21 That I might make you know the certainty of the words of truth; that you might answer the words of truth to them that send to you?
American King James Version×“Have I not written to you excellent things of counsels and knowledge, that I may make you know the certainty of the words of truth, that you may answer words of truth to those who send to you?”
The words of the Bible are certain. They are words of truth. We can use the things that we learn from the Bible to answer those who ask us questions. But to be able to do that, what do we need to be able to do? It is important that we are familiar with the Bible and that we know what’s in it. It’s nice to have a bunch of scripture references memorized, but not everybody is able to do that. The important thing is that we read the Bible regularly and that we have made its principles—the things that we read—become a part of our lives.
When we explain that hope that lies within us, we should be able to give a response that is true to the Bible—true to God’s word—and not just a fuzzy words that “sound” spiritual and that sound nice. They shouldn’t be based on our opinion. They shouldn’t be based on anyone else’s opinion. They should be based on the truth of God’s word.
So the letter D represents the necessity that we “Depend on the Bible” for our instruction. For the fifth and last point, the letter Y, I would ask that we:
5) Yield to the Holy Spirit: We have to ask God to give us the right words to say. We have to ask Him to help us find the opportunity to explain that hope that lies within us. We have to ask for help so that when that opportunity does come that we can be ready to teach, we can be ready to give an answer.
If we have yielded our minds to God’s Spirit, then we will always be ready to give an answer. We don’t have to worry about coming up with a huge list of answers ahead of time and trying to memorize them so that we won’t slip up and maybe give the wrong answer.
Let’s look at Proverbs 3:5-6 Proverbs 3:5-6 5 Trust in the LORD with all your heart; and lean not to your own understanding.
6 In all your ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct your paths.
American King James Version×: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
We yield to God’s Spirit when we acknowledge Him, when we trust in Him with all of our heart. And He rewards that trust. He rewards the trust we place in Him by directing our paths, and that includes what we should say.
Let’s turn to the 16th chapter now, Proverbs 16:1 Proverbs 16:1The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the LORD.
American King James Version×: “The preparations of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.”
This proverb shows that God will put the answers on our tongues when we fulfill the first half of that verse—if we prepare the heart. We yield to the Holy Spirit when we prepare our heart—when we have established that right relationship with our Creator. If we do that, He will guide our tongues. He will give us the answer we need.
Let’s briefly turn to Luke 12:11-12 Luke 12:11-12 11 And when they bring you to the synagogues, and to magistrates, and powers, take you no thought how or what thing you shall answer, or what you shall say:
12 For the Holy Ghost shall teach you in the same hour what you ought to say.
American King James Version×to see that this is what Jesus Christ has promised for us. In Luke 12:11 Luke 12:11And when they bring you to the synagogues, and to magistrates, and powers, take you no thought how or what thing you shall answer, or what you shall say:
American King James Version×, Jesus Christ said: “Now when they bring you to the synagogues and magistrates and authorities, do not worry about how or what you should answer, or what you should say. For the Holy Spirit will teach you in that very hour what you ought to say.”
That’s an amazing promise! If we yield to the God’s Holy Spirit, we will be ready to give an answer.
We don’t have to worry about getting stuck in a conversational corner that we can’t get out of. A Christian who has yielded to the Holy Spirit will be given those words to speak in a way that will not turn into a mean-spirited debate.
So the letter Y represents the confidence we will have when we “Yield to the Holy Spirit”.
So these are five things to keep in mind, five points that we can remember so that we are READY to give an answer. So to recap these five points briefly:
The first letter, R, is for “Respect Others.” We have to answer with humility and gentleness.
The second letter, E, is for “Exemplify Christ.” We have to set a good example in our lifestyle so that we can be taken seriously by people and that they cannot point us out as hypocrites.
The third letter, A, is for “Ask Questions.” Often God can open doors, He can spark interest from other people when we take some time and we ask those people what they believe or how they are feeling. We can answer a question best when we actually understand what that person is asking.
The fourth letter, D, is for “Depend on the Bible.” We don’t answer people by pointing to a webpage that has our Church’s fundamental beliefs on it or telling them what Pastor So-And-So believes. What people need to hear is our personal experiences, backed up by an answer that they can find for themselves in the Bible.
The fifth letter, Y, is for “Yield to the Holy Spirit.” We have to pray to God and ask him to help us to take our selfish motivations out of our conversations and to let our speech be motivated by Him. He will supply us with the answers we need so that He can be glorified. We have to ask Him to use us as instruments for the Work that He is doing.
And I’d like you remind you again to think seriously about this question: What is the hope that is in you? What is your Christian hope? Have you thought about it? What is your core belief? What do you live your life for each and every day?
I hope that this short acrostic and this sermon can be a reminder of this important task that we have of being ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within us.