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Colossians 4:6 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.
On this New Testament scholar, Max Anders writes, “For the sharing of the message of Christ to be effective, the wise walk must be accompanied with flavorful talk. The believer’s talk is to be gracious, rather than gruff, and charming, rather than coarse. The believer’s talk is to be seasoned with salt. Salt was used for two purposes in Paul’s time. It was used as a preservative to keep food from spoiling. This would mean the believer’s speech is to be free from corruption, wholesome. Salt was also used as an additive to give flavor to food. If this meaning lies behind the figure, then the believer’s speech is to be interesting, witty, tactful, and appealing. Perhaps the best understanding of the reference to salt is that the believer’s speech is to be both wholesome and appealing. Paul wants believers to know how to answer everyone. He tells them to answer with speech which is gracious, wholesome, and appealing.” (Anders, Holman New Testament Commentary: vol. 8, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians 1999, p. 346)
Improving Our Answers at Church Bible Studies
As sharers and defenders of God’s Word, we need to cultivate our ability to give good answers continuously. Paul wrote that we should “know how [we] ought to answer each person.” Certainly, all of us can see the logic in our wanting to endeavor to develop our responses. We can only imagine the heartfelt appreciation that God Himself must feel when we offer a listener a good answer. On this wise King Solomon wrote, “A man has joy in an apt answer, and how delightful is a timely word!” – Proverbs 15:23.
Let us reflect on ourselves for a moment, ask those tough questions, which make us feel uncomfortable. How do we feel about our ability to answer Bible questions? Is our speech “gracious, wholesome, and appealing”? Do we prepare for Christian meetings, so that, we can offer better answers at the meetings? Do we see room for improvement in the answers that we give? Has there ever been a time when talking to a relative, a friend, or a stranger about God’s Word that, afterward, we felt that we could have handled that better? This author was engaged in a conversation with four people over 20 years ago, and I was beaten up so bad in that conversation, it caused me to offer the greatest prayer/crying session I had ever had when I got home that night. In short, I prayed that I was very sorry that I let God down that day, and if God could help me afford the books in the years to come, I would make sure this never happened again. It was that night that I became an apologist. Of course, I have been beaten up in conversations since, but when knocked down, I get back up off the mat and continue to fight earnestly for the faith. Therefore, it is true of all of us, we need to continue to grow in our abilities as a communicator, so let us consider what follows.
Giving Answers at Christian Meetings
In most conservative churches across America, all who attend their particular Bible study class know that there are always ones that are ready to give an answer in participation, while the vast majority seldom if ever participate. However, even those who are eager and willing to participate, rarely if at all prepared before the Bible study. We all know what material is going to be covered. We have the book that we are studying through; we have a Bible, and maybe we even have a Bible word dictionary and some other study tools in our home. However, do we ever sit down for an hour and read through the material paragraph by paragraph, looking all the Scriptures up, answering any questions that might be in the book, writing responses in the margins? Even if there are no questions in the book, can we see the important points that we would want to make? It does not matter if we have been going to church for six months on thirty years, we all can give good answers if we prepare beforehand. Wise King Solomon tells us,
Proverbs 15:28 Updated American Standard Version (UASV)
28 The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer,
but the mouth of the wicked pours out evil things.
Two benefits that come from answering at the Bible study meeting at our church is that we are sinking answers deeper into our long-term memory, and it enables us to improve our ability to give good answers when sharing or defending Bible truths. Being the first person to answer the night of the Bible study class can be a bit intimidating for some. However, just prepare well before the evening of the class. When the person reads the paragraph, listen well, thinking of the answer you have written in the margin of your book. When he asks the question, put your hand up and read your answer as clearly as possible. If your nerves are high, you will feel like you are outside of yourself, not even remembering what you said. However, in time you will be able to offer the answer extemporaneously, namely, doing it unrehearsed, that is, prepared in advance but delivered without notes. If someone has gotten a response that, you really wanted to give before you, do not lose heart, simply expand on the answer, refer to the Scripture in the paragraph supports the answer, or make a personal application to it.
While this author is certainly more long-winded than most when answering, and this is not the best approach. Long answers are not the best. Rather, short answers, say 30-60 seconds, are actually weightier and will stay with those listening a lot longer. You see, picking one aspect of the paragraph and making a good point about it is best, instead of rambling through all the points in the paragraph where nothing stands out, and the listeners are more lost than ever as to the appropriate answer. Also, answers that are I our own words are best. We can just reiterate or paraphrase what was within the paragraph, even expanding on it a little. When we put it in our own words, we are making the answer our own, and our way of wording things should be common to those in the church, making it easier to understand. This will help us to improve our ability at being a more effective communicator.
If we do not prepare before the Bible study class, we will be sitting there trying to prepare while someone is reading the paragraph and another is offering an answer to the question. We will not comprehend the totality of the paragraph, but will also miss what the other person was saying. We sometimes hear a person give almost the same identical answer as the previous person, and this is likely because they were not fully paying attention to the response that person gave. We need to build a habit of preparing for the meeting before, by reading the paragraph, looking up the Scriptures and writing answers in the margins. We can also use a highlighter to mark the book’s answer within the paragraph. Remember, when highlighting, do not highlight the whole paragraph, just a few keywords that focus in on the answer, bringing it back to mind. If the book does not have review questions at the end of the chapter, we can still highlight the key points that will help us participate better. We will be able to give spontaneous answers, namely answers that arise from natural impulse or inclination, rather than from planning or in response to prepared questions. This will make the discussion even livelier. It might be our goal at least to give one answer each Bible study meeting, to have something to build on, but we should not hold it at that for too long, or it will become a pattern. We need to feel able to comment freely.
If we are timid at the idea of answering, do not feel alone, as this is common and, in some cases, this stays with us on a small level our entire life. Maybe we have convinced ourselves that other offer better answers than we ever could, so we will just leave it up to them. However, the Bible exhorts us to share, saying, “let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering … and let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another.” (Heb. 10:23-25) When we participate in the Bible study, we are ‘stirring up one another to love and good works, which encourages them to participate as well. Moreover, there may be times that we come into the Bible study class beat up and worn down by life and after a time of interchange, we leave fully refreshed.
Bible studies classes are usually an atmosphere that is friendly and relaxed. Therefore, if there was an aspect of the study that we did not fully understand, it not being clear in our mind, it would be best to consider the responses to that point and ask some qualifying questions after the meeting of those that may be more qualified at offering a more in-depth, but easy to understand answer. If this is something that is troubling to us, like what the Bible actually says about hellfire. Is eternal torment biblical? Is Hellfire just? Such concerns can be like a burr under a saddle on a horse, over time, it can dig deeper and deeper into us, cause us emotional turmoil. Even after we have discussed it at length with the pastor or elder, we may want to investigate further on our own.
Answering Critics Objections
If we have had
- a personal Bible study every day (say 30 minutes),
- if we have prepared for all of our meetings
- (by reading, looking up Scriptures and highlighting main points, noting how Scriptures apply),
- if we have participated in our Bible study classes,
We will find that it is no longer difficult to answer questions of those who are sincerely interested a Biblical response. However, we cannot know everything so there will be times when the question will be one that we have not addressed before. In that case, we simply say, ‘you have raised an excellent point, let me do more research on this, and I will get back with you.’ If they actually wanted to know, they will give us this opportunity to investigate it.
While some have questions, others have objections. How are we to deal with complaints? We would not just jump into the answer, as it would be prudent to find out how this objection came about; asking them ‘what gave rise to this concern?’ For example, a person may misunderstand why God has allowed wickedness, pain, suffering, old age and death for a time. This is because he is confused by those who say everything that has happened and is to happen is how God willed it to be, meaning that free will is not really a reality, and the wicked act of a terrorist cutting the heads off of little children publicly is a part of God’s will. This is very unbiblical, and we should empathize with why he is upset and has built up objections. Many objections are the result of a lack of understanding, an unbiblical viewpoint. It is best if we clarify what he has heard, how he understands what he has heard, and then go about rightly explaining what the Bible actually says on the matter.
Another approach is to prevent objections from putting us at odds with each other, as though we were opponents. We can evidence that his objection is of mutual interest. In other words, when we hear an objection, we should not be put off by it, but rather express it as a point the other should be concerned about. For instance, we could say, ‘it is good that you brought up wickedness and suffering, it is something that should concern all of us, and we should expect a reasoned answer to such an important issue.’ By such an approach, this one may gain a measure of trust and respect for us, opening his mind, where it was closed before, hoping for answers from the Bible.
There will come a time when we are sharing Bible truths with more than one person at a time. At times, the others may not want their friend or family to take an interest in God or what they perceive to be some outdated book that was written by men, so they begin to interrupt. We should not always back away because the newly interested one may perceive his friend or family is correct. If the antagonist raises an objection, he is the one who is really obligated to offer evidence for his remarks so that we can shift the burden of proof back onto the objector. Jesus Christ himself used counter-questions to quiet opposers who tried to hinder with his preaching. Jesus’ counter-questions were so effective that Matthew tells us, “And no one was able to answer him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask him any more questions.” (Matt. 22:41-46) Therefore, keep in mind that the burden of proof is on the one who is raising the objection, not us. For example, if someone, in a tone that implies disdain, says, “the Bible is a man’s book and is full of contradictions and errors.” We might respond, “I believe the Bible is written by men, who were inspired by God, moved along by Holy Spirit and the Bible is fully inerrant. Will you please give me a few examples of errors and contradictions in the Bible?” Now, we have placed the burden of proof back on the objector.
The best tool for sharing what the Bible says is the Bible itself. Paul writes, “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” (Heb. 4:12) God’s word is far more persuasive than we ever could be. Also, when responding to the objection, we need to remain calm and be respectful of other to their beliefs, regardless of whether the objector has a bad attitude or not. Many times, a good answer will turn away his anger or frustration.
After we have had much success in preparing for our Christian meetings and participating in the Bible study class, we will find numerous opportunities to defend and share biblical truths. At work, we may stand out because we do not involve ourselves in their degrading talk, nor do we take smoke breaks, or extra time for breaks and lunch, so they may be curious about why. At school, the same holds true, as students and teachers do not see us as aloof, but rather as being no part of their worldly behaviors. Our neighbors may notice that we never miss our Christian meetings so they may wonder why such dedication. These are all opportunities to share our faith with others. We can return to the words of Peter from our previous chapter, “but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect.”
Someone just said to you, “You Christians claim that Christianity is the only true religion, I find that arrogant when there so many major religions. Why can they not all simply be different roads leading to the same place?” How would you persuade him that it is not arrogant and that all religions are not different roads leading to the same place? In fact, how would you persuade him that not all Christian denominations are leading to the same place?
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