Looking out across the front lawn strewn with pine needles, I am taken back to simpler times. When I was a little girl attending a small country school, we built houses of pine needles and used tree stumps for our stage. We sang, “You Ain’t Nothing but a Hound Dog” from our “tree stump” stage and danced the twist. Even when we used the stump for a “soap box” from which to voice our opinions, we were still pretty harmless.
Sadly, our “soap box” today can hurt our witness. Have you even made some “pious” statement and then heard the conversation wilt as though a breath of frigid air had entered the room? Have you ever made a harsh, arrogant statement in the name of God and immediately realized that it belittled those who were listening? Such tactless witnessing, of which we probably have all been guilty, brings glory not to God, but to ourselves.
Being a tactful witness for Christ does not mean being “wishy-washy.” Rather, such tactfulness could be spoken of in Biblical terms as a spirit of meekness; it serves to exhort the listener and glorify Christ, rather than exalt the messenger. Paul teaches, “And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient, in meekness instructing those that opposed themselves” (II Timothy 2).
Furthermore, the message is Jesus Christ rather than ourselves. Pious statements often make people scrutinize our actions, trying to catch us in a mistake: “Did you hear what old so-and-so said the other day, and he thinks he is so holy?” When we focus on our righteousness and not the righteousness of Christ, we end up talking about “filthy rags,” according to the scripture. Actually, we cannot witness to anyone; rather, we can be instruments through which Christ can minister.
Our arrogant statements engender anger, not repentance, and our pious statements take the focus off Christ. The gospel speaks for itself; we do not need to add judgmental commentary to make it effective. In I Corinthians 13, Paul admonishes us that we can do all things, including giving all our goods to feed the poor and offering our bodies to be burned, but if we do not do these things in a spirit of love, they are meaningless. Likewise, if we do not witness in love, preferring our brother above ourselves, we accomplish nothing.
Sometimes we mix an antibiotic in a lotion, not to increase its ability to heal, but to make it easier to administer. Likewise, the undiluted gospel, which can save the most wretched sinner and convict the wayward backslider, must be administered in meekness and love in the power of the Holy Spirit. An arrogant or pious witness can be more of an abrasive than a lotion and actually turn people away from the message of Christ. The gospel should not be a breath of frigid air, but a warm, drawing light: “Come unto me, all you that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matt. 11:28).