Whenever we consider the area of apologetics, or giving a defense of the faith, it is vital that we also think about why we undertake this task. For some, it is very difficult for them to be involved in this particular endeavor that often opens the door for confrontation. You are engaging unbelievers with the hope of Christ, seeking to both defend the faith and proclaim the truth. That labor necessitates you will ultimately incur disagreement even if the differences are handled civilly. For some, their personality is such that any conversation of this nature produces tremendous discomfort. On the other end of the spectrum, you have many individuals who thrive on conflict. These are the folks who love to get yelled at simply so they can scream back even louder. If you throw them into the proverbial ideological fray, they are thrilled to death to jump right in and punch as hard as they possibly can then ask questions later as to who and what they actually hit.
Whether you lie on either end of the spectrum, or somewhere in the middle, we must be anchored by biblical motivations for defending the faith. Our goal is to not fall back on mere personality traits, but rather, to move towards obedience in what the Lord has commanded of us. If it were true that we should avoid confrontation at all costs, then that concept has a vast impact for our engagement with unbelievers. At the same time, if we as Christians were called to love conflict, then that also has bearing on how we engage with those who oppose the Christian faith. What then is the biblical approach? How should we be motivated when seeking to engage in the work of giving a defense for the hope that lies within us?
The Pitfall of Conflict Avoidance
First, let’s direct our attention to the error of those who would have us avoid conflict at all costs. Just get along they say, just move forward without stirring up the waters. The issue here is that the core foundations of Christianity are offensive. Christ Himself said, “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division (Luke 12:51).” We see this same point regarding the offensiveness of the message of Christ to the lost world made by Paul when he says, “For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God (1 Corinthians 1:18).” Sinners find the preaching of the cross offensive, unless by God’s power they are converted and given eyes to behold its beauty and power. It is impossible to speak the Christian message and avoid the offense of the cross.
Based upon these realities, we can see the truth that one is not going to be able to avoid conflict and live a faithful Christian life. Therefore, the notion that we should avoid conflict at all costs is not a proper motivation based upon Scripture. If we are going to fulfill the Great Commission by discipling the nations, that necessitates we teach them all of Christ’s commands (Matthew 28:18-20). Since even the foundational teaching of the cross is counted as foolishness by the world, then we can expect to receive confrontation simply for preaching the truth. In reality, those who seek to avoid any and all sort of confrontation need to remember the basic message of the Gospel is offensive. They need to trust in God, fear Him, and not live in fear of man. To love our fellow man, we must lay our discomfort down and share the Gospel of eternal salvation from God’s wrath with them. But now, we must go to the other end of the spectrum to address Mr. Conflict Lover and his motivations.
The Painful Mistake of Hobby Fighting
Perhaps there has not been any greater warrior for the sake of Christ than the Apostle Paul. He was constantly proclaiming the truth, laboring for the truth, living according to the truth, and refuting error with the truth! When dealing with the grave errors of the Corinthian church, he wrote:
“I beg of you that when I am present I may not have to show boldness with such confidence as I count on showing against some who suspect us of walking according to the flesh.” -2 Corinthians 10:2
Paul wanted the Corinthian believers to repent so that he did not have to show the same boldness toward them that he would toward those who stirred up the entire mess. Primarily, for our purposes today, this text teaches us a valuable lesson. When duty dictated Paul needed to fight, he would jump in and do so with courage. However, he was not going around with any sort of a sinful love of conflict. He hoped that the church would repent so that he would not have to be engaged in this type of war. Yet, if need be, he would jump into the fray for the glory of Christ.
So, the problem with our individual who enjoys apologetics simply because he likes intellectual fighting is that he runs contrary to the example of Paul who explicitly had the desire that the Corinthians would repent so he did not have to be so bold towards them. It would be correct that Paul did go around seeking to labor boldly for the sake of God’s glory and the good of others. My point is that he did not simply fight for the sake of fighting. That my friends is the pivotal distinction. So, since we have corrected these two common errors, what is the actual motivation for apologetics?
In 2 Timothy 2:25-26, Paul gives valuable insight to young Timothy regarding how he should respond to those who oppose the Gospel. He says the servant of the Lord must be involved in “correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will (2 Timothy 2:25-26).” The motivation for Timothy correcting those who are opposing the truth is so that God might grant them repentance leading them to salvation. That, brothers and sisters, is the “why” we need to understand while defending the faith. We must do so because the Lamb who was slain is worthy of all praise and honor from people over every tongue, tribe, and nation. Our hearts must be set ablaze so that people would be saved for the renown of King Jesus. It is a passion for Christ’s name and a love for others which leads us to refute error and defend the faith against those false views which oppose it.
Here we see the purity of biblical motivations. You see, the two common errors we addressed in this post, one being the avoidance of confrontation and the other a love of fighting, both stem from the same root. In each of these false views, the core issue is selfishness. The person wanting to avoid conflict is doing so because it “makes me feel uncomfortable.” On the other hand, the individual wanting to defend the faith simply because they want an intellectual fight does so because “they enjoy it and it makes them feel good.” In either instance, the main emphasis is placed on “me” or “I” and not upon Christ. The biblical motivation causes us to take our eyes off ourselves, put them on Jesus, and see the beauty of the truth He has called us to proclaim for His glory and the good of others. So, when we think about defending the faith, let us be biblical not only in terms of our methods and message, but also down to the core of our motivations!