By Rob Tims
Reading through the Gospels, I’ve noticed that those most hostile to Jesus were those who were most informed about the faith. And because they were experienced and intelligent about the faith, they often asked Jesus poignant questions in an attempt to defraud or discredit him.
I think the same thing is happening more frequently today. Quick and easy access to information (be it reasonably objective or highly subjective) allows an unbeliever to become confidently informed about Jesus and Christianity, and to use this information to question believers.
But believers need not be intimidated, for we can learn from Jesus about how to read and respond to those hostile to him and the faith.
Consider Mark 11:27-33.
27 They came again to Jerusalem. As He was walking in the temple complex, the chief priests, the scribes, and the elders came 28 and asked Him, “By what authority are You doing these things? Who gave You this authority to do these things?”
29 Jesus said to them, “I will ask you one question; then answer Me, and I will tell you by what authority I am doing these things. 30 Was John’s baptism from heaven or from men? Answer Me.”
31 They began to argue among themselves: “If we say, ‘From heaven,’ He will say, ‘Then why didn’t you believe him?’ 32 But if we say, ‘From men’ ”—they were afraid of the crowd, because everyone thought that John was a genuine prophet. 33 So they answered Jesus, “We don’t know.”
And Jesus said to them, “Neither will I tell you by what authority I do these things.”
The religious leaders asked legitimate questions of Jesus. Jesus didn’t hold a rabbinical degree, yet he preached confidently, accepted the praise of the people, and even projected his authority into temple practices. Indeed: who gave him the authority to do these things?
Jesus could have said, “On my own authority.” True, but cocky. He could have named some rabbi or other source of authority, but that would have been a lie. What answer could Jesus have given these hostiles that preserved the truth yet protected him from their wrath?
Jesus wisely responded to their questions with a question of his own … a very wise and savvy response that paralyzed the religious leaders and left them speechless and without answers to their own question.
I think there is one big takeaway for Christians who find themselves on the defensive with hostile unbelievers: Discern the motives of those questioning you. Are they lost and broken, asking questions because they are looking for life-changing answers? Or are their minds already made up, and they are simply asking questions because they love to argue so that they can destroy your faith or those listening? The former deserves a forthright answer; the latter does not.
When you love Jesus, it can be tempting to enter into an argument with a hostile. But Jesus wasn’t foolish enough to do that, and neither should we be. Let’s not be naïve about the motives of those hostile to the faith. Give a forthright answer when it’s called for, but don’t take the bait otherwise.
Rob Tims is husband to Holly and father to Trey, Jono, Abby Jane and Luke. He’s the author of Southern Fried Faith: Confusing Christ and Culture in the Bible Belt, and manages the team behind smallgroup.com at LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville. He writes regularly at RobTims.com and blogs every Friday at Forward Progress.