Let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul FROM DEATH and will cover a multitude of sins. (Ja. 5:20)
In the Bible, we can see that Jesus on rare occasions used some harsh words for people opposing him, but just about always in relation to Pharisees – religious leaders who viewed themselves as authoritative teachers who set the rules for salvation, and who generally opposed Jesus greatly up to the point of wanting to kill him. Such dangerous self-professed teachers (and hypocritical sinners) probably deserved to be rebuked by Jesus Christ who is God in flesh. Jesus said about them:
Matt. 23:13 For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in. (NKJV)
Dangerous indeed! No wonder why Jesus during a dinner (or two dinners) with Pharisees present, took the chance to explain why they were in deep error and even rebuked them. He made sure to explain why he was against their teachings, by giving examples. If people do not understand why they are being rebuked and given a chance to know exactly how to improve, then a rebuke would be a waste of time. If we truly love people and want them to let go of false teachings, we should also explain where exactly they are in error – just like Jesus.
There are Christians who use such rare occasions (when Jesus used called the Pharisees names) as evidence for that they too can call people derogatory names left and right, as soon as people do not agree with them. The problem is that Christians do not always choose the right occasions the way Jesus did. Just because Jesus a few times described the Pharisees with derogatory names, it is still no free ticket for us to insult people left and right even if they are mistaken about certain doctrines. If the idea is to persuade others about our position, demeaning insults will only push people away, and what will that accomplish?
Jesus did not use derogatory names when he spoke sinners such as the Samaritan woman at the well (John 4:9), the woman about to get stoned (John 8:11), the woman who anointed his feet (Luke 7:37-38), etc. They were all sinners, but it is possible to make people understand the danger of their sin through conversations without calling them names. Sometimes Christians who are given the advice to avoid spreading insults, patronizing remarks and derogatory names, misunderstand the advice to mean “Do not expose false teachings, but rather try to make people feel comfortable in their sin”. That is hardly the same thing. Again, it is possible to expose false teachings and get the message across without spreading insults (which only risk the other person to leave). If the idea is to make people stay and listen, often a more pleasant attitude is more helpful. Once in a while we might meet people who deserve a tougher treatment due to their aggressive ways, but it would be preferable if we made sure to not go down to their level.
Sometimes even sarcasm has a proper place in a conversation, but this too depends on the situation.
1 Kings 18:27 And so it was, at noon, that Elijah mocked them and said, “Cry aloud, for he is a god; either he is meditating, or he is busy, or he is on a journey, or perhaps he is sleeping and must be awakened.” (NKJV)
Which were Jesus rude remarks?
- About Herod: “Go ye, and tell that fox” (Luke 13:32)
- To Pharisees: “O generation of vipers” (Matt. 12:34)
- To Pharisees: “Ye are of your father the devil” (John 8:44)
- To the scribes and the Pharisees – Matthew’s version: “—woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!—Ye fools and blind—ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness—within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity—Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers” (Matt. 23:13-33)
- To the scribes, Pharisees and lawyers – Luke’s version: “Ye fools—hypocrites! for ye are as graves which appear not” (Luke 11:40-46).
- To Peter (or actually Satan): “Get thee behind me, Satan” (Matt. 16:23, Mark 8:33, Luke 4:8)
John the Baptiste:
- To Pharisees and Sadducees: “O generation of vipers” (Matt 3:7 and Luke 3:7)
- To Pharisees: “Ye stiffnecked” (Acts 7:51)
- A general agreement about the Cretans: “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, the Cretians are alway liars, evil beasts, slow bellies. This witness is true”
If insulting names are used when spoken about large groups of people (like an entire generation or a “people”), the remarks tend to not appear as strong. Within large groups of people there might be exceptions, but the general remark is still true. Jesus naturally expressed strong words about false prophets and sinners without naming anyone.
- To all faithless: “O faithless and perverse generation” (Matt. 17:17).
- To his disciples: “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken” (Luke 24:25).
In another conversation with a Pharisee named Simon, Jesus did no say ”woe to you pharisee” but gently explained what was wrong with Simon’s views. He corrected him in love without using name callings, but also without compromising with the truth. (Luke 36-47).
On March Hill, Paul could have rebuked all those people who believed in false gods, but he used a smarter approach. He managed to get their attention without humiliating them, but still explained to them why they were off the mark and what they should do to be right with God. In this way he did not stir up anger and resentment but made people stay and listen. This approach does not mean that Paul compromised with the truth, nor was he watering down the gospel.
Paul did not start out screaming to the idolaters in front of him “Listen up you filthy sinners! You’re all heretics going to hell, you morons! DO you REALLY believe you will get eternal life when you’re nothing but WICKED, WICKED, WICKED?! LOL LOL LOL! No, you’re going to HELL, do you hear me? You all deserve it!!”, etc. None of that would necessarily be false information, but the point is of course that there are smarter ways to provide the information. Paul started out saying:
Acts 17:23 For as I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you.
What a clever way to steer the speech straight to the gospel of God by making a comparison with those inscriptions! Paul also said “Ye men of Athens, I perceive that in all things ye are too superstitious! From then on he laid out his message with the hope that as many as possible would stay and listen. If he would derogatory terms, I suspect people would get angry, stop listening and shout names back at him. That would be a total waste of time, and they would be busy fighting with each other and with Paul rather than letting him share the gospel. Who would this benefit?
GENTLENESS and MEEK CORRECTIONS IN LOVE
Examples from the Bible.
Matthew 18:15Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother. 16But if he will not hear thee, then take with thee one or two more, that in the mouth of two or three witnesses every word may be established. 17And if he shall neglect to hear them, tell it unto the church: but if he neglect to hear the church, let him be unto thee as an heathen man and a publican.
2 Tim 2:23 But foolish and unlearned questions avoid, knowing that they do gender strifes. 24And the servant of the Lord must not strive; but be gentle unto all men, apt to teach, patient,25IN MEEKNESS instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth; 26And that they may recover themselves out of the snare of the devil, who are taken captive by him at his will.
2 Thess. 3:14 And if any man obey not our word by this epistle, note that man, and have no company with him, that he may be ashamed.15 YET COUNT HIM NOT AS AN ENEMY, but admonish him AS A BROTHER.
Colossians 3:12Put on therefore, as the elect of God, holy and beloved, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, longsuffering; 13Forbearing one another, and forgiving one another, if any man have a quarrel against any: even as Christ forgave you, so also do ye. 14And above all these things put on charity, which is the bond of perfectness. 15And let the peace of God rule in your hearts, to the which also ye are called in one body; and be ye thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord.
1 Peter 3:15 But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear
Titus 3:2 To speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers, but gentle, shewing all meekness unto all men.
James 4:11 Speak not evil one of another, brethren. He that speaketh evil of his brother, and judgeth his brother, speaketh evil of the law, and judgeth the law: but if thou judge the law, thou art not a doer of the law, but a judge.
James 3:13 Who is a wise man and endued with knowledge among you? let him shew out of a good conversation his works with meekness of wisdom.—16For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work. 17But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, and easy to be intreated, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. 18And the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace of them that make peace.
Galatians 6:1 Brethren, if a man be overtaken in a fault, ye which are spiritual, restore such an one in the spirit of meekness; considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted.
Ephesians 4:29 Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers.—31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice:32 And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.
Proverbs 15:1 A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger.
Paul’s patiently discussed with people and persuaded them to believe the true gospel
It is seldom enough to persuade people to give up their false theological views by just 10 minutes worth of conversations. Not even a conversation of one or two hours might be enough, but their resistance might not be due to a rebellion from their part but rather due to having been exposed with twisted ideas for a very long time. They likely feel that they are the ones defending the true gospel from being attacked by someone like you. Instead of losing patience and dishing out insults at this point, it is better to reason with them and provide scripture for the truth.
In other situations it might be better to shake off the dust from our feet and walk away – if the person we are talking with clearly does not want to listen, constantly interrupts, attacks you, etc. We are not supposed to throw pearls to swine if there are other people who are more open for the gospel.
Paul patiently reasoned with people, even if they did not get persuaded after 10 minutes. He could be reasoning for days, as long as he at least had some attention regarding what he was saying.
Acts 17:2 And Paul, as his manner was, went in unto them, and three sabbath days reasoned with them out of the scriptures,3 Opening and alleging, that Christ must needs have suffered, and risen again from the dead; and that this Jesus, whom I preach unto you, is Christ.4 And some of them believed, and consorted with Paul and Silas; and of the devout Greeks a great multitude, and of the chief women not a few.
Acts 17:16Now while Paul waited for them at Athens, his spirit was stirred in him, when he saw the city wholly given to idolatry. 17Therefore disputed he in the synagogue with the Jews, and with the devout persons, and in the market daily with them that met with him.
Acts 19:8And he went into the synagogue, and spake boldly for the space of three months, disputing and persuading the things concerning the kingdom of God. 9But when divers were hardened, and believed not, but spake evil of that way before the multitude, he departed from them, and separated the disciples, disputing daily in the school of one Tyrannus. 10And this continued by the space of two years; so that all they which dwelt in Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.
Acts. 20:.29 For I know this, that after my departing shall grievous wolves enter in among you, not sparing the flock.30 Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.31 Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one night and day with tears.
Acts. 28:23 And when they had appointed him a day, there came many to him into his lodging; to whom he expounded and testified the kingdom of God, persuading them concerning Jesus, both out of the law of Moses, and out of the prophets, from morning till evening. 24 And some believed the things which were spoken, and some believed not.