“Don’t waste your sales pitch on the receptionist!” That was one of the first pieces of advice I got from a seasoned pro as he was coaching me for my new position in outside sales. Simple, right? Think about it…. how much time do we spend saying the right things to the wrong people? I spent some painful early days in that job beating my drum for people who weren’t in a position to buy my drum before I came to two conclusions…. it’s important to figure out who you are talking to before you share what you’re talking about, and I am not much of a drummer (ergo the brevity of my stint in outside sales). It really is the ultimate communications stumbling block, and it bleeds into much more than our professional encounters. Simply assuming that what we have to say belongs to whomever we say it is a grave miscalculation, and in spiritual matters can literally set fire to bridges we intended to cross. Here’s the thing – not only can we fumble an opportunity to share our faith by getting this one wrong, we can also unwittingly find ourselves working against our corporate interests in the process.
Believers have two basic responsibilities – witness for Christ and make disciples. These two are not disconnected, but they are NOT the same thing! Herein is born the communication difficulty. As in any attempt to discern the meaning of scripture (the pointy heads call it ‘exegesis’), context is everything – and the easiest thing to overlook – if you’re not in it. When Christ forcefully confronted those who came to challenge Him on religious grounds, He called them a ‘generation of vipers’ (Matthew 12:34). See, I told you! We ought to be calling out the world with that same kind of vituperation – that’s what ‘real’ preaching is, after all, and that’s what’s wrong with the Church today! Right?! Oh, wait a minute – He wasn’t talking to the ‘world’ when he issued that stinging rebuke! He was dealing with a bunch of religious posers who had only one agenda – to hinder Christ’s message to those who were otherwise open to receive it. In fact, the only people Christ was ever abrasive, confrontational, or abrupt with were people of that ilk. Compare that conversation to the Sermon on the Mount. The audience was a mixed horde of common folk, religious zealots, the curious, and the pious. His message was clear, affirming, hopeful, direct, and easily accessible to even the least of those present. What was memorable about it, apart from it being an oratorical masterpiece, was the reaction of the crowd.
And it came to pass, when Jesus had ended these sayings, the people were astonished at his doctrine: For he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Matthew 7:28, 29
Notice that ‘the people’ responded favorably. It was the ultimate ‘feel-good’ sermon, not because the content was dumbed down to affirm the guttural impulses of the unredeemed (on the contrary, it powerfully reaffirmed God’s call to righteousness), but because He spoke with authoritative compassion, not legalistic accusation. In another setting, those that had gone to compel His appearance before the temple authorities returned empty handed with the declaration that ‘never a man spake like this man’ (John 7:46), much to their frustration. We have been empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit to communicate in the same authority. That’s the underlying meaning of doing things ‘in the name of Jesus’ – not rote repetition of the verbiage, but operating under His anointing and direction. The sons of Sceva (Acts 19) taught us the lesson that there’s no ‘magic’ in the name apart from the anointing, and yet we still find well-intentioned but unsent people standing before their metaphorical closed cave blurting the Christianized equivalent of ‘abracadabra’. God has not called us to bully the lost, but to witness to them – tell them the story of Jesus. It’s an absolute certainty that if you pick a fight with Satan apart from the Lord’s leading, two things will happen – you’ll get one, and your opportunity to witness to those caught up in it will be compromised. Genuine overcomers don’t have to ‘punch down’ to opponents that have already been defeated, and victorious believers don’t have to take the bait of Satan every time he burps a threat.
Imagine with me if you will…. imagine if the church were busy talking about the Book, the Blood, and the Blessed Hope instead of sex, money, and power all the time. The enemy has done a pretty good job of defining the terms of the struggle, effectively turning many pulpits into podiums for punditry. Imagine if, instead of condemning people for their particular brand of sin, the Body of Christ offered those in bondage to sin hope instead of rejection. That in no way implies to leave sin out of the conversation, but sin is not the POINT of the conversation – salvation is! For some reason, people love John 3:16 so much that they tend to forget John 3:17, yet without understanding 17, you can’t really understand 16.
“16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” John 3:16, 17
It is a vulgar misappropriation of the gift of God to attempt to use it to ‘fix’ the world apart from calling them to deliverance from it. Like the receptionist who patiently hears the sales pitch only to defer to the boss, the world will only be redeemed by the Savior himself (through Him), not by messengers with delusions of grandeur spewing their frustrations in place of the anointed Word. Even the mailman knows to only deliver a letter to it’s addressee, but we seem to miss that point in the Kingdom these days. The bottom line…. “be wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16) — we could sure use a refresher on that ‘harmless’ part.