I had an odd experience the other day: I was driving home listening to myself on the radio (something I rarely do), and I was speaking on the subject of “false teachers” from 2 Peter 2. As I listened, I found myself getting uncomfortable, not with what I said but with the way I said it. My tone of voice was off-putting to me. As I thought more about it, I realized how much I’ve changed over the years; that particular study was recorded about eleven years ago. Now just for clarification, I haven’t changed at all regarding what I believe, and the content of what I said back then I stand by today. Where I’ve changed is in my attitude and the way I express myself when addressing topics or persons with whom I disagree.
Let me tell you about another interesting experience I recently had. Every week I have several counseling appointments, and my secretary, being the faithful secretary she is, sends me a schedule on Monday of all the people that will be coming to see me throughout the week. A while back, as I was looking over my schedule, I noticed the name of a person that I was less than enthusiastic about meeting with. This person was a church leader who had to step down from the ministry because of moral failure, and I was struggling with just how to act when I met him. Should I be cold and distant or should I be warm and welcoming? I realized my dilemma was due to my not wanting to appear to take his sin too lightly, but at the same time not wanting to be condemning. As I prayed about the whole matter, the Lord spoke to me so clearly, “You don’t have to be mad at him for Me.” That moment changed everything: my sense of anxiety left me, and I was able to warmly welcome him, sit and patiently listen, and offer words of encouragement. I felt completely free to love this person in Christ and leave it to the Lord to sort out all the details and issues that remained in his life.
In both of these cases, the same lesson was working itself out: Our job is to speak the Word faithfully and to do so in love, not anger. It’s God’s place to convince people of the sinfulness of their sin and to bring them to repentance. The reason I was put off by listening to myself was that I sounded angry, and I know from personal experience that anger repels while love attracts. I believe this has been a part of our problem as Christians in communicating the Gospel, which is supposed to be good news—oftentimes it doesn’t come across as good news because we come across as angry. Good news must be expressed in the right tone, and the right tone is a loving one.
Not too long ago I heard an interview with a guy who had written a book on the attitudes of younger evangelicals. The interviewer suggested that the younger generation of evangelicals were more liberal than their parents and more tolerant of sin. The author had a great response: Research shows that younger evangelicals are just as committed to sound biblical doctrine as their parent’s generation, and by and large, they still believe that what the Bible calls sin is sin. The difference, he said, is they are not angry about it. I think that’s a real key for us as Christians living in a largely post-Christian culture. We do not want to come off as angry.
There are enough angry people in this world; we of all people should have a completely different demeanor. We are to be a people whose tone of voice exemplifies love, mercy, and grace.