Letting out a big sigh, I berated myself silently. I had committed to writing a Bible study focusing on the women in Jesus’ family line for a group at church. The idea seemed brilliant until I started digging into the lives of the characters. Some of the stories involving them were inspiring, but many were disconcerting or downright unsavory.
Weighing my options, I considered leaving out one or two names on the list that seemed too difficult to tackle. But after consulting with my Bible study’s coordinator and mulling things over a bit more, I decided to push through and see what God had in store. Their lives were messy and complicated but they were all in the lineage of Jesus for a reason.
Further exacerbating the situation, I’d planned on using the lessons I was writing to lead another group of women who were newer to Bible study. I had no idea how I would explain some of the stories we were going to unpack. Still, I knew that leaving out the ugly parts and trying to present more sanitized versions would be inauthentic and dishonest. It would also limit opportunities to grapple with hard topics.
As it turned out, some of the “colorful” characters I dreaded discussing turned out to be the ones that inspired me most. Throughout the months of studying with those two different groups of women, I learned the beauty of wrestling with others through hard questions that didn’t have easy answers. And while we didn’t tie a neat bow on every discussion, we all learned and grew by not avoiding some of those stickier topics.
Melissa Moore puts it this way, “When we are not ashamed of the gospel, we have the freedom to ask good questions and listen to other people well. We are faithful to the tradition we’ve received but the bottom line is not protecting our big egos. We keep reading Scripture carefully, proving ourselves to be ones who carefully handle the word of truth (2:15), and we are not threatened by any worldview or perspective. We do not have to let go of our Christian convictions to actually hear somebody out. We are unashamed in our message; we proclaim it, persist in it, whether it is convenient or not (2 Time 4:2), and we do this with kindness and patience. Generous listening is a revolutionary act of kindness in a world of screaming and competing voices.” (Entrusted p. 153)
For me, the key to discussing hard topics in Scripture is deciding not to feel personally threatened by people whose views differ from mine. To be honest, I am not a person that enjoys a lively debate or sparring with words. In fact, I have a deep aversion to tension and conflict in relationships. But, I have learned the value in listening respectfully and offering a counter perspective. I’ve discovered the freedom in admitting I don’t have all the answers. And each time I have a challenging conversation with someone who asks hard questions, my faith grows exponentially. When I research to find more information about a thorny topic, my knowledge also grows. Sometimes I even get to circle back with the person who asked me about it to shed more light on the issue.
Paul admonishes Timothy saying, “Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction… keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry. (2 Timothy 4:2 & 5, NIV)
Two phrases stand out in Paul’s list of instructions, the first is “with great patience” and the second is “keep your head.” When we’re talking about our faith with believers who differ from us or nonbelievers who lack understanding, these are important components to keep in mind.
Demonstrating great patience usually requires praying for the intervention of the Holy Spirit. If we get offended by someone’s differing viewpoint or irritated by their lack of understanding, we can’t keep a healthy dialogue going. And when we have the patience to see that a hard topic may require more than one conversation, it helps us to relax and not push so hard to overload someone with our opinions.
Paul also says, “keep your head,” reminding us not to takes things personally. When you’re having a hard conversation about spiritual matters, emotions intensify. If you start to feel your face flush or your jaw clench, pause and pray to keep your head. Losing your temper or getting defensive is not going to take a conversation about your faith in the right direction. If needed, put an end to the discussion before you lash out or say something hurtful. Your goal should be to finish on a positive note so that you still have an opening to talk more later.
There’s no doubt we’re living in tumultuous times where the Christian worldview is taking a beating. But if we shy away from opportunities to share the gospel, we’re not fulfilling our call to further God’s kingdom on earth. How can we lament the negative things we see in the world if we’re too fearful to impact others with the truth of God’s Word?
If you’re feeling weary and discouraged living in a culture that doesn’t put up with sound doctrine as Paul describes in 2 Timothy 4:3, take heart and be encouraged by Rend Collective’s song “More Than Conquerors” included below.
And if you’re interested in learning more about the Bible study I wrote on the women in Jesus’ lineage or want to order a copy, click on the link below.
Click here for more information on Women of the Word: The Family Tree of Jesus.
Beth Moore, Entrusted: A Study of 2 Timothy, Lifeway Press 2016.