I can be argumentative. Seriously. I am often more inclined to fight for a point to be understood than I am to encourage my friends. Not because I like being right – at least I hope not – I simply hate the thought of people being wrong or misinformed. It genuinely irritates me when someone isn’t everything I know they can be and they aren’t trying to reach their full potential. I believe we can be better.
Of course, it’s come to my attention that I’m not always the best I can be when trying to communicate this. I’ve been told that I have a tendency to make people feel inadequate and even slightly fearful because I am so easily irritated by others and their thoughts/ideas.
Oops. I definitely didn’t start writing this saying “All right, how do I make myself seem like the most thoroughly unlikeable person on the planet?” I’m simply expounding one of my flaws, which, just as the Greek tragedies of old, comes from a good place.
The phrase that stuck
However, something a good pastor once told me was ‘Win people, not arguments.’ This phrasing has stuck with me. It has echoed in my head from the tiniest whisper to an unbearable scream. At first, I didn’t fully comprehend the significance of it, indeed I’m not certain I still do; however, I have now grasped the truth of it.
When he brought up this phrase, the pastor was discussing Paul and the arguments he had with the men of Athens.
“So Paul, standing before the council, addressed them as follows: ‘men of Athens, I notice that you are very religious in every way, for as I was walking along I saw your many shrines. And one of your altars had this inscription on it: ‘To an unknown God’ This God, whom you worship without knowing, is the one I’m telling you about.” (Acts Chapter 17 verses 22-23, NLT).
Paul went on to explain how God has given grace to all and all can follow Him. The part I want to focus on, however, is the start.
Paul didn’t approach the religious leaders saying things like “You bunch of fools!” or “I am blown away by your ignorance”. He approached by complimenting them; he saw that they were displaying what approached good qualities – the desire to worship – and commended them on this.
To understand why exactly Paul started this way one could try imagining what would have happened if he had approached in our other exemplary ways.
Well first, imagine you’re trying to get a group of people to laugh. That’s not wrong, right? You’re helping people to feel better and experience joy. Only, a few of your jokes are somewhat mean spirited.
Someone notices this and says, in front of all your friends, “You need to stop telling jokes because they’re not funny.” A few things might happen, defences might shoot up, hurt might appear inside you, and you could feel very alienated for what you feel to be a good thing.
Now imagine that same scenario, but instead of someone piping up like that and humiliating you, even though your jokes are mean-spirited unintentionally, they take you aside later. When they’ve taken you aside, they say “Hey listen, I can see you really want to make people laugh and try your best to give people joy. I’m just curious if you know that X came across a bit mean-spirited”.
Boom. Suddenly, you’ve got a discussion where, if you’re honest with yourself, things can actually change, and people aren’t hurt. The person being talked with doesn’t automatically engage their defences and are willing to listen to what is being said, all because their intent has been recognised and commended.
This is precisely what Paul did when speaking to the Athenian leaders. He praised them on their good intent and didn’t humiliate them.
This is how he won people.
What could happen if we operated like this in our lives, too? If we strived to win people over as friends, who as a result are more willing and comfortable to talk with us, instead of simply trying to win arguments.
I’m not saying that argument doesn’t have its merits, I still believe everyone should keep themselves as informed as they possibly can, I’m simply suggesting a different way to operate. A way which, as far as I can tell, keeps people more willing to hear/feel the Kingdom of God.
So, friends, I will end with an encouragement. Keep following Christ as you are the conduits that will bring heaven to Earth and Earth to heaven. When the individual changes, the ten people around them do. Then the next one hundred. Then the next thousand.
We won’t win people through striving to get up on a stage and preach the most correct ethics and morality, we will win people to God’s heart by our relationships. Always be equipping yourself to do this better and love Christ first and foremost.
Josiah Gray lives in Logan City, Australia. He is currently studying teaching at Christian Heritage College and is committed to telling the story of Jesus to the next generation.
Josiah’s previous articles can be found at https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/josiah-gray.html
Josiah Gray lives in Logan City, Australia. He is currently studying teaching at Christian Heritage College and is committed to telling the story of Jesus to the next generation. Josiah’s previous articles may be viewed at: https://www.pressserviceinternational.org/josiah-gray.html