By Joshua Spurlock
Everyone is a preacher. They preach about who the best musicians are. They preach about who makes the best clothes. They preach about what lifestyle is best. And, of course, they preach about what religion is correct. What’s more, most of this preaching is done without words.
Everyone’s life and appearance carries a message that is much more powerful and memorable than what they say. A person might say they believe in peace, but how do they respond when people are rude or offensive to them? Is the businessman just full of empty words about the importance of family, or is it obvious he invests in them?
The sad truth is that too often the words of those who profess to believe in Yeshua HaMashiakh (Jesus the Christ) and the content of their lives don’t add up well enough. As a result, many agnostics and atheists are turned away by the apparent hypocrisy of it all. Yet such hypocrisy is not consistent with the Way of Righteousness.
As Moshe teaches in Parashat VaEtchanan (Devarim / Deuteronomy 3:23-7:11), we are to be lighthouses in a sea of darkness, not neon lights that flash on and off. As Moshe says, if we keep and do the statutes and rules of HaShem, and we do this the right way, we will draw the nations to His light and life.
“See, I have taught you statutes and rules, as the LORD my God (Elohai) commanded me, that you should do them in the land that you are entering to take possession of it. Keep them and do them, for that will be your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ For what great nation is there that has a god [elohim] so near to it as the LORD our God (Eloheinu) is to us, whenever we call upon him? And what great nation is there, that has statutes and rules so righteous as all this law [Torah] that I set before you today?”
– Devarim (Deuteronomy) 4:5-8, ESV
A Life that Answers Questions
While there is a place for preaching truth to persons who did not ask for it—as seen in the example of Yonah (Jonah) in Nineveh (Ninevah)—the model HaShem generally uses in bringing outsiders into His Malkhut (Kingdom) is through the positive questions raised by the lives of His faithful people.
“But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord [Mashiakh HaAdon] as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ [Mashiakh] may be put to shame.”
– Kefa Alef (1 Peter) 3:14-16, ESV
Now you may be thinking that this sounds like the easy way out. If we are expected to just live good lives and respond to others’ questions, will anyone hear the Gospel (Good News) of Yeshua preached?
The important thing, however, is not just how many ears hear good words, but how many people place their faith in the Lord Yeshua and repent. If your life isn’t inviting others to live like you, or if your attitude and actions aren’t appealing, few people will listen to your words. This isn’t to say that words aren’t necessary, but that living a life of love and fear of HaShem is the key.
“You are the light of the world [Or HaOlam]. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father [Av] who is in heaven [HaShamayim].”
– Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:14-16, ESV
Is your life leading others to praise HaShem? Put another way, can people tell you love and fear HaShem just by watching how you live?
The Mitzvot (Commandments) of HaShem are intended to make us appear very different from the world. We dress differently—both with the Tzit-Tzit (tassels – B’Midbar / Numbers 15:37-41) and in modesty (1 Timothy 2:8-10). We celebrate different holidays and rest from creative acts one day each week (Vayikra / Leviticus 23). And we eat differently, avoiding the things HaShem said not to eat and thanking Him for the rest (Vayikra / Leviticus 11, Devarim / Deuteronomy 8:10).
Above all, we should act very differently. It’s one thing to be nice and kind. But what does Yeshua say about literally going the extra mile (Mattityahu / Matthew 5:41)? He points out it’s not enough to do the nice things that come easily.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father [Av] who is in heaven [HaShamayim]. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles [Goyim] do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father [Avikha Shabashamayim] is perfect.”
– Mattityahu 5:43-48, ESV
Furthermore, Yeshua points out that true generosity isn’t giving to those who can give back to you.
“He said also to the man who had invited him, ‘When you give a dinner or a banquet, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or rich neighbors, lest they also invite you in return and you be repaid. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the just.’”
– Luke 14:12-14, ESV
Quite simply, as a believer, you should stand out because of your obedient faith. If other people aren’t asking you about your faith, you should be asking why not. And when they ask, you should be prepared to respond.
Speaking the Right Words
Shaul (Paul) recognized that just speaking isn’t enough. You have to speak the right words, and in the right way.
“Remind them of these things, and charge them before God [Elohim] not to quarrel about words, which does no good, but only ruins the hearers. Do your best to present yourself to God [Elohim] as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”
– 2 Timothy 2:14-15, ESV
Well-spoken words can open the door for more speaking. Shaul, for example, spoke openly and often—but most importantly, he spoke the right thing at the right time, the right place, and in the right way. As a result, he was also invited to speak to unbelievers. One of his most famous sermons to unbelievers was the one on Mars Hill, which he was invited to give in response to his conversations.
“Now while Paul [Shaul] was waiting for them at Athens, his spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols. So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews [Yehudim] and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers also conversed with him. And some said, “What does this babbler wish to say?” Others said, “He seems to be a preacher of foreign divinities”—because he was preaching Jesus [Yeshua] and the resurrection. And they took him and brought him to the Areopagus, saying, ‘May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? For you bring some strange things to our ears. We wish to know therefore what these things mean.’
– Acts (Maaseh) 17:16-20, ESV
In this case, Shaul went first to those who were most inclined to listen, the devout Yehudim and interested philosophers. His words resonated so well that he was invited to a formal event. This invitation was a welcomed development, because even the right words can have a poor effect if they are spoken to ears that refuse to hear.
Our Lord Yeshua was very discerning in how and when He spoke to others. Sometimes He delivered an unwelcomed sermon, as in the case of His critique of the hypocritical Perushim (Pharisees, Cf. Mattityahu 23:1-36). But He also intentionally spoke to the crowds in parables without explanation so that only those who wanted to hear the truth would hear (Mattityahu 13:10-15).
He likewise says in the context of passing judgment,
“Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you.”
– Mattityahu 7:6, ESV
In other words, not every person is willing to listen. And if they are unwilling, it takes wisdom and discernment to know if it is even worth speaking. As Shlomo HaMelekh (King Solomon) wisely points out, there are dangers and benefits on both sides.
“Answer not a fool according to his folly, lest you be like him yourself. Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own eyes.”
– Mishlei (Proverbs) 26:4-5, ESV
Shlomo further notes that the expected response from a foolish person is negative.
“Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, for he will despise the good sense of your words.
– Mishlei 23:9, ESV
“If a wise man has an argument with a fool, the fool only rages and laughs, and there is no quiet.”
– Mishlei 29:9, ESV
Of course, having the right words to say and saying them at the right time isn’t enough. To truly shine the light, one must deliver the words the right way: with humility and love.
“And the Lord’s [HaShem] servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God [Elohim] may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil [HaSatan], after being captured by him to do his will.”
– 2 Timothy 2:24-26, ESV
So go out and be different—in the right way. Live the life that HaShem has laid out in His word and shine the light of His truth. Live a life that begs others to ask questions. And then be prepared to give the right answer. It’s who you are in Messiah Yeshua.
“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation [Am Kadosh], a people for his own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.”
– Kefa Alef (1 Peter) 2:9, ESV
May your light shine brighter and brighter in the grace of our Lord Yeshua, and may you have the privilege of being asked why you do what you do. The world is watching, and there is glory to be gained for HaShem.