The Art of (Non) Persuasion


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 15; 147:1-11, Joshua 8:30-35, Romans 14:13-23, Matthew 26:57-68

Almost all of us have engaged in a dispute – friendly or heated – which ended with: “Let’s agree to disagree.” It sounds like a civil way to exit an impasse, but is it at all satisfying for either party?  Rarely is it as short and simple as “I believe X” and “I believe Not X” so “Let’s A2D.” By the time it becomes necessary to drop this conversational guillotine, both parties have probably been building a case for a position that matters to them – no one “agrees to disagree” chocolate ice cream is better than vanilla. The unspoken message is: “I believe you’re wrong, but it seems impossible to convince you otherwise.”

Members of the early church in Rome seemed to have trouble agreeing on a lot of things. The flagship issue was about food. In simplest terms, Gentile converts to Christianity did not feel the need to observe Jewish dietary laws, and many Jewish members of the church held fast to these laws. Paul directed his response to the Gentiles, whom he characterized as stronger in their faith:

I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean. If your brother or sister is being injured by what you eat, you are no longer walking in love … Let us then pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding.

In other words, we don’t have to impose, defend, or even share every belief we have, especially if doing so undermines someone’s faith or the peace of the community. Surrendering our need to be right is a legitimate spiritual discipline. Here’s a modern example for consideration: some people believe Gospel miracles are metaphors, and other people they are historical; does trying to convince someone miracles are or aren’t “true” help build their faith or just reinforce our own?

These days mutual upbuilding is a countercultural attitude. Rather, we are encouraged to shout over each other and refuse to give an inch. We don’t have to settle for agreeing to disagree … if we can agree to listen.

Comfort: You are not responsible for changing the minds of the world.

Challenge: For one whole day, try not to offer any unnecessary opinions. Can you go two?

Prayer: God of peace, grant me the wisdom to know when to speak and when to hold my tongue. May I do both these things to the glory of your name. Amen.

Discussion: What do you think are the practical limits of keeping your opinions to yourself? When does this type of peacemaking cross the line to appeasement?

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