Matthew 10:16 – Behold, I send you forth as sheep in the midst of wolves: be ye therefore wise as serpents, and harmless as doves. (KJV)
I once heard a sermon from an old Scottish minister that was so vivid in its depiction of hell that, sitting in the pew, I was quite afraid. It made me want to escape the service, and run away. The presentation was mainly about how, even though we deserve punishment, Jesus came down to offer us salvation, and pay the just price for our sins. It was actually a rather good sermon, but instead of coming away with the message of love and justice, what I took home was the fire and brimstone. Probably, though, it was my own fault: not paying attention through the last half. I thought back to this episode when I recently volunteered to be a discussion group leader in an Alpha course. (Alpha is a course about Christianity.) I wondered how I might deal with questions about the judgement and hell.
When talking about our faith we must be careful to get the correct message across. To say that "God sends unrepentant sinners to hell" may be a true statement, but it hides more than it reveals. Better to say, "God loves us so much He sent His Son to rescue us from death and hell, if only we believe in Him." The first gives a message of despair, the second, a message of hope. We must take care to empathize with our listeners, and tailor our words so that Christ's meaning is revealed. This does not mean "watering down" the message. On the contrary, the gospel, when properly understood, is strong stuff indeed — strong enough to get under the skin of the toughest machismo, true enough to refute the most hardened sceptic, loving enough to warm up the coldest heart. So let us spread the glorious truth about Jesus, but let us be "wise as serpents, and harmless as doves."
Prayer: Dear Lord, only you can see into our hearts and read the secrets written there. Guide us in our witness so that we may bring many to salvation. Amen.