WE ARE grateful for the changes that God’s Word has brought about in our lives, and we want others to benefit as well. Furthermore, we realize that how people respond to the good news will affect their future prospects. (Matt. 7:13, 14; John 12:48) We earnestly want them to accept the truth. However, our strong convictions and zeal need to be coupled with discernment in order to accomplish the most good.
A blunt statement of truth that exposes as false a cherished belief of another person, even when buttressed with the recitation of a long list of Scripture texts, is generally not well received. For example, if popular celebrations are simply denounced as being of pagan origin, this may not change how other people feel about them. A reasoning approach is usually more successful. What is involved in being reasonable?
The Scriptures tell us that “the wisdom from above is . . . peaceable, reasonable.” (Jas. 3:17) The Greek word here rendered “reasonable” literally means “yielding.” Some translations render it “considerate,” “gentle,” or “forbearing.” Notice that reasonableness is associated with peaceableness. At Titus 3:2, it is mentioned along with mildness and is contrasted with belligerence. Philippians 4:5 urges us to be known for our “reasonableness.” A person who is reasonable takes into account the background, circumstances, and feelings of the one to whom he is talking. He is willing to yield when it is appropriate to do so. Dealing with others in such a way helps to open their minds and hearts so that they are more receptive when we reason with them from the Scriptures.
Where to Begin. The historian Luke reports that when the apostle Paul was in Thessalonica, he used the Scriptures, “explaining and proving by references that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead.” (Acts 17:2, 3) It is noteworthy that Paul did this in a Jewish synagogue. Those to whom he was speaking recognized the Hebrew Scriptures as an authority. It was appropriate to start with something that they accepted.
When Paul was speaking to Greeks at the Areopagus in Athens, he did not begin with references to the Scriptures. Instead, he started with things that they knew and accepted, and he used these to lead them to a consideration of the Creator and His purposes.—Acts 17:22-31.
In modern times, there are billions who do not recognize the Bible as an authority in their lives. But the life of nearly everyone is affected by harsh situations in the present system of things. People long for something better. If you first show concern for what disturbs them and then show how the Bible explains it, such a reasonable approach might move them to listen to what the Bible says about God’s purpose for humankind.
It may be that the heritage passed on to a Bible student by his parents included certain religious beliefs and customs. Now, the student learns that those beliefs and customs are not pleasing to God, and he rejects them in favor of what is taught in the Bible. How can the student explain that decision to his parents? They may feel that by rejecting the religious heritage they gave him, he is rejecting them. The Bible student may conclude that before trying to explain from the Bible the basis for his decision, he will need to reassure his parents of his love and respect for them.
When to Yield. Jehovah himself, though having full authority to command, shows outstanding reasonableness. When rescuing Lot and his family from Sodom, Jehovah’s angels urged: “Escape to the mountainous region for fear you may be swept away!” Yet, Lot pleaded: “Not that, please, Jehovah!” He begged to be permitted to flee to Zoar. Jehovah showed consideration for Lot by allowing him to do that; so when other cities were destroyed, Zoar was spared. Later, however, Lot followed Jehovah’s original direction and moved to the mountainous region. (Gen. 19:17-30) Jehovah knew that his way was right, but he patiently showed consideration while Lot came to appreciate it.
In order to deal successfully with others, we too need to be reasonable. We may be convinced that the other person is wrong, and we may have in mind powerful arguments that would prove it. But at times it is better not to press the matter. Reasonableness does not mean compromising Jehovah’s standards. It may simply be better to thank the other person for expressing himself or to let some wrong statements pass unchallenged so that you can focus the discussion on something that will accomplish more good. Even if he condemns what you believe, do not overreact. You might ask him why he feels as he does. Listen carefully to his reply. This will give you insight into his thinking. It may also lay the groundwork for constructive conversation at a future time.—Prov. 16:23; 19:11.
Jehovah has endowed humans with the ability to choose. He allows them to use that ability, even though they may not use it wisely. As Jehovah’s spokesman, Joshua recounted God’s dealings with Israel. But then he said: “Now if it is bad in your eyes to serve Jehovah, choose for yourselves today whom you will serve, whether the gods that your forefathers who were on the other side of the River served or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are dwelling. But as for me and my household, we shall serve Jehovah.” (Josh. 24:15) Our assignment today is to give “a witness,” and we speak with conviction, but we do not try to pressure others to believe. (Matt. 24:14) They must choose, and we do not deny them that right.
Ask Questions. Jesus set an outstanding example in reasoning with people. He took into account their background and used illustrations that they would readily accept. He also made effective use of questions. This gave others opportunity to express themselves and revealed what was in their hearts. It also encouraged them to reason on the matter being considered.
A man versed in the Law asked Jesus: “Teacher, by doing what shall I inherit everlasting life?” Jesus could easily have given him the answer. But he invited the man to express himself. “What is written in the Law? How do you read?” The man answered correctly. Did his giving a correct answer end that discussion? Not at all. Jesus let the man continue, and a question that the man himself asked indicated that he was trying to prove himself righteous. He asked: “Who really is my neighbor?” Rather than give a definition, which the man might have disputed because of the prevailing Jewish attitude toward Gentiles and Samaritans, Jesus invited him to reason on an illustration. It was about a neighborly Samaritan who came to the aid of a traveler that had been robbed and beaten, whereas a priest and a Levite did not. With a simple question, Jesus made sure that the man got the point. Jesus’ manner of reasoning made the expression “neighbor” take on a meaning that this man had never before discerned. (Luke 10:25-37) What a fine example to imitate! Instead of doing all the talking yourself, in effect, thinking for your householder, learn how to use tactful questions and illustrations to encourage your listener to think.
Give Reasons. When the apostle Paul spoke in the synagogue in Thessalonica, he did more than read from an authority that his audience accepted. Luke reports that Paul explained, proved, and made application of what he read. As a result, “some of them became believers and associated themselves with Paul and Silas.”—Acts 17:1-4.
Regardless of who may be in your audience, such a reasoning approach can be beneficial. That is true when you witness to relatives, speak to workmates or schoolmates, talk to strangers in your public witnessing, conduct a Bible study, or give a talk in the congregation. When you read a scripture, the meaning may be plain to you but perhaps not so to someone else. Your explanation or your application may sound like dogmatic assertion. Would isolating and explaining certain key expressions in the scripture help? Could you present supporting evidence, possibly from the context or from another scripture that deals with the subject? Might an illustration demonstrate the reasonableness of what you have said? Would questions help your audience to reason on the matter? Such a reasoning approach leaves a favorable impression and gives others much to think about.