Reaching Hearts With the Art of Persuasion
MANY people regard the word “persuasion” with suspicion. It may suggest to one’s mind a pushy salesperson or an advertisement designed to deceive or manipulate the consumer. Even in the Bible, the idea of persuasion sometimes has negative connotations, denoting a corrupting or a leading astray. For example, the Christian apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians: “You were running well. Who hindered you from keeping on obeying the truth? This sort of persuasion is not from the One calling you.” (Galatians 5:7, 8) Paul also warned the Colossians against letting anyone ‘delude them with persuasive arguments.’ (Colossians 2:4) Such persuasion depends on clever arguments built on false foundations.
In his second letter to Timothy, however, the apostle Paul used the idea of persuasion in a different sense. He wrote: “Continue in the things that you learned and were persuaded to believe, knowing from what persons you learned them.” (2 Timothy 3:14) In being “persuaded to believe,” Timothy was not being manipulated by his mother and his grandmother, through whom he learned Scriptural truths.—2 Timothy 1:5.*
While under house arrest in Rome, Paul bore thorough witness to many, “using persuasion with them concerning Jesus from both the law of Moses and the Prophets, from morning till evening.” (Acts 28:23) Was Paul deceiving his audience? By no means! Clearly, then, persuasion is not always a bad thing.
Used in a positive sense, the Greek root word translated “persuade” means to convince, to bring about a change of mind by means of sound, logical reasoning. A teacher can thus build on a Scriptural foundation, using persuasion to instill in others a conviction of Bible truth. (2 Timothy 2:15) Indeed, this was a mark of Paul’s ministry. Even Demetrius the silversmith, who considered Christian teachings to be false, noted: “Not only in Ephesus but in nearly all the district of Asia this Paul has persuaded a considerable crowd and turned them to another opinion, saying that the ones that are made by hands are not gods.”—Acts 19:26.
Using Persuasion in the Ministry
Jesus Christ instructed his followers: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you. And, look! I am with you all the days until the conclusion of the system of things.” (Matthew 28:19, 20) In over 230 lands, Jehovah’s Witnesses are obeying this command. Each month during their 1997 service year, they conducted an average of 4,552,589 home Bible studies worldwide.
If you are privileged to conduct a home Bible study, you might be able to anticipate challenges that will require using the art of persuasion. For example, suppose that at your next study session, a question should arise regarding the Trinity. What if you know that your student believes this doctrine? You could give him a publication that discusses that subject. After he has read it, you may find that he has been persuaded that God and Jesus are not the same. But if some questions remain, how can you proceed?
Listen carefully. This will help you to determine what your student already believes about a given subject. For example, if your student says, “I believe in the Trinity,” you could quickly undertake a Scriptural discussion to disprove this doctrine. But there are various beliefs regarding the Trinity. Your student may believe something quite different from what you would define as the Trinity doctrine. The same might be said of other beliefs, such as reincarnation, the immortality of the soul, and salvation. So listen carefully before speaking. Do not make assumptions about what the student believes.—Proverbs 18:13.
Ask questions. These might include: ‘Have you always believed in the Trinity? Did you ever make a thorough study of what the Bible says on this subject? If God were part of a trinity, would not his Word, the Bible, clearly and directly tell us so?’ In teaching the student, periodically stop to ask such questions as these: ‘Does what we have covered so far make sense to you?’ ‘Do you agree with this explanation?’ By your skillful use of questions, you involve the student in the learning process. He should not simply be listening to you expound on a subject.
Use sound reasoning. In discussing the Trinity doctrine, for example, you could say to your student: ‘When Jesus was baptized, a voice came out of heaven, saying: “You are my Son, the beloved.” If God were truly on earth being baptized, would he project his voice up to heaven and back so that those words could be heard on the earth? Would that not be misleading? Would God, “who cannot lie,” do such a deceptive thing?’—Luke 3:21, 22; Titus 1:1, 2.
Sound reasoning presented in a tactful manner is often quite effective. Consider the example of a woman we will call Barbara. All her life, she had believed that Jesus was God and part of a trinity that included the holy spirit. But then one of Jehovah’s Witnesses told her that God and Jesus are two distinct individuals, and he showed her scriptures to support his statement.* Barbara could not refute the Bible. At the same time, she was frustrated. After all, the Trinity doctrine was dear to her heart.
The Witness patiently reasoned with Barbara. “If you were trying to teach me that two persons are equal,” he asked, “what family relationship would you use to illustrate it?” She thought for a moment and then replied: “I might use two brothers.” “Exactly,” the Witness responded. “Perhaps even identical twins. But in teaching us to view God as the Father and himself as the Son, what message was Jesus conveying?” “I see,” Barbara replied, her eyes widening. “He is describing one as older and having more authority.”
“Yes,” answered the Witness, “and Jesus’ Jewish audience, living in a patriarchal society, would especially have reached that conclusion.” Driving home his point, the Witness concluded: “If we came up with such a fitting illustration to teach equality—that of brothers or identical twins—surely Jesus, the Great Teacher, could have done so too. Instead, he used the terms ‘father’ and ‘son’ to describe the relationship between himself and God.”
Barbara finally understood the point, and she accepted it. Her heart had been reached with the art of persuasion.
Dealing With Emotions
Strongly entrenched religious beliefs often involve an emotional component. Consider the case of Edna, a devout Catholic. Her teenage grandsons presented her with clear Scriptural proof that God and Jesus are not the same person. Edna understood what she heard. Nevertheless, she kindly but firmly stated: “I believe in the holy Trinity.”
Perhaps you have had a similar experience. Many view the doctrines of their religion as if these were part of their very identity. To persuade such Bible students, more is needed than cold logic or even a series of scriptures proving the person’s viewpoint to be erroneous. Such situations can be well handled by balancing the art of persuasion with compassion. (Compare Romans 12:15; Colossians 3:12.) Granted, an effective teacher should have strong convictions. For example, Paul used such phrases as “I am convinced” and “I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus.” (Romans 8:38; 14:14) However, in expressing our convictions, we should not take on a dogmatic, self-righteous tone, nor should we be sarcastic or demeaning in presenting Bible truths. We certainly do not want to offend or even insult the student.—Proverbs 12:18.
It is far more effective to respect the student’s beliefs and recognize his right to possess them. Humility is the key. A teacher with lowliness of mind does not feel that he is inherently superior to his student. (Luke 18:9-14; Philippians 2:3, 4) Godly persuasion includes a humility that, in effect, says: ‘Jehovah has mercifully helped me to see this. Let me share it with you.’
To his fellow Christians in Corinth, Paul wrote: “The weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful by God for overturning strongly entrenched things. For we are overturning reasonings and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God; and we are bringing every thought into captivity to make it obedient to the Christ.” (2 Corinthians 10:4, 5) Today, Jehovah’s Witnesses are using God’s Word to overturn strongly entrenched false doctrines as well as deeply embedded practices and traits that displease him. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11) In doing this, the Witnesses remember that Jehovah has lovingly been patient with them. How happy they are to have his Word, the Bible, and to use this powerful tool to uproot false teachings and reach hearts with the art of persuasion!
See the article “Eunice and Lois—Exemplary Educators,” on pages 7-9 of this issue of The Watchtower.
See John 14:28; Philippians 2:5, 6; Colossians 1:13-15. For more information, see the brochure Should You Believe in the Trinity?, published by the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society of New York, Inc.
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Reaching Your Student’s Heart
◻ Discern what the student believes and why he may find a false belief appealing.—Acts 17:22, 23.
◻ In a kind, patient manner, build a logical, Scriptural argument while maintaining common ground.—Acts 17:24-34.
◻ If possible, reinforce Bible truths with effective illustrations.—Mark 4:33, 34.