by Tuvya Zaretsky
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. – Gal. 5:22-23
Bruce is a Jewish friend who was blessed with faith to believe in the Messiah-Savior Jesus last year. That belief rose out of conversations stretching over six years. Our relationship began when he posed a sarcastic question to me: “So, are you Jewish or Christian?” The implication being that one can’t be both at the same time.
I responded that the answer was simple, but that he wouldn’t understand it. “It’s not because you’re stupid or anything like that,” I said. “It’s just that you have been indoctrinated to think it’s impossible. The answer is ‘yes.’ So, would you like to get a cup of coffee and talk it over?”
And so, the conversations began.
After he came to faith, I asked Bruce what made it possible for him to finally think about the message of Jesus. He is a pretty bright guy and a successful artist and businessman. So, it wasn’t a new set of intellectual data that got through to him. He didn’t need to hear a fresh apologetic. He simply said, “You made it safe.”
Maybe it was easier for me to empathize with his resistance to the gospel, since I too was raised in the traditions of American Jewish life and religion. Early in life, Bruce and l heard, “Jews don’t believe in Jesus.” It is a common Jewish notion that “Christ is for the Christians and we Jews have Moses.” So, maybe it was easier for me to talk with someone whose cultural context I could naturally understand.
Missiologist Donald K. Smith proposes that all communication is cross-cultural. That has helped me realize that even when I think I know what another person is saying, I better make the effort to confirm it from them. To do that, I must be respectful, gentle, and patient with the other person in order to understand his or her perspective and to earn the right to share mine. That is crucial when discussing spiritually sensitive ideas or emotionally charged topics.
I found it helpful to ask for Bruce’s perspective and then listen patiently. This is the practice of walking across the cross-cultural bridge to discover the other person’s world of thoughts. For example, when he mused out loud about Jesus, I asked, “So, who do you think Jesus is?” That one can prompt some ‘strange’ responses, at least to my thinking. And yet I’m obligated to listen, giving as much respect as I would hope to receive if asked a thought-provoking question. That is one way to make someone feel safe in conversation.
While I might not agree with the ideas being expressed, I can show the other person that I respect them enough to listen them. I might even say that the goal is not to agree, but to grow in our understanding of one another. And that takes patience and gentleness—virtues with which I’m not naturally endowed.
However, we who believe in the unseen God have the blessing of an unlimited spiritual asset. He is God the Spirit, who dwells within us. I am confident that He is adequate for our need in communicating with Jewish people and any other ethnic national.
Amazingly, Adonai (“the Lord”) isn’t limited by all the cross-cultural stuff. We can pray, “Lord, in the power of your Spirit, be the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control I need as I speak with this person who doesn’t yet know you.” God is a full partner in communicating in ways that make other people feel safe in conversation.
Sometimes the answer to “Who do you think Jesus is?” sounds like this: “Well, I think Jesus was a good man, maybe an Avatar for a prophet, but he wasn’t God, because God wouldn’t come to earth in human form!”
I might respond, “Hmm. Okay, that’s a little different from the way I understand Jesus. But I think I get your point of view. So, why do you say “that God wouldn’t come to earth in human form? Can’t God do anything?”
That’s what creating a safe place for conversation sounds like.
Sure, you can suggest Genesis 32 as a wonderful story of how God came in human form and wrestled with Jacob. But that’s only useful if the person accepts the truth of the Bible.
Get into the other person’s culture. Look for the information he or she relies on for perspective. Work to create understanding and thereby earn the privilege of sharing with him or her something that might be new and exciting.
Bruce challenged me to think about how to help others feel safe in a spiritual conversation. Maybe that was the Holy Spirit reminding me that the harvest of His fruit in our lives comes out as love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Tuvya Zaretsky is a Lausanne catalyst for Jewish evangelism, serves the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism (LCJE), and is a Jewish-Gentile Couples ministry specialist with Jews for Jesus. He posts resources at www.JewishGentileCouples.com. He and his wife, Ellen, are the parents of four incredibly amazing Millennials.