In most societies two topics are considered off-limits in polite conversation: religion and politics. But now as we head toward one of the most contentious political campaigns in recent memory, both religion and politics are destined to be fodder for some heated and shrill debates.

Part of the reason is that people with differing views often seem intent on demonizing each other instead of engaging in serious, civilized discussions. We end up talking at each other, rather than to each other; determined to pick apart and attack each other’s position, rather than trying to understand the underlying issue of each position.

As Christians, we lose much if we engage in public discourse only as a means of winning an argument rather than demonstrating Christian virtues.

Jesus, of course, was always in the middle of some debate. His method of making a point was (1) to ask questions, (2) to tell stories without endings, and (3) to do something on behalf of others (even those who persecuted Him).
Beyond Jesus, two Old Testament characters are shining examples of how Christ’s followers should relate to those with whom they want to engage.

The first is Joseph. His story is familiar. We all know how he went from being the son of privilege to a slave, to a prisoner, to a prime minister. He didn’t accomplish that because of his tact or his powers of debate; he accomplished that because of his relationship with God and his ability to serve.

When he was tempted by Potiphar’s wife, he responded, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9). When he was brought before Pharaoh to interpret the king’s dream, Joseph said, “I cannot do it . . . but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (Gen. 41:16).

Joseph’s desire to serve God put him at the disposal of both Potiphar and Pharaoh.

The other Old Testament example is Daniel. As a captive in a hostile environment, Daniel didn’t argue with his captors; he engaged them. First he asked a favor: to be given food that hadn’t been offered to idols. Then he offered to serve. He told Arioch, steward of Nebuchadnezzar’s household, “Take me to the king, and I will interpret his dream for him” (Dan. 2:24).

That wasn’t the only time Daniel was invited to serve the king. As Nebuchadnezzar and his successors realized what an asset Daniel was, that his services were greater than his demands, they trusted Daniel more, and his influence in their lives increased.

Surely there’s a lesson here for us. We want to be heard; we believe we have a message. But rather than engaging our communities and leaders in acts of service and ministry, we expect them only to listen to our pronouncements and press releases. We produce print, video, and digital messages and release them into the ether without first making ourselves known in our communities by acts of service. Then we wonder why, after many years as a movement, the Seventh-day Adventist presence in our communities through our churches, schools, and hospitals is mostly unknown to a majority of the population of North America (or if we’re known, people confuse us with Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses).

Jesus told His disciples, “When I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself” (John 12:32). He didn’t say, “You must quote Scripture like me,” or “You must argue like me.” He said, “You must lift me up—by doing the same things I did when I was on earth.”

Yes, we’re heading into a season when people will say all manner of inflammatory and outrageous things about this candidate or that, about this issue or that. But only those who serve their communities unselfishly will demonstrate their bona fides in ways that resonate with the people they hope to reach. In the process they will reflect the character of Christ, who said, “I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27).

In an age of nonstop chatter and bombast, an attitude of humility, grace, and loving service will accomplish more than our most finely crafted arguments and debates. 

Stephen Chavez is coordinating editor of the Adventist Review. This article was published June 21, 2012.

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