Respect vs Acceptance

This week I read a Facebook status that hit me hard.

Ravi Zacharias said, “It is self-defeating to trample underfoot everything others hold dear before giving them the message of Christ. My mother used to say, ‘There is no point cutting off a person’s nose and then giving them a rose to smell.’”

He followed it up with this post, “Listening is a vital part of responding. The more and the better we hear others, the more and the better others will hear us.”

I’m probably not alone when I say I often see this ideal within Christian circles that hearing out philosophies/theories/concepts that we don’t agree with—or just being respectful of another’s right to differing beliefs—is synonymous with validating those beliefs.

The problem with this practice is that, not only does it shut down the other person, it also mutes us, making us irrelevant in a quickly changing world.

Jesus promised us that the world will hate us. We already know this. The world hates Jesus’ message of holiness. Do we need to stoke the fires by diminishing their right to be heard? By spitting in the face of what they believe?

Can we walk a line where we respectfully interact while clearly not condoning sin?

I believe so.

Can we walk a line where we respectfully interact while clearly not condoning sin? Click To Tweet

Paul in Athens

When I read Ravi’s words I immediately thought of Paul on Mars Hill. But let’s back up a bit in Paul’s story. Before he preached at Mars Hill (also known as the Hill of Ares or the Areopagus) he had arrived in Athens to find a city devoted to idolatry. Acts says, “his [Paul’s] spirit was provoked.”

Provoked. Feel familiar?

So Paul began where he normally began, in the synagogue. He, “reasoned with the Jews and the God-fearing Gentiles.” He then hit the marketplace and engaged in street preaching to, “those who happened to be present.”

Some who happened to be present where the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers. Within this group, there was a mixed response to Paul’s preaching. Some mocked him, saying, “What would this idle babbler wish to say?”

Others responded with curiosity, saying, “He seems to be a proclaimer of strange deities… May we know what this new teaching is which you are proclaiming? For you are bringing some strange things to our ears; so we want to know what these things mean.”

This wasn’t Billy Graham’s America. No huge revival numbers for Paul. He was preaching to our climate—mockery or mild curiosity. Click To Tweet

How did Paul preach in Athens?

In 1 Corinthians 9:20-22 Paul wrote, “To the Jews I became as a Jew, so that I might win Jews; to those who are under the Law, as under the Law though not being myself under the Law, so that I might win those who are under the Law; to those who are without law, as without law, though not being without the law of God but under the law of Christ, so that I might win those who are without law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some.”

Paul left the marketplace and went with the philosophers to their cultural center, Mars Hill. He didn’t demand to be heard on his terms. He went where his audience would hear him—and not just hear him, he went where they would listen to him.

Paul didn’t demand to be heard on his terms. He went where his audience would hear him—and not just hear him, he went where they would listen. Click To Tweet

Acts 17:22-23 picks up the story: So Paul stood in the midst of the Areopagus and said, “Men of Athens, I observe that you are very religious in all respects. For while I was passing through and examining the objects of your worship, I also found an altar with this inscription, ‘TO AN UNKNOWN GOD.’ Therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.

Paul didn’t consider it tantamount to acceptance of idolatry to treat his audience with respect. Instead, he found positive common ground between himself and his hearers, “I observe that you are very religious in all aspects.” He then used this common ground as a jumping point to present the gospel, “therefore what you worship in ignorance, this I proclaim to you.”

Paul didn’t consider it tantamount to acceptance of idolatry to treat his audience with respect. Click To Tweet

What stops us from this approach? And what are we losing if we can’t switch our approach from finding fault to finding common ground?

Could fear be holding us back?

  • Fear that if we show respect others will judge us?
  • Fear that if we listen we could hear ideas that challenge or scare us?
  • Fear that our consideration might be viewed as commiseration?

The only fear we need to worry about is the fear of the Lord. And he said we need to be the salt of the earth. Our interactions with all men should be seasoned with grace, preserving, flavoring, and healing.

Today, more than ever, we must find a way to model this to the next generation or we will become irrelevant. If salt loses its saltiness, what good is it?

Respect does not equal acceptance. Listening to understand does not equal approval.

Respect does not equal acceptance. Listening to understand does not equal approval. Click To Tweet

We can’t bitterly long for times that we perceive as better, blaming the world for ruining what we had— “for you were formerly darkness, but now you are Light in the Lord.”

Instead, we need to walk with those trapped in darkness up Mars Hill, respectfully find our common ground, and present the Good News that brings light.

As Mordecai told Esther in Esther 4:14, “And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” We have been adopted into a royal family. We are the bride of the Prince of Peace.

We were each born into this time and place by God’s design.

Let us not diminish the beauty of that by losing our saltiness and becoming irrelevant.

*note* after I wrote down these thoughts, I saw Ravi go on to post on the same idea of Paul on Mars Hill. I went back and forth on whether I should post this article at all and decided to include Ravi’s link for you. If you would like to read a more well-thought-out apologetic approach to this idea, please visit Ravi Zacharias’ article here

Join the conversation

In what ways have you struggled to relate in a changing culture?

21 thoughts on “Respect vs Acceptance”

  1. Wow! Well done! Let’s all say this more. You’re absolutely correct. If we don’t do this, if we continue to judge and condemn first, if we don’t learn to approach people from other cultures and religions respectfully, we WILL become irrelevant. We’re alnost there already. Most believers barely know how to do this. We’re insular, remaining in our exclusive Christian club. We need to take this page from Paul’s playbook and run with it. Brave post, sister! I’m glad Ravi Zacharias’ words inspired you. Clearly, Mars Hill was the obvious follow up, as was apparent to you both. You handled this very well!

    1. Ravi Zacharias is very inspirational. Yes, Melinda, we are insular aren’t we. You hit it on the head. “Exclusive Christian club.” But it’s not exclusive. Praise God it’s not because if it was, we wouldn’t be in it. Thank you for your encouragement.

  2. Girl, did you come to my breakout session on “With Gentleness & Respect” at the Women in Apologetics conference… ‘cuz it sure seems like you are saying the same message that I taught on! Seriously. (Hey, they say great mind think a like, so… heh heh heh.) But yeah… the Apostle Paul was a great Apologist, who even debated Greek Philosophers (so that means debate IS biblical, just sayin’.) Like you mention in this post, Paul was encountering a culture much like ours today, and we should study how he did it, and try to do similarly. Amen, sister! Love your blog – you are a like-minded blogging friend. God bless you!

  3. Great thoughts Stephanie. God needs us to accept others where they are. Accepting and condoning are two different things. Our job is to deliver the message. That’s it. Philosophical debates and judgement hardly ever lead people to Christ. Thanks for this.

  4. It saddens me deeply that the Church doesn’t heed your words, Stephanie. We alienate others when we disagree with disrespect and dishonor. I want to build bridges not walls.
    Even as a follower of Christ, I disagree with other Evangelicals. I disagree on some points that I better stay silent on lest I be attacked. It’s a little disconcerting to fear that. So, at least for me, I really appreciate your call here.

  5. Stephanie, I’m so glad you decided to post your article. Even when another posts on the same topic, God is using you to reach your audience and I love the way you’ve shed light on respect. You’re right, respect does not mean acceptance, and listening to understand and respect go hand in hand. This is so important today, where the world wants us to accept all things, but Christ calls us to love well and stand firm in truth. I’m encouraged by your words, thank you!

  6. Amazing post! What a great truth you’ve written and is very needed in this culture. I love this part that you write, “Respect does not equal acceptance. Listening to understand does not equal approval.” We can disagree, we can point out sin, we can bring Jesus to others and do it what gentleness and love. We don’t have to be harsh, full of hatred and pride. Ravi’s quote is doubly effective, ” It is self-defeating to trample underfoot everything others hold dear before giving them the message of Christ. My mother used to say, ‘There is no point cutting off a person’s nose and then giving them a rose to smell.’”

  7. I think fear is definitely holding me back! Working from home means I don’t do life at all with people who don’t know Jesus. My community is church and networking with other believers. God has been convicting me that writing about Him is definitely an act of obedience, but I must also walk outside my door and find those who need to hear His truth. Thanks for this reminder of not allowing fear to hold me back!

  8. When you referred to what came to mind after reading Ravi’s words, I had a feeling it would be Paul’s evangelism approach. I thought of the same thing. This is so relevant, Stephanie. I think a lot of times it’s the opposite: we are too dismissive of sin as if it’s okay, but it sure is a turn off when we shun sin at the expense of the people behind it. Reaching people with the gospel is what Paul was all about, and it’s almost as if he apologized when he was shortsidedly harsh toward the high priest, Ananias, in Acts 23. Then he went on to gain allies by identifying with the Pharisees. That is mind blowing and counter intuitive, and it demonstrates that calling out another’s person’s sin does not necessarily align with the gospel of grace. This is a good and necessary message. Thank you for the reminder.

    1. Yes! I love that example of Ananias, Stephen. Thank you for pointing that out as well. I love this sentence ” it demonstrates that calling out another’s person’s sin does not necessarily align with the gospel of grace.”

  9. Great post, Stephanie! And I love how you linked up with Ravi Zacharias, one of my favorites. When God gives people similar messages I always feel it is a sign of the Holy Spirit moving to highlight the message in different ways. So glad you posted it! I am praying for Holy Spirit discernment daily, to meet people where they are and ask God to open doors for me to point them to Christ. I often feel I either said too much or too little. I pray God can take my feeble efforts and use them for His good purposes.

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