“Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Corinthians 5:11a NASB).
“And he was reasoning in the synagogue every Sabbath and trying to persuade Jews and Greeks”
(Acts 18:4 NASB).
“And he entered the synagogue and continued speaking out boldly for three months, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8 NASB).
“Agrippa replied to Paul, ‘In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian'” (Acts 26:28 NASB).
Persuasion gets a bad rap, especially when it comes to evangelism.
Sure, we all know those types who take it too far. We’ve all felt that holy cringe when we’ve seen pointed fingers and heard “repent” reverberating from a bullhorn on the street corner. But I think we can all agree that this style of “evangelism” is more coercion than it is persuasion.
The English word for “persuasion” smacks of the used car salesman stereotype of evangelism that asks “What can I do to get you to buy into Christianity today?” to a hurried, harried, and harassed customer. But the biblical Greek word for evangelism (“peitho“) is a whole different story.
Peitho means “to gently win someone over, to lovingly convince, to make a friend.” And that’s exactly what we want to do in evangelism. We want to gently win others over to Christ. We want to lovingly convince them to believe. We want to make them a friend to us and to Jesus.
Years ago when my cousins and Southern belle aunt were in town, we went to an amusement park for a day of fun in the Colorado sun. I was willing to ride pretty much everything except the Tower of Doom. I don’t like rides that drop straight down, and this was the king of them. The TOD slowly elevates you and your crew high above the amusement park and then suddenly drops you down, leaving your stomach in your throat — and sometimes its contents on your lap.
My cousins tried to “persuade me.” They called me “chicken” and told me to “man up.” They took shots (as close cousins do) but all to no avail. Their taunts didn’t work. They actually steeled my resolve. I was now firm in my “no” to the Tower of Doom!
Suddenly I felt a gentle hand under my right arm. It was my Aunt Diane. “Ya’ll come with me,” she said with her sweet-as-pie Southern accent. “Where are we going?” I asked, almost entranced by the gentle cadence of her voice. “You’ll see,” she said. “Don’t be nervous. We’re all gonna have fun.”
Before I knew it, I was in line for the Tower of Doom. What my cousins’ brashness couldn’t do, my aunt’s sweetness could: get me to willingly ride the ride I hated the most.
My cousins’ version of persuasion was the American version: brash, loud, and obnoxious. My aunt’s version of persuasion was the biblical Greek version: sweet, gentle, and convincing.
If we adopt the biblical Greek version of persuasion when it comes to evangelism, then we should be busy making friends and influencing people to say yes to Jesus. We love them to the foot of the cross. We convince them through our compassion. We speak the truth saturated in gentleness and drenched in respect.