When our girls were in middle school, my husband coached their basketball teams. They attended small Christian schools and were often outsized by the opposing teams. He taught them that a winning strategy does not consist only of a great offense, but games are won with defense. Our tenacious little team scored a lot of points on turnovers gained by good defense.
The same was true when they played volleyball. You can have a bench full of strong, front-row hitters who can jump higher than the net but if your defense doesn’t get the ball up and into the setter’s hands, your hitters can’t help you at all. Again, we won against some very strong teams because our girls were fearless defenders.
The principle of a good defense is also effective when we confront those who are hostile to our faith. Going on the offense (i.e., getting offended) doesn’t help. I was reminded of this strategy as I read Acts 22 this morning.
The last eight chapters of Acts tell the story of Paul’s journey from spreading the gospel freely to being confined as a prisoner in Rome. Along the way, he has many encounters with those who oppose his message, who falsely accuse him and tell lies about him, and governors and kings who have no real understanding of the faith that drives him. In today’s read, Paul’s example relieves us of the burden of convincing others and instead, simply stand firm in our faith.
In Act 22, Paul has been attacked by a crowd of Jews, dragged out of the Temple, and accused of defiling it by bringing in a Gentile (something which was not true). The Roman soldiers intervene when they see the crowds beating Paul, but as they are taking him into custody, he asks to speak to the crowd. Our instinct would be to immediately start accusing the people of what they were doing wrong, to bring attention to the unjust treatment received, but Paul takes a different route of defense.
He simply tells them what happened to him when he met Jesus.
Acts 22:1-16 – “Brethren and fathers, hear my defense which I now offer to you.” And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew dialect, they became even more quiet; and he said, “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated under Gamaliel, strictly according to the law of our fathers, being zealous for God just as you all are today.I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons, as also the high priest and all the Council of the elders can testify. From them I also received letters to the brethren, and started off for Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem as prisoners to be punished.
“But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’ And those who were with me saw the light, to be sure, but did not understand the voice of the One who was speaking to me. And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus.
“A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’”
Paul doesn’t try to convince the crowds to believe in Jesus; he just gives his testimony – the irrefutable, personal experience that no one can deny. In essence, he is telling them, “This is what happened to me.”
Paul’s defense consisted of sharing four things:
1. How he lived before he met Jesus.
2. How Jesus exposed his need for salvation
3. How he received Jesus into his life and was born again.
4. How his life had changed since he met Jesus.
Sometimes we meet people who do not believe as we do but are not hostile toward us; with them, we may be able to have good discussions about faith and doctrine and the ideas about God that shaped our lives. But if we encounter, like Paul, those who are aggressively adverse to us because of what we believe, we don’t need to go on the offense.
We simply need to stand firm and present a defense that cannot be disputed: This is what happened to me.
Like the blind man Jesus healed in John 9, we can say to our detractors, One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see (John 9:25).
Do you get offended if people question your faith or accuse you of things that aren’t true? You don’t have to. Just tell them what happened to you. It’s your best defense.