Why does the question need to be asked? Through viewing YouTube videos and personal experience, I have seen unloving speech and attitudes towards unbelievers. This comes out in two ways. First, by calling individuals profane names based upon their dress or actions. This group is usually populated by Pelagians who deny the depravity of man. A friend of mine rightfully calls them open-air abusers. Second, open-air preachers do this through their attitude. A combative disposition that tries to win an argument instead of winning a person to Christ does not show love for the lost. This group is usually populated by immature Christians who are zealous for truth. The thrill of the argument gets their blood rushing. They have waited for this opportunity to use a new apologetic method. Unfortunately, they have forgotten that the purpose of engaging the lost is to see a person converted. Both groups err on failing to show courtesy to the lost.
What Does It Mean To Be Courteous?
It is gentleman-like love. We are to be polite, kind, gentle, and gracious with all. This kind of love is best seen by its opposites which are being rude, harsh, angry, pugnacious, and irate. The hearers should be offended by the message and not its delivery.
4 Reasons Why We Should Be Courteous
First, we should be courteous towards non-Christians because we were once like them.
In the book of Titus, Paul commands Titus and the church on Crete to be courteous to all people. Titus 3:2 says, “to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (ESV). In the context, Paul commands Christians to submit to the governing authorities in verse 1. In verse 2, they are to be kind and courteous to unbelievers in their society. This fits the main theme of Titus: be zealous to do good works. Verse 3 now says, “For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another” (ESV). The Christians in Crete were once like these non-Christians who were rebels and enslaved to sin. What changed them? God saved them as it says in verse 5. The Christians did not save themselves through works. They were no better than these unbelievers.
As open-air preachers, we must remember that we were once like the lost. God saved us from our bondage to sin. He gave us enlightenment so that we can now see and willingly submit to Jesus Christ. We are not wiser or more intelligent. We were just as disobedient as them. Therefore, preach with humility. You will be uncourteous to the lost when you forget that you were just like them. Show the same grace and patience with them that God has shown with you.
Second, we should be courteous towards non-Christians because they may convert.
If you are harsh towards an unbeliever through cursing, screaming, or pointed speech, you may be showing malice towards a future brother or sister in Christ. In Paul’s letters, he repeatedly makes reference to the church’s past unconverted state to remind them of God’s grace (Rom. 11:30; Eph. 2:1-5; Col. 1:21; 1 Thess. 1:9). Besides this example, Paul demonstrates that a zealous religious leader who persecutes Christians is not immune to God’s efficacious grace (Gal. 1:13-14; 1 Tim. 1:12-15).
Imagine if you preached without courtesy on the street corner. A young man comes by and stops you to talk about being an atheist. Instead of being patient and kind while answering his objections, you continually and persistently attack him from Romans 1:18-21. In the argument, you lose your temper and the young man walks away. Two months later, you see him again at your church on Sunday. He comes to talk and says, “God has recently saved my soul.” You respond, “Praise the Lord! I was praying that God would use our conversation on that street corner.” He says, “Your attitude made me even angrier towards Christians. God saved me in spite of your evangelism!” How much shame we would have for hearing such a response?
Third, we should be courteous towards non-Christians because they are spiritually dead.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 2:14, “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (ESV). We must remember that the natural man must be born again. They have a nature that is hostile to God and does not understand God’s Word. We should not be surprised when we see apathy, insults, the rolling of the eyes, mocking, and the destruction of tracts. The Gospel is offensive to unbelievers.
Fourth, we should be courteous towards non-Christians because Christian men are to be self-controlled.
In Titus 2, Paul exhorts all men to be self-controlled. Many times this deals with sexual desires, but it also governs our emotions. Open-air preaching is more than knowing the Gospel and purchasing amplification. Character matters. Your attitude, speech, and interactions with others testify to the truthfulness of the Scriptures.
Titus 2:7-8 says, “Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, 8 and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us” (ESV).
As a preacher of the Gospel, your conduct testifies to the watching world if Christianity is real. If you hate others by showing malice, then you are acting like the unbelievers to whom you are preaching. Then, they can use your public speech to condemn you and the Gospel. Instead, adorn yourself with the Gospel of Jesus Christ by being self-controlled. Keep the balance of being steadfast in preaching the true Gospel which calls sinners to repentance, while displaying courtesy and love to the hearers of the Good News.
Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History and from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity. He is a PhD student in Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City and an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. In April 2016 Brandon accepted the call to pastor at Faith Baptist. He loves history and reading and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.