Being a Christian living in a non-Christian world surrounded by people doing non-Christian things can be quite appalling at times. Try telling an unbeliever not to do something because it’s wrong, and watch the initial look of surprise turn into a snarl and the snarl turn into a spiritual lunge.
I remember snarling and lunging when I was an atheist. I took great pride in doing what I knew was wrong. Sometimes I did it deviously, so that no-one knew, and sometimes I did it “loud and proud” so that everyone would know. Then, when I was born again, all of the advice that I used to snarl at became my default position. No-one had to teach me that abortion or homosexuality or promiscuity were wrong; I just knew it, from one second to the next. Jesus tells us that we won’t have to go to believers and tell them “don’t do this” and “don’t do that”, because they will all be taught by God.
Telling unbelievers that abortion is murder or that living with someone you’re not married to is wrong is essentially swatting at spiritual flies. You tend to make yourself more of a fly target when you swat at them. They don’t go away, and they call in reinforcements to harass you. You accomplish nothing except to make yourself frustrated and fly-ridden.
The best way to deal with matters of immorality with unbelievers is to make your position known but not to go on the attack. Don’t swat at spiritual flies. Jesus didn’t say to go to unbelievers and point fingers at everything they’re doing wrong. Unbelievers are going to be doing pretty much everything wrong, so you won’t accomplish much but to enrage them. A classic example is protesters yelling at a woman that she’s going to Hell as she pushes past them into the abortion clinic. Nobody wins in these confrontations; no unbeliever turns around and says; “Yes, you’re absolutely right, and thank you for saving me from Hell. I think I won’t get that abortion after all. Excuse me while I go find someone to adopt my child.” I can tell you from personal experience that there are no Heavenly brownie points awarded for harassing women entering abortion clinics. If there are any “winners” at all, it’s the demons driving the protesters to hate the women, and the demons driving the women to kill their babies.
Scripture tells us that Jesus never raised his voice in the street (he never marched or protested). Protest is divisive and creates an “us versus them” mentality. Far from being “us versus them”, the Gospel message is “you’re welcome to come join us” and “here’s what you’ve been missing, but you don’t have to any more”. The Gospel is about pointing out a bridge (the Way) to God rather than attacking unbelievers until they concede defeat. Unbelievers are not our enemies; they’re potentially our brothers and sisters. I was an unbeliever. So was Paul before his conversion. So was everyone who said “no” before saying “yes” to God and Jesus.
At the end of John’s gospel, Jesus tells Peter to feed his lambs and sheep. He doesn’t say to swat at them or rant at them; he says to feed them. Feeding them means to give them good things that will help them grow. Some of those sheep are lost; lashing out at them will just drive them farther away.
We need to feed believers and unbelievers alike. Believers, we can feed more directly with God’s Word, as Jesus did; unbelievers, we just have to show kindness and patience while praying for them and modeling the Way, as taught to us by Jesus.
I am guilty of occasionally swatting at spiritual flies. I think most Christians are. We want to help people so we misapply the direct approach to cases where we should just be kind and patient and modeling Jesus. But we are all learning as we go, and thank God that God is patient with us.
As an unbeliever, I used to say horrendously provocative things to my grandmother (the only believer in my family). She never openly reacted; she’d only just inquire on the health of my latest live-in boyfriend or ask how my business was going. She never preached; she never scolded; she never ranted or swatted at flies. The ruder I was to her, the kinder she was in return. The day I was born again, she was the first and only one I called, knowing she was the only one who’d understand what had happened to me.
In my family, I have become my grandmother. I am now the only believer. I do what she did, not as well as she did, but give me time. I think every family has at least one believer. It is a huge responsibility. We can’t waste our energy swatting at spiritual flies and in the process driving people away from God. We need to invest whatever time we have left on this Earth helping whoever God puts in our paths: Some need to be fed with the Word, directly, and some need to be fed with kindness and patience.
No swatting required.