QUESTION FOR QUESTION
Should we always answer questions as Christians? Peter Sammons considers ……
The Power of Questions
Jesus usually answered a question with a question. His response was then, and remains today, a Hebraism. Jewish folk like to answer questions with questions. As a response this is, in a very real sense, hard-wired. It reminds us of the old joke: a man asks a rabbi: “Why do Jews always answer a question with a question?” The rabbi answers: “Do we?” Questions can be very powerful. Let’s look at a few biblical examples:
Matthew 9:14-15 – John’s disciples came and asked him, “How is it that we and the Pharisees fast, but your disciples do not fast?” Jesus answered, “How can the guests of the bridegroom mourn while he is with them? ”
In answering this way Jesus makes a serious point about His Own identity. More than once He referred to Himself as the Bridegroom and promised that He, the Bridegroom, will one day return for His bride – all those “called out” to be His people. The church is a bride waiting for her husband (2 Cor. 11:2).
“He who has the bride is the bridegroom; but the friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him rejoices greatly ….”
Matthew 9: 15
“Jesus said to them, “The attendants of the bridegroom cannot mourn as long as the bridegroom is with them, can they? But the day will come when the bridegroom is taken away from them ……….”
“Let us rejoice and be glad and give the glory to Him. For the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready”.
Simple and direct …..
In responding to John’s disciples’ question with a question, Jesus compelled them to get to grips with His true identity – in exactly the same way He compels us to get to grips with that same identity. We remember Jesus’ question to Peter – “who do YOU say that I am?” None of us can avoid answering that question – sooner or later – even if our answer is delayed until that inevitable final interview at the Judgement seat ….
Matthew 15:1-3 – Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!” Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?”
This was a religious objection from Jesus’ religious opponents. Jesus’ response is simple and direct. These men were hypocrites and serial ‘breakers’ of the Torah for their own traditions. Their hypocrisy was something Jesus could not abide.
Lessons for Today
Christians are increasingly targeted by those with an agenda. Persecution of Believers is as old as the church. Jesus warned that before He returns in the end times persecution will have clear analogies to the persecutions that afflicted the proto-church (see Matthew chapter 24). In my 2009 book “The Empty Promise of Godism” I warned that Christians would soon be targeted by religious rivals keen to leverage religious hatred laws introduced by certain UK government administrations (but eagerly copied in other western countries). This warning has proved correct.
How often do we hear of street preachers responding to loaded questions from hostile crowds in the name of “free speech” or of “asserting our historical rights”? Do these street preachers not know that we have no rights as “strangers in a foreign land” (1 Peter 2: 11-12)? The most obvious loaded question comes in the form of “what do you think about ………?” or “what does your Bible say about ………?” To answer either question is foolish. Street preachers should take a leaf out of Jesus’ book; if they answer at all they should answer with a question. But they should consider these things before responding:
- this person is asking an impertinent question. Does this person have ANY right to an answer? (Clue – the answer to that is always no. This person has absolutely no right to an answer). If God graciously gives an answer, then that is by God’s grace. It is not a right.
- the answer to this question at minimum will require considerable skill in biblical exegesis, contextualisation and spiritual insight. Can I do that in this public forum? (Clue – the answer to this question is always no. Even Jesus, when He met with Nicodemus, met and discussed in privatesession).
- the person asking this question is spiritually dead. Do they REALLY need an answer to their frivolous loaded question, or do they a priorineed to know that they are destined to an eternity without Jesus unless they respond to Him in faith and repentance?
Loaded questions should be answered with a question. Remember that Jesus responded to hostile intent with a question, and when it was not answered, He responded that He, also, would not answer His opponent’s prior question (Matthew 21:27; Mark 11:33; Luke 20:8). This is the approach that should be taken by today’s street preachers. Jesus does not license them to respond to every idiotic, loaded, venal question that a hostile audience may throw up. It is astonishing that such preachers feel that they do have this duty, this skill, or this anointing.
Re set the agenda
Jesus prefers to ask questions rather than provide answers. Asking questions helps to re-set the agenda, and to turn the conversation towards Jesus. We should rejoice in this fact. Jesus’ approach is the reverse of the modern televangelist – or even of the institutional church – which seems to think it is licensed to provide snippets of inspiring advice, or workable solutions to daily problems.
Jesus is too much the Jewish rabbi merely to try to stabilise the status quo, or provide platitudes. In responding to loaded questions, Jesus probably had in mind the blunt advice of Proverbs 26: 4 and 5! Jesus is not a provider of advice – instead He is the asker of hard questions that compel us to think. Why do we pay so little attention to Jesus’ methods in this area? Perhaps it is because providing answers gives us a sense of closure or a sense of success. Some prefer to provide easy answers instead of posing hard questions.
Like the world at large, we prefer to change ourselves through our own “wisdom” rather than allow God to change us through the necessarily bruising process of responding to His questions. We need to reorder our priorities ……….
Peter Sammons © 2021
This is a shortened version of an article on CPI’s website. Link here:
Peter Sammons is commissioning editor at Christian Publications International. He is author of “Rebel Church” (2013), “The Prince of Peace” (2015) and “Three Days and Three Nights – That Changed the World (co-authored with David Serle) in 2019.