/ persuasion / Jeffrey A Stivason

The Art of Persuasion

Perhaps the most difficult aspect of pastoral work is the work of persuasion. In other words, how do we persuade others? How do we persuade unbelievers to see the beauty of Christ (II Cor. 5:11)? And how do we persuade Christians to do what they ought to want to do (Heb. 3:12)? The temptation for the minister is to act like a magistrate. However, there is a problem. We don’t have the power of a magistrate. John Chrysostom delineates the difference between the magistrate and the minister in his worthwhile, The Six Books of the Priesthood.[1]He writes,

"For Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumbling of sinners by force.  When secular judges convict wrong doers under the law, they show that their authority is complete and compel men, whether they will or no, to submit to their methods. But in the case we are considering it is necessary to make a man better not by force but by persuasion.  We neither have authority granted to us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we know how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are kept from evil, not by force, but by choice. For this reason a lot of tact is needed, so that the sick may be persuaded of their own accord to submit to the treatment…and be grateful for the cure."[2]

A page after this quote Chrysostom writes, “But if a man wanders away form the right faith, the shepherd needs a lot of concentration, perseverance, and patience.  He cannot drag by force or constrain by fear, but must by persuasion lead him back to the true beginning from which he has fallen away.”[3]Strikingly, we have an example in Scripture as to how to do this very thing.  The Christians in the book of Hebrews were thinking of deserting the Faith and returning the Judaism. And in Hebrews 10:32-39 we have an example of persuasion.  I’d like to briefly unpack the thought.  In other words, I am going to show the inducements used by the preacher to persuade.

The Experiential Inducement

The preacher encourages his hearers to “recall former days when, after you were enlightened…” In other words, he asked them to remember the early days of their faith when God’s gospel light poured through the windows of their soul (II Cor. 4:6).  Obviously, the days had become difficult.  Persecution was upon them, and they were ready to flee to Judaism. But the preacher was calling them to remember earlier and equally hard days that they had endured with joy.

The preacher also seems to be doing something subtle. In asking them to remember those days “after being enlightened” he is also asking them to remember an earlier portion of his sermon, namely, chapter six.  There he told the congregation that “it was impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened” to be restored to repentance (6:4).  What is he doing? He is calling them to make their calling and election sure by renewing their experience.

The Ecclesiological Inducement

Let’s stay with Hebrews 6 for a minute more. In Hebrews 5:11 and 6:12 the preacher calls the congregation sluggish. In between those references, the preacher admonishes them. By now, the congregation should have been teachers themselves!  But they needed to study the basics. They had become dull of hearing.  What was the solution?  Well, in part, verse 12 supplies one.  So as not to be sluggish they ought to become “imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” Did you hear that? Find a mentor and become an imitator. This is ecclesiological inducement.

What is more, this is the thrust in much of the letter. In Hebrews 3:13 the congregation is encouraged to exhort one another. In 10:25 they are encouraged to continue meeting together and to stir one another up. Is it any wonder that the preacher gave to us Hebrews 11? He is giving us an entire chapter of mentors! We are to imitate their faith.

The Eschatological Inducement

The preacher reminds them of the hardships they endured earlier in their life in Christ.  He reminds them of how they had lost possessions and property and then he reminds them that they have a better possession and an abiding one. The striking thing about this inducement is the way it corresponds to his urging.  For example, in verses 32 and 36 he used the word endure. And when describing the better possession as an abiding one he uses a related word.  The point is clear. If we endure we will have an abiding/enduring possession.

The Exegetical Inducement

In verses 37-38, the preacher brings two Old Testament texts together. The first is from Isaiah 26:20. Believers are called to hide in the Almighty until the storm passes, a storm that the Lord will bring upon the faithless. The second text is from Habakkuk 2:3-4. It is here that the Lord tells Habakkuk that he is going to do something that the prophet would not have believed possible. The Lord is going to bring judgment upon Israel.  The Lord’s description is straightforward, “His soul is puffed up, it is not upright within him.” However, the Lord ends by saying that “the righteous shall live by his faith.”

Habakkuk’s response is wonderful. In chapter 3 he responds with a prayer. In verse 2, we read, “In the midst of the years revive it.” However, some Old Testament scholars have said that the last few words should be read differently.  They should read, “In the midst of the years make him live.” In other words, the response of Habakkuk is not to pull up his bootstraps but to call upon the Lord. He asks him to bring about faith that shall enable him to live.

It seems that this is an excellent example of where inducements ought to lead hearers. When they hear them, they should turn to the Lord.  However, it is also a good reminder for preachers and teachers. They are to persuade men, women, and children, yes, but they are to realize that God’s Spirit is the ultimate persuader.  They are only instruments in the hands of the Redeemer. They are not more. But they are certainly not less. May God make his ministers persuasive men.

[1]One can certainly, here and there, see the seeds of what would later become medieval corruption in this early work, nonetheless, the text remains key for better understanding pastoral care.  Also, it might be good to warn the reader that the first three chapters are not endorsed by this writer due to Chrysostom’s justification of lying in certain circumstances.

[2]John Chrysostom, Six Books on the Priesthood (London: St. Vladimir Seminary Press, 1977), 56.

[3]Ibid., 58.

Jeffrey A Stivason

Jeffrey A Stivason

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is a pastor (Grace RPC, graceingibsonia.org) and NT professor at RPTS in Pittsburgh, PA. He is also editor at placefortruth.com.

Read More