Romans 15:14–16 (ESV)
I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
Wow, what a shift. Paul has been admonishing the Romans for two chapters. He commanded them to accept one another, to not pass judgement on the weaker brother, to not despise the stronger one. He even told them that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep.
But now he says, “I myself am satisfied about you, my brothers, that you yourselves are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge and able to instruct one another.” What? Is he suddenly having pangs of guilt about his style, and second thoughts about the harshness of what he wrote?
No. The next sentence explains it. But on some points I have written to you very boldly by way of reminder, … so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.
I wonder if this “way of reminder” would work with modern Christians. I know I don’t take harsh criticism well. By the time Paul got around to saying, “I myself am satisfied about you,” I would have already tuned out. I’m not unusual either.
Modern communication techniques are optimized for defensive and closed-minded people. One such technique is the “sandwich method,” which is taught by Toastmasters International.
Toastmasters meetings involve people giving speeches and others evaluating them. They teach that the evaluation should have substantive constructive criticism, but that criticism must be sandwiched between two complements. The evaluator should first complement the speech, then explain how it could be improved, then give another complement. Like many things Toastmasters teaches, this is good advice.
But I suspect that Paul didn’t need to sugar-coat his message up front because first century Christians weren’t so quick to take offense. There are lots of possible explanations for this, but that’s not what’s important. We simply need to take this into account when communicating.
Remember, we’re to be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. — Matthew 10:16b (NIV)
This isn’t just about communicating with unbelievers either. We need to strategize more about how to encourage our fellow Christians. Good technique helps us teach and grow one another.
Serious fellowship—where we can call each other out—is essential and all too rare nowadays. Simple tricks (like using humor) can help us form real, meaningful friendships. Be intentional.
The command to love one another isn’t about syrupy feelings. It’s about substantive encouragement.
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