In his book, The Gift of Fear, celebrity security consultant Gavin de Becker explains the risks of engaging critics, stalkers, and other detractors.

“It’s better to detach than to engage and enrage,” he says. “If you don’t fuel the fire, they’ll turn their attention elsewhere.”

If you engage with certain types of people they will only feed on your interaction and become more enraged, never satisfied and never swaying from their negative bias.

In an increasingly hostile world, particularly for Christians, there’s more and more temptation to stand our ground or fight back when we experience opposition. However, there is wisdom in watching and waiting – perhaps letting the Lord work through other means, especially when it comes to people who have an agenda to distract from our mission.

As Christians we have a desire for everyone we interact with to meet Jesus and be changed by the gospel, especially our most negative critics and enemies. But has anyone ever come to know the Lord by arguing with a Christian over their beliefs, or because a Christian pushed back on them in a public Facebook thread?

“For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. As charcoal to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome man for kindling strife.” Proverbs 26:20

I’m not saying we don’t stand up for our beliefs. We must continue to speak the truth, no matter how hostile it gets. Our mission – “go and make disciples” – will be the same until the day Jesus returns, and part of making disciples is equipping them with the truth. We are promised persecution and suffering so we know it will continue to be hard.

But we are also commanded to love our neighbor as ourself. Second only to loving the Lord, this is the greatest commandment which all other commandments hang on.

As we deal with critics and opposition, we must remember to “let all that you do be done in love.” (1 Corinthians 6:14)

We must accept criticism and learn from it. We must correct mistakes when they need to be corrected. We must repent when we need to repent.

And we must defend the faith.

But we cannot become quarrelsome people, throwing more logs on the fire. I’m afraid we’re only hurting ourselves, and hurting the mission, when we do.

We can’t practice 1 Peter 3:15 without remembering the words gentleness and respect.

“but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect,” 1 Peter 3:15

Just because we speak the truth, does not mean someone will hear it and believe it. We don’t hold that kind of power. Our duty is to speak the truth in love, with gentleness and respect, and let the Lord do the rest.

I’d encourage you, whether on your personal social media accounts or from your church accounts, to be more discerning when engaging with opposition online. If you’re dealing with someone you know, and they’re a Christian with whom you have an existing relationship, then approach them privately, even if through a Facebook message or email.

If you don’t know them, or they aren’t a Christian, then don’t expect them to operate with the same moral compass you have. Consider that the best way to love them may be to hold off on the truth bombs, and show they grace and patience. If they are local consider taking them out for coffee where you can listen to their perspective and get to know them and their heart.

For too long my first reaction has been to fight. As someone who probably has more battle scars than you, let me advise you that there is a time to fight and there is a time to stand firm and hold your position, but let all that you do be done in love.

“You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you.”” 2 Chronicles 20:17