Every individual knows the craft of persuasion. It starts at infancy. A baby will cry, pout, and scream to persuade others that their needs should be met. When a child grows up their parents persuade them that what they say goes, teachers convince them that their rules are the rules to be followed. Our society is bombarded by persuasion. The television, movies, songs, advertisements, and politicians try to persuade others to buy their product, eat at their restaurant, wear those clothes, vote for that person, and live in this way. One is pulled in so many different directions at times it can be hard to navigate the truth because whoever appears most convincing, often times appears to be the best decision. Therefore, the art of persuasion determines the outcome of a successful household, classroom, city, society and culture. Persuasion is powerful, and this is why the Bible so prominently instructs in the art of persuasion.
In 2 Corinthians 5:11, Paul says, “Since, then we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade men.” In other words, Paul is trying to convince the Corinthian Church that he is their authentic apostle (NIV). He wants to convince them that his teachings are the ones that are to be followed. Paul wants to make it clear that the Gospel is the truth. To understand the importance of persuasion, one must understand the definition of persuasion. The Greek word for persuasion, in the context of 2 Cor. 5:11, is peitho which means to, “ induce one by words to believe…to make friends of, to win one’s favor”(Blue Letter Bible). In other words, Paul was trying to win ones favor but not in such a way that his audience is repulsed, but to induce one by his words in order to make friends! Paul used persuasion to build others up.
Not only did Paul use the art of persuasion, but Jesus used persuasion in His words, miracles, and His character to convince the world of the truth of the Gospel. Jesus used words to convince people by using persuasive skills such as: instructing the people, speaking with divine authority and probing others to think critically. First, Jesus instructed people that He is the only way to truth by teaching them how to live. For instance, Jesus bluntly instructs the disciples and the Church in the Sermon on the Mount. He is persuasive by telling them specifically how not to act, “for I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:20).
Jesus used specific instruction and taught with divine authority. He was not wishy-washy and His instructions were reliable (Matt. 7:29), He did not quote other teachers of the law. Jesus also used questions so others would think critically. In Mark 2:8, Jesus confronts the teachers of the law who do not believe that He can forgive sins. Jesus asks them, “Why are you thinking these things? Which is easier: to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Get up, take your mat and walk’?” Jesus was tactful in how He persuaded people. He knew His audience. Jesus knew that the teachers of the law would not listen to Him, so instead He asked them questions that would make them truly consider the issue at hand.
The way that Jesus persuaded people with words is an example of how Christians are to be persuasive. One needs to be specific on exactly what they are trying to convince their audience, one needs to speak with authority; not doubting what they are saying and supporting their evidence with reliable facts. Lastly, one needs to know their audience and how to tactfully get them to critically think through the topic.
Persuasion was important to Jesus, because to not persuade His audience correctly would be to prohibit the possibility of others coming to faith in Him as the Messiah. Therefore, for a Christian to not persuade correctly can cause miss-communication and miss-inform the audience on one’s beliefs. Jesus was persuasive in His words because He knew that to persuade others of the Gospel meant they could experience eternal life.
Secondly, Jesus was persuasive in His miracles. He proved that He was the Messiah by physically presenting proof that He is powerful and has the ability to perform the miraculous. Some miracles of Jesus include: John 2:1-11 when Jesus changes water into wine, healed the sick (Matt.8:16), raised people from the dead (Luke 7:11-17), and calming a stormy sea (Matt. 8:23-27). In all of these miracles, not only was God proving that He is the Messiah but also used them to help people understand the lesson He was trying to teach them. To persuade them that He is in control, that He can provide, and that He can do all things. Not only did Jesus persuade the crowds with miracles but He also persuaded people with His character. Jesus was perfect; He went out of His way to demonstrate His love, grace and mercy. These perfect qualities shown throughout life helped to convince people that Jesus did not just talk the talk but He also walked the walk. Persuasion therefore is not just with ones words, but it is also shown through ones actions and attitudes.
Not only was Jesus persuasive but He called His followers to be persuasive, to convince others that He is the only way to truth through their words and actions. In the Great Commission Jesus calls His followers to, “… Teach them to obey everything I have commanded you.”(Matt.28:20). Jesus wanted His disciples to bring others to Christ, to teach them and in return convince them that Christ is the only way to salvation. Looking at the life of Christ one can conclude that persuasion comes down to influence. One has the power to either positively or negatively influence the minds and actions of society. This influence is powerful. Jesus does not force or manipulate others to come to Him but simply reveals who He is. As Believers, we too, are called to persuade but not manipulate people into the Gospel or any other issue we hold to high importance.
Jesus has the wisdom of when to be blunt and not to be blunt, and how to ethically persuade people. In the book, Psychology of Persuasive Speech it outlines a few ethical principles of persuasive speaking. In summary: one needs to have a honest motive, understand the audience, be informed about their topic, know the facts, and lastly they need to persuade out of love having the mindset of what is best for the audience, not themselves (Oliver 34). Looking at these principles, Jesus did just this. Take for instance, how Jesus was blunt with the Pharisees but gentle with the women at the well. Why? Jesus understood His audience. Jesus spoke out of love because He believed that the Gospel was truly what was best for the people.
The ethics of persuasion is what ultimately divides “good” persuasion from “bad” persuasion. Among Christians, it is not usually argued that one needs to persuade others to come to Christ, but what about the trivial issues in life? Is it biblical to persuade others about issues that may not have eternal significance? A way of making a decision is often in the form of persuasion. If one follows the principles of ethical persuasion and the example of how Jesus used persuasion, then any persuasion no matter how trivial it is, is not wrong. In fact, without persuasion, history would not change. There would be no such thing as the influence of Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, or Detrick Bonheoffer. Persuasion is a gift. The gift of influencing others and pushing the minds of fellow citizens to think critically and act differently for the benefit of society.
1. Blue Letter Bible. Strong’s Lexicon. Web. 6 Feb. 2011. <http://www.blueletterbible.org/>.
2. Brembeck, Winston L., and William S. Howell. Persuasion. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1952. Print.
3. Harrington, Marshall. Persuasive Evangelism. Philadelphia: Westminster, 1925. Print.
4. NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002. Print.
5. Oliver, Robert T. The Psychology of Persuasive Speech. 2nd ed. New York: David McKay, 1968. Print.