How Should We “Answer Each Person”?

How Should We “Answer Each Person”?

“Let your words always be gracious, . . . so that you will know how you should answer each person.”​—COL. 4:6.

1, 2. (a) Relate an experience that shows the value of asking well-chosen questions. (See opening image.) (b) Why do we not need to feel intimidated by challenging topics?

A NUMBER of years ago, a Christian sister was discussing the Bible with her unbelieving husband. In the past, he had been a nominal member of one of Christendom’s churches. During their discussion, her husband said that he believed in the Trinity. Discerning that he might not have realized what the Trinity teaching is all about, she tactfully asked, “Do you believe that God is God, that Jesus is God, and that the holy spirit is God; yet, there are not three Gods but one God?” Surprised, the husband said, “No, I don’t believe that!” A lively conversation about the true nature of God then ensued.

2 That experience illustrates the value of asking tactful, well-chosen questions. It also highlights an important point: We do not need to feel intimidated by challenging topics, such as the Trinity, hellfire, or the existence of a Creator. If we rely on Jehovah and on the training he provides, we can often give a persuasive answer, one that may reach the heart of our listeners. (Col. 4:6) Let us now examine what effective ministers do when discussing such topics. We will consider how to (1) ask questions that draw the person out, (2) reason on what the Scriptures say, and (3) use illustrations to drive home our point.


3, 4. Why is it important to use questions to help us to determine what a person believes? Give an example.

3 Questions can help us to determine what a person believes. Why is that important? “When anyone replies to a matter before he hears the facts, it is foolish and humiliating,” states Proverbs 18:13. Indeed, before delving into a discussion of the Bible’s viewpoint on a certain topic, we do well to try to determine what our listener really believes. Otherwise, we might spend a lot of time refuting an idea that he never believed in the first place!​—1 Cor. 9:26.

4 Suppose we are discussing the topic of hell with someone. Not everyone believes that hell is a literal place of fiery torment. Many believe that it is a condition of conscious separation from God. Hence, we could say something like this: “Since people have different ideas about hell, may I ask what your thoughts are?” After hearing the person’s answer, we will be in a better position to help him understand what the Bible says on the subject.

5. How can questions help us learn why a person believes as he does?

5 Tactful questions can also help us to learn why a person believes what he does. For instance, what if someone we meet in the ministry says that he does not believe in God? It might be easy to assume that the person has been influenced by secular views, such as the theory of evolution. (Ps. 10:4) However, some people have lost faith in God because of the intense suffering they have personally seen or experienced. They may find it hard to reconcile such suffering with the existence of a loving Creator. Therefore, if a householder expresses doubts about God’s existence, we could ask, “Have you always felt that way?” If the person says no, we might ask whether something in particular has caused him to doubt that God exists. His answer may help us to determine the best way to assist him spiritually.​—Read Proverbs 20:5.

6. What should we do after asking a question?

6 After asking a question, we really need to listen to the person’s answer and acknowledge his feelings. For example, someone may reveal that a tragedy has caused him to doubt the existence of a loving Creator. Before offering proof that God exists, we do well to sympathize with the person and let him know that it is not wrong to wonder why we suffer. (Hab. 1:2, 3) Our patient and loving approach may move him to want to learn more. *


What especially accounts for our effectiveness in the ministry? (See paragraph 7)

7. On what does much of our effectiveness in the ministry depend?

7 Let us now consider how to reason on what the Scriptures say. The Bible is, of course, our primary tool in the ministry. It enables us to be “fully competent, completely equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16, 17) Much of our effectiveness in the ministry depends, not on the number of scriptures we read, but on the way we reason on and explain those we do read. (Read Acts 17:2, 3.) To illustrate, consider the following three scenarios.

8, 9. (a) What is one way to reason with someone who believes that Jesus is equal to God? (b) What other lines of reasoning on this subject have you found to be effective?

8 Scenario 1: In our ministry, we meet someone who believes that Jesus is equal to God. What scriptures could we use to reason on the matter? We might invite the person to read John 6:38, where Jesus is quoted as saying: “I have come down from heaven to do, not my own will, but the will of him who sent me.” After considering that verse, we could ask the person: “If Jesus is God, who sent him down from heaven? Would that One not be greater than Jesus? After all, the sender is superior to the one who is sent.”

9 Along similar lines, we could read Philippians 2:9, where the apostle Paul describes what God did after Jesus died and was resurrected. The verse says: “God exalted him [Jesus] to a superior position and kindly gave him the name that is above every other name.” To help the person reason on that scripture, we might ask: “If Jesus was equal to God before he died and God later exalted him to a higher position, would that not put Jesus above God? Yet, how could anyone become superior to God?” If the person respects God’s Word and is honesthearted, such reasoning may move him to examine the subject further.​—Acts 17:11.

10. (a) How might we reason with someone who believes in hellfire? (b) What reasoning have you found to be effective when discussing hellfire?

10 Scenario 2: A deeply religious householder finds it hard to believe that bad people will not be tormented forever in hellfire. His belief in hellfire may be rooted in a desire to see wicked people pay a penalty for their bad deeds. How might we reason with an individual who feels that way? First, we could assure him that the wicked will be punished. (2 Thess. 1:9) Then, we could have him read Genesis 2:16, 17, which shows that the penalty for sin is death. We might explain that by his sin, Adam caused the entire human race to be born as sinners. (Rom. 5:12) But we can point out that God said nothing about being punished in hellfire. We could then ask, “If Adam and Eve were in danger of being tormented forever, would it not have been fair to warn them of that?” We could then read Genesis 3:19, where sentence was pronounced after their sin but nothing was said about hellfire. Instead, Adam was told that he would return to the dust. We might ask, “Would it have been fair to tell Adam that he would go back to the ground if he was really going to a fiery hell?” If the person is open-minded, such a question may cause him to think more deeply on this subject.

11. (a) What is one way to reason with someone who believes that all good people go to heaven? (b) What reasoning have you found to be effective on the subject of going to heaven?

11 Scenario 3: In our ministry, we meet someone who believes that all good people go to heaven. Such a belief may affect the way the householder interprets the Bible. For example, suppose we were to consider with him Revelation 21:4. (Read.) The person might assume that the blessings described in that verse apply to life in heaven. How could we reason with him? Rather than using additional proof texts, we could focus on a detail right in that scripture. It says that “death will be no more.” We could ask the person if he agrees that in order for something to be no more, it had to exist in the first place. Likely, he will say yes. Then we could point out that there has never been death in heaven; people die only here on earth. Logically, then, Revelation 21:4 must be referring to future blessings here on earth.​—Ps. 37:29.


12. Why did Jesus use illustrations?

12 In addition to questions, Jesus used illustrations during his preaching work. (Read Matthew 13:34, 35.) Jesus’ illustrations helped to reveal the motives of those who heard him speak. (Matt. 13:10-15) Illustrations also made Jesus’ teaching appealing and memorable. How can we use illustrations in our own teaching?

13. How might we illustrate that God is superior to Jesus?

13 Simple illustrations are often the best kind to use. For example, when explaining that God is superior to Jesus, perhaps we can try the following approach. We can mention that both God and Jesus used a family reference when describing their relationship. God referred to Jesus as his Son, and Jesus spoke of God as his Father. (Luke 3:21, 22; John 14:28) Next, we might ask the householder: “If you wanted to teach me that two people are equal, what type of family relationship would you use to illustrate the point?” The person may mention siblings​—even twins. If he does, we could point out how natural that comparison seems to be. Then we might ask: “If you and I could come up with this illustration so readily, would not Jesus​—the Great Teacher—​have thought of the same comparison? Instead, he spoke of God as being his Father. Jesus thus portrayed God as being older and having more authority than he had.”

14. What illustration shows that it would be illogical for God to have the Devil torment people in hellfire?

14 Consider another example. Some believe that Satan is “in charge” of hellfire. An illustration may help a parent to see how illogical it would be for God to have the Devil torment people in hellfire. We could say something like this: “Imagine that your child has become very rebellious and is doing many bad things. How would you react?” Likely, the parent would say that he would correct his child. He might repeatedly try to help the child stop doing what is bad. (Prov. 22:15) At this point, we might ask the parent what he would do if the child rejected all efforts to help him. Most parents would say that eventually they would have no choice but to punish the child. We could then ask, “What if you found out that an evil person had influenced your child to become so rebellious?” No doubt, the parent would be angry with such a person. Driving home the point of the illustration, we might ask the parent, “Knowing that an evil individual had influenced your child, would you ask that person to punish your child for you?” The answer, of course, would be no. Clearly, then, God would not use Satan to punish the very same people who have been influenced by the Devil himself to do bad things!


15, 16. (a) Why should we not expect that everyone we preach to will accept the Kingdom message? (b) Do we have to be especially gifted in order to teach effectively? Explain. (See also the box “ A Tool to Help Us Give an Answer.”)

15 We realize that not everyone we preach to will accept the Kingdom message. (Matt. 10:11-14) That would be true even if we were to ask just the right questions, use the best reasoning, and come up with the finest illustrations. After all, relatively few responded to Jesus’ teaching​—and he was the greatest Teacher ever to walk the earth!​—John 6:66; 7:45-48.

16 On the other hand, even if we feel that we are not especially gifted, we can be effective in our ministry. (Read Acts 4:13.) God’s Word gives us sound reason for believing that “all those . . . rightly disposed for everlasting life” will accept the good news. (Acts 13:48) So let us develop and maintain a balanced view of ourselves and those with whom we seek to share the good news of the Kingdom. May we take full advantage of the training Jehovah provides, confident that it will benefit both us and those who listen to us. (1 Tim. 4:16) Jehovah can help us to see how we should “answer each person.” As we will next see, one way to succeed in our ministry is to follow what is often called the Golden Rule.

^ par. 6 See the article “Is It Possible to Build Faith in a Creator?” in the October 1, 2009, issue of The Watchtower.