The basic idea of persuading is that of convincing. When people seek to convince others of the truth of some concept or proposition, then they are trying to persuade them to change their minds about the matter and come to a particular point of view. The persuasion can be based on emotion, reason, or both. There are several examples of this in Scripture.
When Jesus was on trial and Pilate gave the choice of releasing Barabbas or Jesus, “the chief priests and the elders persuaded the crowd to ask for Barabbas and destroy Jesus” (Matt 27:20). When Paul and Barnabas were preaching in the city of Lystra, some “Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having persuaded the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing that he was dead” (Acts 14:19).
These are examples of crowds being persuaded to act in opposition to Jesus and the disciples. Yet the disciples of Jesus are themselves engaged in trying to persuade others of the truth about Jesus and what He did in going to the cross. When Paul was in Thessalonica, he went into the synagogue and reasoned with the people from the Scriptures. Even though there was a negative reaction by some of the Jews there who sought to persecute Paul, others were convinced by Paul “explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, “This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ.” The text continues, “And some of them were persuaded and joined Paul and Silas, as did a great many of the devout Greeks and not a few of the leading women.” (Acts 17:3-4). Notice that the method of persuasion from Paul’s part was that of reasoning, explaining, and proving. These are ideas that will be explored in more detail.
When Paul was in Corinth, once again, “he reasoned in the synagogue every Sabbath, and tried to persuade Jews and Greeks” (Acts 18:4). Some of the Jews there “made a united attack on Paul and brought him before the tribunal, saying, ‘This man is persuading people to worship God contrary to the law.’” (Acts 18:12-13). Paul would spend a year and a half there “teaching the word of God among them” (v. 11).
Acts 19 shows Paul at Ephesus engaged in the same process (v. 8): “And he entered the synagogue and for three months spoke boldly, reasoning and persuading them about the kingdom of God.” The teaching of the kingdom of God created quite an uproar at Ephesus, and some the businesses were affected because they were engaged in the making of silver shrines of Artemis, the pagan goddess. They argued (vv. 25-26), “Men, you know that from this business we have our wealth. And you see and hear that not only in Ephesus but in almost all of Asia this Paul has persuaded and turned away a great many people, saying that gods made with hands are not gods.”
Later, as Paul stood before Agrippa II and made his case in Acts 26, Agrippa responded to Paul (v. 28), “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” Whether or not Agrippa was being honest or facetious is up for discussion, but it still shows a recognition that persuasion is at the heart of accepting the gospel message. The evangelists were clearly in the business of persuasion in their efforts to teach the gospel.
The concept of persuasion is stressed when Paul wrote to the Corinthians. He was showing the perspective that a child of God, especially under persecution, ought to have in looking not at what is seen but at what is not seen, “For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal” (2 Cor 4:18). He then points to the fact that in Christ there is the hope of a new “tent” or body from God in the resurrection as Christians look to the eternal life God gives. Christians need to take courage, then, knowing that they will be at home with the Lord one day. This knowledge, in turn, is a motivating factor: “So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him” (2 Cor 5:9). One day there will be a day in which all stand before the judgment seat of Christ (v. 10).
All of that sets up the point being made about persuasion: “Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others” (v. 11). Christians realize the importance of seeking to persuade and convince others of the truth of the gospel message. They are eager to share what Christ has done for them and are not satisfied to sit back and watch the world die without at least the opportunity to know the Lord.
Yet to seek to persuade others is not an easy task. Persuasion requires knowledge of the truth, commitment to the task, and the ability to grasp what others need to hear by starting where they are in the process. In other words, Christians need to be preparing themselves to engage in the process of persuasion because everyone will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ.