The famous film Titanic adds a fictional love story about two young people, Jack and Rose, to a true story about a massive boat called the Titanic. Everyone believed the boat was so big and strong and modern that it couldn’t sink. In 1912, thousands of people boarded the Titanic in England to sail to America. But in the middle of the ocean, it ran into an iceberg and it sank. In the film, Rose is staying in the expensive, first class part of the boat, and Jack is staying in the cheap, third class part. But they manage to meet and fall in love. While they are out on deck together, they see the iceberg just as the ship crashes into it. A little later, Rose has a conversation with the man who built the ship:
Rose: Mr. Andrews! I saw the iceberg, and I see it in your eyes . . . please, tell me the truth!
Thomas Andrews: The ship will sink.
Rose: Are you certain?
Thomas Andrews: Yes, in an hour or so, all of this will be at the bottom of the Atlantic.
At this point in the film, most people on the ship don’t know the ship is going down. They are just carrying on enjoying themselves. The orchestra is playing. Food and drinks are being served. But Rose knows. She also knows from Mr. Andrews that there aren’t enough lifeboats for everyone on the ship to be saved. He says to her,
Please tell only who you must, I don’t want to be responsible for a panic. And get to a boat quickly. Don’t wait. You remember what I told you about the boats?2
When I was a teenager, I heard a man named Rico Tice explain that if the message of Jesus is true, it’s like we’re all sailing on the Titanic. Jesus warns us that without his offer of salvation, everyone is facing God’s judgment as surely as the people on that ship were facing drowning if they didn’t get to a lifeboat. The people on the ship are just going about their daily lives and don’t think they have a problem.
Christians are in a similar situation to Rose at this point in the film. She knows everyone is in deadly danger. If she tells people, they’ll have a chance to get to a lifeboat. But Jesus isn’t like Mr. Andrews. He doesn’t say, “Tell only who you must!” he says, “Tell everyone!” (Matthew 28:18–20). He doesn’t say, “There aren’t enough lifeboats to save all these people,” he says, “Whoever believes in me, though he dies, yet shall he live” (John 11:25). Jesus is the lifeboat. He’s got room for anyone who jumps. It’s not offensive and unloving for Christians to tell people that the ship is going down and to plead with them to run to Jesus. It’s offensive and unloving not to!
We Should Respect People . . . and Try to Persuade Them
If you’re a follower of Jesus, what does this mean? Should we stand in the streets and tell people that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life? Should we walk around the corridors at school and tell everyone we meet that they must run to the lifeboat of Jesus because the ship is going down? What guidance does the Bible give us?
Jesus told his followers to go and make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19). Like fish need to swim, Christians need to share their faith. Sometimes, this means standing in the street. But often people will be more willing to listen to us about Jesus if they know and trust us.
Imagine if Rose had wanted everyone on the Titanic to believe the ship was sinking. She could have run around the ship shouting. Lots of people would have heard the message. But they might just have thought she was crazy and ignored her. If she wanted strangers to believe her, she might have been better off introducing herself, getting to know them a bit, talking to them calmly, and explaining what she’d seen and been told by Mr. Andrews. Then, she could tell them to tell their family and friends. In a similar way, it is often better for Christians to get to know other people, listen to their stories, find out what they believe and why, and love them as neighbors, while also telling them about Jesus. People tend to listen most to someone they trust.
Often people will be more willing to listen to us about Jesus if they know and trust us.
The Bible also gives us guidance about how we should talk to people who aren’t yet followers of Jesus. Peter was one of Jesus’s most enthusiastic disciples. He said that Christians should always be ready to give a reason for their faith in Jesus, but that they should do this with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Paul—who hated Christians and went around arresting them before he met Jesus himself (see Acts 9)—said we should try to persuade others to put their trust in Jesus, but that we should do this only driven by Jesus’s love (2 Corinthians 5:11–14).
If we’re followers of Jesus, we must not give people the idea that we’re saying we are better than they are. Paul said Jesus came to save sinners, and Paul called himself the worst (1 Timothy 1:15). Being a Christian means admitting you’re a helpless sinner, not thinking you’re better than other people. But if the ship is going down, it’s not arrogant to tell people the truth and point them to the lifeboat. It’s deeply unloving not to.
In many countries today, people are being arrested and even executed for saying that Jesus is the only way. They’re risking their lives so that others have a chance to believe in Jesus and find eternal life in him. I sometimes find it hard to talk about my faith in Jesus, because I think people will be offended, or say that I’m arrogant or ignorant, or not want to be friends with me anymore. But if I really love my friends, I need to tell them the truth. And Jesus is the only way, the truth, and the life.