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Are you an officious intermeddler?

In the law of contracts under the doctrine of restitution, there is a concept known as "officiousness." Something that is officious is unwanted by the recipient, and the person who gives an unwanted "benefit" to another is known as an "officious intermeddler." When I first encountered this term, I actually laughed out loud. Imagine getting in a fight with your spouse, and in the course of a volley of jibes and affronts, he/she looks at you with angry, bulging eyes and says, "You're nothing but a low-down, good-for-nothing officious intermeddler!" Well, I never... How dare you!

Anyone who has studied the law knows there are countless terms like this one that either make you scratch your head, laugh, or want to run for the hills and give up studying the law altogether. I'm convinced there are more "unique" words in law than there are in medicine...and that's saying something. Promissory estoppel, inculpatory evidence, subpeona duces tecum, and writ of centiorari are but a few additional ones.

Notwithstanding its inherent novelty, there is some unintentional practical theology contained in this odd concept of officious intermeddling. How often do we as Christians assert ourselves into people's lives in such a way as to be unwanted? I've unfortunately witnessed too many pastors, church leaders, and would-be evangelists accost their unsuspecting victims, who have often reacted more like spooked cats than those who have just encountered Christ's compassionate children. Sure, I know...there is an inherent offense to the cross (Gal. 5:11). But what happens when we (not Christ or the cross) become the ones who are offensive? What happens when our pushiness, arrogance, unbending determination, or combination thereof begins pushing people away from Christ instead of drawing them to Him? What happens when the obstacle is not the truth of the gospel but, rather, the truth-teller?

When I was deployed as an Army chaplain in the Middle East in 2007-2008, I had a Soldier come up to me one day and say, "You know, chaplain, I usually don't talk to 'men of the cloth,' but I'll talk to you because you don't thump me over the head with the Bible every time you see me. You talk to me and treat me like a regular person." There are many ways to interpret a statement such as this, but I chose to interpret it in a positive light. I chose to see his comments as evidence of an open evangelistic door made ready through personal respect, patience, gentleness, and divinely inspired wisdom. Had I been a Bible-thumping chaplain, I would have offended this Soldier, pushed him away from God, and never had an audience with him. As it stood, though, I had many great conversations with him before and after this encounter. Did I ever "bring in the harvest" with him (i.e., personally lead him to the Lord)? No. But I'm sure I planted some seeds, and I am hopeful someone else will one day harvest the fruit of his growth in Christ (if they haven't done so already).

It is so easy to become "ambitious evangelists" and let our desire to win the lost (sometimes motivated by God but often motivated by pride and personal satisfaction) drive us to drive others away--to become officious intermeddlers who peddle our unwanted wares on those who would rather we simply not. Does this mean we stop teaching the gospel and cease all evangelistic efforts? Absolutely not! We are called to make disciples (Matt. 28:19-20) and to preach Christ and him crucified (1 Cor. 2:2). What it means is that we should approach the evangelistic endeavor with humility, patience, and wisdom. People need to hear truth, not be beat to death with it.

So, be patient, Christian. You don't need to force your way through the door; God will open it for you as you abide in Him, trust in Him, and see people as objects of His love rather than objects of evangelistic conquest. Remember, we are here to guide, not goad.

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