There’s a way to say something that prevents others from receiving it. If you’ve never experienced this, just consider how many times you’ve seen two people in an argument and witnessed the proverbial “ships passing in the night.”
In such moments, people don’t seek to understand each other’s point of view. Instead, their chief concern is sharing their perspective and scoring as many points for their side as possible.
Sadly, this is even true with followers of Jesus—those of us given the command to “love our enemies.” In my own life, I’ve been astonished at my own lack of love for someone who disagrees with me. As a result, I’ve developed two “Rules of Engagement” that have helped me navigate challenging conversations.
Rule #1: Be Faithful to Christian Character, not just Christian Truth.
I see this all too often—in my own life and in the lives of other believers: we so easily forsake Christian character in the name of Christian truth. Sure, we may “earnestly contend for the faith” (Jude 3) and are “ready to give a defense for the hope with in us” (1 Peter 3:15). But we often do all this in a way that makes the truth look ugly, because we share it without any “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:16) for the other person.
In a stunning act irony, we loudly declare the Lordship of Jesus over such things as marriage, family, and education, but we fail to submit to His lordship when it comes to being compassionate, gentle, and respectful toward those who disagree with us.
We find ourselves more concerned with the rightness of our position than with how the truth could change someone’s life and lead them to experience God’s grace. In the name of conviction, we compromise compassion. One author captured the essence of this well when he wrote:
The chief reason for this is that in us men truth and love are seldom combined…Truth seduces us very easily into a kind of joy of possession: I have comprehended this and that, learned it, [and] understood it…[As a result] I am therefore more than the other man who does not know this or that. (Helmut Thielicke, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians, 16).
While this is common, it is not acceptable for the follower of Jesus. Remember: it was our King who affiliated with and cared for the sinners of his day, reminding us that “it is not the righteous who need a doctor, but the sick” (Mark 2:13–17).
Did he preach to them? Absolutely, but he knew the appropriate time in place. Otherwise, he served people—those who were foolish, disagreed with him, and made bad decisions. This is what he did for us, what he did for you.
To be a follower of Jesus is to do likewise: to serve those who disagree with us (Mark 10:35–45). It does absolutely no good to contend for the truth of Christianity in way that makes it look ugly. Not only is this ineffective, but more importantly: it dishonors our great King who is a “compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness” (Psalm 86:15).
Truth matters, but so does character. Without character, most people won’t give a rip about the truth we have to share with them. It’s an old saying, but it’s true: people just don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Rule #2: Seek to be Wise, not Just Opinionated
Not everything we want to share needs to be shared. This is a basic truth we tell our kids while they grow up, yet I know that all too often I forget to exercise wisdom and self-control when it comes to sharing my opinion.
A few years ago, I came across a few passages in the Old Testament that really confronted this in me.
- Proverbs 10:19—“When there are many words, sin is unavoidable, but the one who controls his lips is prudent.
- Proverbs 18:2— “A fool does not delight in understanding, but only wants to show off his opinions
- Ecclesiastes 6:11—“For when there are many words, they increase futility.
We’ve all experienced this before, haven’t we? We’ve all been in conversations with someone who seemed to only care about sharing their opinion, winning the argument, and getting their point across. They weren’t concerned with our perspective, what we had to say, or entertaining the possibility that they were wrong. Even when they listened, they weren’t really listening. They were just gearing up for their response.
Honest confession: I have been this person. And I don’t think it’s a stretch to say: we all have. I also don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Christians in general have a long history of being right in our convictions, but unwise in the way we communicate them to others.
The effect? Our words lack precision, accuracy, and insight. There’s no interest in what we have to say, because even though we may communicate a different message, we sound just like everyone else.
In the end, we find ourselves being a “noisy gong or a clanging symbol,” only adding noise to a culture in desperate need of wisdom and understanding. As carriers of Jesus’ gospel, we cannot afford to waste our words and add to the noise. We need to be wise, not just opinionated.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to dishonor Jesus by making His truth look ugly. Instead, I want to do everything I can to “adorn the teaching of God our Savior” (Titus 2:10) by walking in Godly wisdom that is “pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without pretense” (James 3:16).
The need is too great, the gospel is too glorious, and people are too precious for us to settle for our opinions when what people really need is an encounter with Jesus Christ. We can facilitate that encounter by serving people and being wise toward them.
The question is: do we really love people?
Do we really care about their lives being transformed by the gospel? If we do, then we’ll do everything we can to serve them and speak to them with wisdom—even if it means keeping our opinions to ourselves.