Over the years, I’ve learned much about how to quickly shut down a conversation. In the past, I spoke the facts with an air of superiority giving no regard for feelings. They were wrong so it was their problem if I hurt their feelings. Hindsight reveals the recklessness of this attitude. Though I’ve grown much in this area (all glory to God!), there are certainly still times that I fail miserably. I’ve learned the hard way that being right doesn’t give me the right to be mean.
Proverbs 15:1-2 A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
2 The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge,
but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.
As Christians, we can be rightly accused by the world of being harsh and unloving in the way we communicate our beliefs. (I am not saying that we should compromise the Truth in any way- I think it is a great failure of the Church that many have watered down God’s Word in order to make to sound friendlier to the world.) I heard something many years ago that has greatly helped me. I was told, “the harder the truth, the gentler the tone.” We can’t verbally assault someone with the Truth and expect him to concede that we are right. Yet, many of us do just that. We arrogantly desire to win the argument more than we desire to love a person who is lost.
I have a very dear family member who knows the bible well and has taught Sunday school for many years. He is passionate about his beliefs and refuses to waver to go along with our culture of relativism. He is not ashamed of his faith and speaks boldly for Christ. I have the utmost respect for him. But there are times that he speaks the Truth without really speaking for Christ. When we speak the Truth, we proclaim the truth of God’s Word; we do not take it out of context or misinterpret it to fit our needs. When we speak for Christ we proclaim the Truth as above, but we also guard our tone of voice. We speak the Truth as Jesus did.
Jesus was angered by the sin of the religious leaders and he boldly called them to repentance (John 2, 5, 6, 7, 8, 10). But when Jesus spoke to those who were broken, hurting, or ignorant, he spoke gently. Jesus didn’t just state the facts of the Gospel. Jesus spoke the Gospel by his words, his tone of voice, and his genuine concern for people.
Jesus’ tenderness did not compromise the power of his words. On the contrary, I believe his tenderness made his words all the more convicting. Consider his conversations with Nicodemus in John 3, the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4, the adulterous woman in John 8, or Peter in John 21. In each case, Jesus shared the Truth but showed his great love for them. Each of these people repented of their sins and followed Jesus.
People begin to listen when we begin to show that we care. The more we show love for them, the more receptive they are to our words-- even if it isn’t what they want to hear. Jesus didn’t argue with people with bullet point evidence to make his case (though his knowledge of all things is clearly superior), and we shouldn’t either. Jesus asked people questions, he listened, and he answered their questions. Jesus made himself accessible to those who were hurting even when he was exhausted and hungry (John 4, 6). He humbly put others before Himself, and he spoke so others would listen.
1 Corinthians 13:1-8 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.