In some relationships, the communication is more about winning and losing rather than understanding each other. Guarding hearts and harnessing tongues is hard.
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When Lucia and I are getting edgy with each other, it can be a challenge for me to guard my heart and harness my tongue (James 3:8). My first thought is not typically a desire to understand her (1 Peter 3:7), but to make my point as persuasive as I can. This tactic is called competitive communication–a method of talking that contradicts the other-centered nature of the gospel (Mark 10:45).
When the winning and losing mentality of our culture creeps into our Christianity, we will no longer be a united body, but a combatant community. Winning at all costs is the survival of the fittest attitude that comes from our Adamic instincts.
The last will be first, and the first last. – Matthew 20:16
I am not wired to be humble. My natural disposition is to be a proud, self-reliant man who likes to win. Winning is so ingrained in Adamic people that we cannot see how the thought of it conflicts with the gospel.
Marital communication is one of those contexts where you see this kind of survival of the fittest competition. Like two soccer players colliding as they go for the ball; one is sprawled on the turf while the other races down the field to make the point.
Gospel-centered communication is different; it is about a towel and a basin (John 13:1-17). It is not about winning in the way we understand winning. Ultimately the gospel does win, but not through the usual processes that we think about victory (1 Corinthians 1:18-25).
Even the Lord’s disciples had a hard time grasping this idea of “dying to win” (Mark 8:31-33). They trained their minds to take the hill, rather than helping their friend up the hill.
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. – Ephesians 4:29
The cliche says sticks and stones will hurt, but words will never harm. It’s a lie. I have talked with scores of people who shared stories of being maltreated because of the poor communication dynamics within their relational constructs.
Whether it is how a husband talks to his wife, a wife to her husband, a parent to a child, or how siblings talk to each other, the story is the same: when the gospel is not motivating your speech patterns, people will be hurt.
This problem transcends time and generations. It is common to talk to a middle-aged man who recounts how his dad’s hurtful words affected him as a child. He shares these stories as though they happened yesterday. (I’m one of those old men who still remembers the hurtful words from a harsh dad.)
Forty years later, he is still working through what he experienced. In many of these cases, the dad was a professing Christian, which only compounded the problems by distorting the child’s view of his heavenly Father.
In his dad’s efforts to evangelize and show off Christ to the world, he overshot his family, specifically his son, by not giving him the best of the gospel that should have been flowing from his lips.
No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. – James 4:8
Like soldiers equipped for battle, our words march off our tongues with the ability to build up or tear down another human. If these soldiers are competitors rather than redeemers, the battle will be lost, and the relationships will suffer.
- Are you a redemptive talker or a competitive talker?
- In your last argument with someone, what held your primary interest: making your points or understanding the other person’s points?
- Are you more interested in the other person’s perspective or making sure people are convinced of your perspective?
- Do you have a healthy dose of self-suspicion when you argue with your spouse?
- How does the gospel practically impact the way you talk to others?
Battling the Tongue
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. – Psalm 19:14
Thank God for the gospel that tames our tongues because no person can. Our tongues are an unruly evil that we must subject to the gospel’s power (Romans 1:16). This necessity is not a one-time subjugation, but a daily ritual we should enforce upon our mouths (Luke 9:23).
We will not subdue our tongues ultimately until Jesus returns to give us new ones, but that does not have to be sad news. We have a gospel. An inability to tame the tongue is only unfortunate for those who do not have the power of the gospel resident within them.
Christians have this gospel power working in us (Ephesians 3:20). We can change. It boils down to two main things: Do you perceive the need to change your tongue; are you willing to do what it takes to reorient your mind to reshape your tongue (Ephesians 4:22)?
This process will not come easy, but it can happen for a person who has had enough of their miserable speech patterns. God will give grace to a humble person (James 4:6). If you want to be a redemptive talker, the first thing for you to do is lay your tongue on the altar while asking the Lord to change it.
This response to the Lord means your heart must change, which includes your motives and attitudes. Tongue problems begin in the heart, not on the lip (Luke 6:45).
- Do you want to change?
- Do you want to talk the way Jesus spoke?
- If so, let’s make a practical plan to change.
One of the unique aspects of the gospel is the direction in which it points. It is always looking away from the subject and toward the object. The gospel has a predetermined interest in others (Philippians 2:3-4).
Christ came from His place to our place so He could redeem us (John 3:16; Philippians 2:5-6). This understanding is vital for you to know before you open your mouth. If you do not perceive and practice other-centeredness, the first words out of your mouth will not have the other person in mind.
Your Christ-centered goal is to redeem (help) the other person (Hebrews 10:24). The first way you do this is by practically applying the primary purpose of the gospel, which can begin by seeking to understand (Hebrews 4:14-15).
What is right or wrong is not the most important thing at the beginning of a conversation. It is more important to understand what the other person meant. What is their perspective? Do you know them? Do you want to know them?
For he knows our frame; he remembers that we are dust. – Psalm 103:14
This perspective is what Christ did for us. Before He changed us, He became like us. He “got” us (Hebrews 4:15-16). Isn’t this one of the primary things you love about Jesus: He understands you (John 2:24-25)? Doesn’t Christ’s affection for you motivate you to change?
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger. – James 1:19
Christ did not come here to argue with me, but to help me. His purposes are always redemptive. You see this kind of other-centered attitude throughout the Scriptures where the Lord is interacting with humanity. This idea is one of the beautiful things I appreciate about the Psalms.
The Lord permitted the writers to express themselves, even when they were sinning. God always gives us time to speak. He does not fuss at or argue with us, but chooses to discern our thoughts and intentions, whatever they may be (Hebrews 4:12-13).
The Lord respects me, even though He does not always agree with me. He shows His respect by taking the time to patiently listen, understand, and know what is going on in my head.
Excellent disciplers call this the “data gathering time.” The goal is always to get inside the person’s mind. It is essential to see what they see, to know what they know, and to feel what they feel. Without this understanding, it is impossible to help them (Romans 12:15).
Without this understanding, the other person will probably not want your help. Isn’t this a fundamental reason you want the Lord’s help? He can listen without condemnation that motivates you to open up to Him wholeheartedly.
- How are you at creating a culture of grace within your relationships?
- Do you have a “way about you” that compels people to want to disclose their innermost thoughts to you?
- Can those closest to you be vulnerable around you?
There are times when I am listening to a person, and I say to myself, “Wow! That’s some whacked theology.” Or, “My goodness! We’ve got some work to do.” I do not tell the person what I think because that is not the most important thing at the moment.
I don’t want to be one of those “all about the truth” guys where correcting them becomes the main thing. That would be a mistake. You can nickel and dime a person to death and go away feeling good about yourself because the truth has been made clear, at least your perspective on the truth.
This attitude is why Jesus is so different; I do not feel like I am competing with Him. We are on the same team. He makes it this way by taking the time to understand me, and later on, by taking more time to reorient my thinking about how things should be.
He loves me when I am wrong (Romans 5:8). When I need to transform my mind on certain things, He gives me kindness and forbearance, which motivates me to change (Romans 2:4). Ultimately, I know He is for me (Romans 8:31).
His way of serving me by how He listens motivates me to want to love Him as well as to change in areas where I need to change. Gospel communication is powerful. It strengthens relationships while reorienting those relationships toward God.
Practical Homework Assignment
Will you write down all the verses below and do a homework assignment by applying them to a meaningful relationship in your life? Write out each Scripture and ask the corresponding question to the other person.
- 1 Peter 3:7 – Do you think I understand you?
- Mark 10:45 – Do you sense my desire to serve you by how I talk to you?
- Matthew 20:16 – Am I a communication competitor or a communication redeemer?
- 1 Corinthians 1:18-25 – What are some ways my communication is different from the world’s speech?
- Mark 8:31-33 – What ways do you sense Christlikeness in my speech?
- Ephesians 4:29 – How do you experience hurt when I talk to you?
- James 4:8 – How do I need to change as it pertains to my tongue?
- Psalm 19:14 – On a scale of one to ten, where would you rate my passion for talking in a manner that blesses the Lord?
- Philippians 2:5-6 – In what ways do you sense my effort to understand you?
- Hebrews 4:14-15 – Would you characterize me as mostly showing sympathy toward you?
- Psalm 103:14 – Do I “get” you?
- James 1:19 – Am I quicker to speak or quicker to listen?
- John 2:24-25 – In what ways do I need to grow and change as it pertains to knowing you?
- Genesis 9:6 – Do you feel respected by me?
- James 3:9 – What are some specific ways my words show respect to you?
- Romans 12:15 – Name a time when you experienced my empathy and how did it make you feel?
- Romans 8:1 – What do you experience most from me: correction or encouragement?
- 1 Thessalonians 5:14 – Do you consider me a patient person with you?
- 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 – When you put my name in the place of love in this text, how do I need to change?
- Romans 5:8 – How willing are you to share your faults with me?
- Romans 2:4 – How do I generally motivate you to change, whether good or bad?
- Romans 8:31 – Do you believe I am for you?
Also published on Medium.