The Relational Covenant
- Stand Shoulder-to-Shoulder
- Believe the Best
- Talk To, Not About
Read previous entries in this series:
An Introduction to The Relational Covenant
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO TALK TO, NOT ABOUT?
To Talk To, Not About simply means exactly what it says: whenever you have an issue with someone, you always go talk to that person about the issue; you do not choose to go talk about that person or issue with someone else.
There is a clear Biblical precedent for this. Matthew 18:15-16 says, “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’” But what have we ‘won’ by talking to, not about other people? We win people over to Christ, following His example of true reconciliation so that we might understand more deeply the joy of eternal life. And we win unity in the Body of Christ: a beautiful testimony to the world and victory over the Enemy.
Why is it so important to talk to the person first? Philippians 2:3 provides interesting insight into this: “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves.” That word phrase, “selfish ambition,” comes from the Greek word eritheia. What’s so interesting about this word is that “selfish ambition” really might not be the best way to translate this word. According to Blue Letter Bible’s Outline of Biblical Usage, this word more directly means, “a desire to put one’s self forward, a partisan and fractious spirit which does not disdain low arts.” It contains an element of faction making and disunity. That is to say, Paul urges us to choose placing others above ourselves rather than to go around putting ourselves forward and creating division. And how do we create factions? By speaking about the people around us in such a way as to cause others to take sides.
Most often, we probably don’t even realize we’re doing this. When we sit down with a good friend to vent about how difficult our boss has been lately, we’re not usually trying to get our friend to dislike our boss. However, due to the nature of friendship, this is most often the case. By not guarding our words, we’ve caused our friend to take our side against our boss’s. While this type of scenario usually begins innocently enough, if you take time to think about you, you will hopefully realize that anytime we promote dislike and judgment over compassion and understanding, we are not choosing to walk as Jesus did. Moreover, we are becoming a stumbling block in our friend’s faith by forcing them into a lose-lose situation: either they take our side and participate in judgment and condemnation, or they try to take the “high road,” which can lead to a strained friendship.
Many people argue that they need a “safe person” to process their emotions with before they can go directly confront the person they are in conflict with. More often than not, though, this time to process ends up being a vent session at best, and at worst can turn into ugly gossip. It’s so important to guard against this type of conversation, because the New Testament has some of its harshest words for those who gossip:
- James 1:26 says, “Those who consider themselves religious and yet do not keep a tight rein on their tongues deceive themselves, and their religion is worthless.” If we are truly walking with Jesus, we will not let our words go where they could ever cause harm to another.
- James 4:11 builds on this idea: “Brothers and sisters, do not slander one another. Anyone who speaks against a brother or sister or judges them speaks against the law and judges it.” Again, we might not think of telling a good friend about our troubles with a co-worker as “slandering” that co-worker, but anytime we speak in a way that causes the object of our conversation to lose respect or esteem in the eyes of others, we are slandering them.
- In Romans 1:29-32, Paul lists gossip alongside several other sins: “They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy. Although they know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them.” It’s often easy to brush off gossip as a harmless, ‘lesser sin.’ It’s sobering, then, to realize the weight of sin when we gossip when we see it next to things like ‘God-haters.’ It’s even more sobering to think that the root of gossip comes from envy, murder, or strife in our hearts.
- However, Ephesians 4:29 encourages us to “let no unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Even when someone has hurt us, we’re still commanded to love and forgive them as Christ has loved and forgiven us, which means we continue to look for ways to serve them and meet their needs, even in our words about them to the people around us. Moreover, because we love our brothers and sisters in Christ, we look for ways to build up the church, which means we measure our words to guard against any needless faction making.
Sometimes, a “safe person” to talk to is a legitimate need. However, we’d encourage you to ask yourself if your “safe person” is truly safe:
- Will they remain neutral as you share your struggles, not automatically taking your side but instead helping you see things from another perspective?
- Will they ask you questions and bring you back to the Gospel rather than just letting you set yourself up as the “fully right” person and the person you are in conflict with as the “fully wrong” person?
- Will they challenge you to go talk to the person you are in conflict with after you have processed with them?
- Will they hold you accountable for talking to that person and afterward help you reflect on the truth of God and His character that you experienced?
If so, this person is a great person to help you process your conflict and look for ways to work towards unity and reconciliation.
There is one other element we need to address before we move into practical applications for discipleship: What if you are the one who was in the wrong? Or, what if you know someone is upset with you, but you don’t feel like you’ve done anything wrong? It is still so important that you go talk to the person. In Matthew 5:23-24, Jesus commands us to pursue those people: “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” He doesn’t tell us exactly how we are to be reconciled, but he makes it clear that we cannot worship with pure hearts until we are reconciled and living in right relationships to the best of our ability.
Again, we’ll talk more about this practically in discipleship next week (and we have a great new “How to Have a Hard Conversation” tool to share!), but this week we’d encourage you to start practicing! When you find yourself in conflict with someone, don’t talk about them. Talk to them!
©2018 by Jack McQueeney. All rights reserved. Please do not reproduce without express permission.
The Apprentice Approach is about helping every-day people master the art of disciplemaking and grew out of the fact that…. Many Christians struggle with making disciples, they feel busy, overwhelmed and not qualified. We understand this struggle which is why we created a Bible based framework so any believer can master the art of disciplemaking! One of our outcomes is seeing the folks we engage with walk away saying, “I can do that!”