Respect the Image | Mean What You Say, Understand What You Hear, & Nourish with Grace
What are two words you should never say in an argument? Is there a contradiction in the slogans "Black Lives Matter," and "All Lives Matter?" What is one quality our words should always dispense? Last week we considered the first three biblical principles of communication. This week we will consider the next three principles – Mean what you Say, Understand What You Hear, and Nourish with Grace.
Mean What You Say
When we do not mean what we say, we can cause frustration, poison communication, and disrespect the image of God in others. Since our desire is to be heard in a given situation, it is our responsibility to always speak in a manner that is honest and clear and avoids vagueness and generalizations. James simply commands us to mean what we say in every circumstance (James 5:12).
An example of not following this principle often manifests itself in conflict when we use the words never and always. When there is conflict in a marriage, it can be unhelpful to say, “he never apologizes,” or “she always thinks she is right.” Not only are the words never and always often misleading, but they also demean and insult the other person. There is a difference between never and not as often as I would like! I'm much more receptive to hear my wife when she says, “I'd really appreciate it if you put the toilet seat down more often,” instead of, “you never put the toilet seat down!” God wants us to be careful about every word we say (and type!). If you have sinned in this way, confess it to God with the assurance of forgiveness (1 John 8:10), but also apologize to the person you have been untruthful about and seek their forgiveness as well.
Understand What You Hear
How often do we think we fully understand another person without taking the time to actually hear what they are saying? I can think of many conversations that happen on social media that could be more constructive if each person decided to listen and try and understand where the other person was coming from. Proverbs tell us that we are fools if we do not take pleasure in understanding, but only in speaking our opinion (Prov 18:2). Respecting the image means that we cannot presume to understand or choose to stereotype anyone who is made in God’s image. If we prejudge or dismiss lightly the words of another person, we commit relational violence against someone who bears vestiges of the holy.
One example of this can be seen when people use the terms “Black Lives Matter” or “All Lives Matter.” While both these slogans may seem to signal disagreement, it is not necessary. We need to take the time to listen and understand what people mean by these phrases and the particular point they might be trying to emphasize by using them. Assuming that everyone who says “Black Lives Matter” has a radical leftist agenda, or assuming that everyone who says “All Lives Matter” doesn’t care about black lives is probably wrong. Listening to gain understanding involves not only careful attention to words but also aking follow-up questions that aim for clarification. People are deep wells – they have opinions stored well beneath the surface that is hidden to most – unplumbed by only a few wise people who know how to draw people out (Prov 20:5). Let us be wise as we strive to really understand what others are trying to say.
Nourish with Grace
We should strive to build our relationships that edify and nourish so that others might become strong and beautiful through them. Paul admonishes us to only speak words that are good for building up so that it may give grace to those who hear (Eph 4:29). Each person who is made in the image of God requires to be built up and nourished. Words are a powerful way to dispense grace to our hearers. But how often can this be lacking in our relationships?
Recently my wife said to me that “I know you love me, but I don’t know if I’m being a good wife to you.” Unfortunately, this exposed an area of weakness in me since I have been very slow to point out evidences of God’s grace in my wife. Paul explicitly calls husbands to “nourish and cherish” our wives, just as Christ nourishes and cherishes the church (Eph 5:28-29). Unfortunately, we can often withhold encouraging words from a spouse because of our insecurities or because we selfishly wonder if our encouragement would make the other person prideful or make them appear better than us. Aren’t you thankful that despite your sin and rebellion against God, the words he speaks over you are - beloved, son/daughter, forgiven, adopted, and friend? None of these nourishing words would be possible without the work of Jesus, who is the living nourishing word of God over our lives. Let us extend that same nourishment to those in our church family (1 Thess 5:11) as well as those outside the church (Col 4:6).
- Is there anyone you need to ask for forgiveness because you did not mean what you said to them during a conflict?
- How can you grow in nourishing and encouraging your spouse specifically?
- Ask the Holy Spirit to help you point our evidences of grace in others in your life.
- Pray for help in your desire and ability to really understand someone with whom you vehemently disagree.
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