I have a friend who is a gym teacher at an all boys elementary school. He loves to tell a great story about watching kids line up for gym class. You can see them, can’t you? All dressed identical in little navy gym shorts and grey t-shirts. Timmy pokes Jason in the side. Jason pokes him back. Timmy slaps Jason. Jason slaps him back. Soon, it escalates to shoving, and before you know it, one of them is on the ground looking up at the gym lights and rafters.
Sometimes, it is that way with grown-ups too, isn’t it? At work. In your family. Even at church. Mr. Smith says something to Mr. Franklin that just happens to push Mr. Franklin’s buttons. Before you know it, Mr. Smith is offended. At Men’s Bible study coffee the next morning, Mr. Smith is telling Mr. Thompson about how horrible a man Mr. Franklin is. Mr. Thompson sees Mr. Franklin the next Sunday morning and decides not to talk with him any longer. Mrs. Franklin then sees Mrs. Smith at the Ladies Bible Study on Tuesday and gives her an earful and Mrs. Thompson stands off to the side and can’t imagine why her two dear friends are terribly miffed at each other.
Miscommunication. Being misunderstood. A short email not intended to be mean-spirited turns into hurt feelings and an offended heart. Holding grudges then turns into bitterness. And it can be like a malignant cancer that spreads not only through one person, but among a whole group of people. And things get ugly.
And every one of us is susceptible to ugliness, because every one of us is human… and we are sinners. Relational conflict is a part of a normal life. Solomon suggested it is healthy as it sharpens us. Ugliness and slander and gossip, however, are sin.
The Bible is full of great counsel on how to handle relating to one another.
If you look at the Ten Commandments, they are all about relating. The first four outline our relationship to God; the other six provide rules for our relationship with one another. There are hundreds of scriptures that deal with relationships and communication. Here are a few:
A gentle response defuses anger, but a sharp tongue kindles a temper-fire.
Proverbs 15:1 (The Message)
Watch the way you talk. Let nothing foul or dirty come out of your mouth. Say only what helps, each word a gift.
Ephesians 4:29 (The Message)
Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly.
2 Timothy 2:16 (NIV)
“Death and life are in the power of the tongue.”
Or as the Living Bible puts it:
“Those who love to talk will suffer the consequences. Men have died for saying the wrong thing!”
The gospel according to my mom said it this way: “Ask these three questions before opening your mouth: Is it needful? Is it truthful? Is it kind?”
Words are important.
Think about that for a moment. Think about when words have lifted you up and given you life. “It’s a boy!” “Yes, I will marry you!” Or those times when you have been devastated by words, and even brought death… death to a marriage, death to a lifelong friendship, death to a dream. All because someone merely spoke some words.
Jesus takes it a step further by saying in Matthew 18. verse 18: “What you say to one another is eternal. I mean this.” Your words are eternal! Once spoken they continue on into the cosmos forever… like a stone that ripples in a borderless pond.
Yet, even with all this warning in the Bible, sometimes we say dumb things, don’t we? Sometimes we don’t think before we speak, do we? And when that happens, there is a “blazing flame of destruction and disaster” (see James 3).
So, if we can control our tongue that’s good. If we think before we speak, that’s good. But when we don’t, we often hurt other people. And then what happens next? There is anger. Bitterness. Friendships are strained. Lifelong relationships are fractured.
But Jesus… the grace of Jesus gives us some very practical tools to bring reconciliation. And that is why during this Thanksgiving season we can be thankful for His grace and His perfect plan of forgiveness. With the Holy Spirit guiding us, we have the ability to walk with joy with one another.
What is His plan for forgiveness? Matthew 18:15-17 and Ephesians 4 are great resources you can explore. Can you commit to walking in a Biblical model of forgiveness? Can you agree to this covenant:
- I will not pass along a bad report about anyone.
- I will first go to the one who offended me and seek reconciliation.
- Only if we cannot be reconciled person-to-person, I will meet with an elder or pastor to discuss the situation, with the goal being a meeting with the person who offended me and an elder or pastor.
- I will guard the unity of the Body of Christ.
This is a model that is not convicting, but rather freeing, in how we can walk in personal relationships. When Jesus prayed for us in the garden in John 17, He asked the Father to give us the grace to walk in unity as the Father and the Son are unified.
Jesus is asking that we, fellow Believers, be one… just as the Father is of one heart and one mind with the Son. We can be united SO THAT the world will believe. That’s key isn’t it? Yes, of course, we are human. We will have relational and communication issues as sure as the sun shines every day. And even this week, when you get together with your family for Thanksgiving or next month at Christmas… sometimes those are the hardest times and the most difficult people to offer grace and forgiveness to, right?… But we don’t have to let our differences, our offenses, destroy that which God has established.
Jesus has made a way for us to be reconciled… eternally with God and right now with each other. And that is something for which we can all be thankful.