You’ve seen it a thousand times. Two Christians, members of the same family (or of God’s family), are trying to resolve a conflict when one of them shuts down right in the middle of the process. “What’s going on here?” you wonder. You’re not sure where to begin probing. “Is he angry? Is she afraid? Is it a matter of vengeance—is she purposely shutting down in order to pay back the other for some hurtful comment that was made earlier in the conversation? Has he never been taught proper biblical communication skills? Is she trying to avoid conflict, or, is it simply a matter of her choosing to not answer because she doesn’t know what to say?”
To Speak or Not To Speak?
Regardless of what’s behind it, in the final analysis, if the Christian doesn’t understand that he has a biblical responsibility to communicate in the midst of conflicts—if he is not convicted that in most circumstances it is unbiblical to refuse to communicate (even if it’s only to politely ask for a “rain check”)—then he will be slow to change.
“But isn’t it better to keep silent in many cases?” you may be wondering. “Besides, what about those verses in Scripture (like Proverbs 17: 27-28) that basically tell us it’s better to keep our mouths shut than to sin.”
He who restrains his words has knowledge,
And he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
Even a fool, when he keeps silent, is considered wise;
When he closes his lips, he is considered prudent.
Sure, generally speaking, Christians are exhorted to be cool-spirited, calm, cheek-turning, peace makers who make every effort to maintain unity. And, on the other side of the same coin, we are exhorted to avoid being contentious, to keep away from strife, to not quarrel, or battle and a dozen other things that are usually thought of as conflict. But there are times when we must speak if we want to please God.
Christians, as a rule, are to be active rather than passive in the communication process. They may not sit passively by, expecting those with whom they are supposed to be conversing to take all of the initiative. But rather than volunteering the data necessary for the dialogue, inactive individuals expect their counterparts to drag out of them all but the most basic information.
Biblical Communication Principles
Here are a few biblical communication principles along with some corresponding Scripture reference from which the principles have been extrapolated. In doing so, it is my hope that by unpacking for your uncommunicative counselees, you may help them to reprogram their underdeveloped consciences and thereby help them find more freedom to communicate when and as they ought.
- Sometimes, to not speak is a sin (Ezekiel 33:8; Ecclesiastes 3:7b; Esther 4:13-14; Luke 17:3).
- Because love does not act unbecomingly (it is not rude), it does not impolitely become unresponsive but rather gives an appropriate answer. If it is not able to provide the requested information, it explains why it cannot—or at least that it cannot—currently respond as expected to the request1C.f. Matthew 15:23–26, Mark 11:29–30 This is the rule. There are exceptions to the rule as, for example, when Jesus refused to answer questions from certain individuals. (1 Corinthians 13:5a; 1 Corinthians 10:32; Colossians 4:6; Romans 12:10).
- Love takes the initiative to express itself—even when it may “hurt” the person being loved (2 Corinthians 2:4, 7:8).
- Withdrawing in the midst of a conflict (without good reason) is often a selfish decision (Proverbs 18:1; Galatians 2:11-14).
- Those in superior positions (parents, bosses, teachers, rulers) have a right and responsibility to request information from their subordinates. Those in subordinate positions have a responsibility to open up to (communicate with) their superiors (Proverbs 25:2; Ecclesiastes 8:4;).
- It is sometimes proper to respond with a totally different answer than what might be expected (Proverbs 26:4-5).
- Sometimes we must speak even when we are asked to keep quiet (Acts 4:18-20).
- It is not necessarily wrong to communicate when one is angry (as long as the anger is righteous rather than sinful2I mention this because many Christian’s believe that if they are angry (even if righteously so) they must remain silent rather than speak. Consequently, out of fear of committing one sin (a sin of commission), they commit another (a sin of omission) by remaining silent when they should speak. and is transmitted through biblical means of communication)3When righteous anger is expressed with sinful forms of communication it will likely be perceived as sinful anger. More importantly, will also be viewed as sin by God (Job 32:4-6; Mark 3:5; Acts 17:16-17).
I have unpacked each of these principles a bit more in Resolving Conflict: How to make, Disturb and Keep Peace. But until you have a chance to check that out, I trust what I have written here will be useful to you in your ministry of the Word.
Resolving Conflict: How to Make, Disturb, and Keep Peace by Lou Priolo