James (Steve) Clay, MABC, LPC
One of the more common problems that people face is inter-personal conflict. Whether in marriage, in families, in the church community, or elsewhere, conflict is inevitable, given that we are all inclined toward those things which create conflict. The way we handle disagreement is perhaps the greatest indicator of our heart affections, both toward God and other people. Our intention in this discussion is that we address that part of conflict to which we can all relate—feeling wronged and wanting to retaliate.
With that in mind, the Bible, as well as our experience, tells us that we tend to retaliate when we believe that we have been wronged, feel threatened, or believe that we are not getting what we deserve. It just feels like the natural thing to do. Oftentimes our reactions seem totally justified on the basis that we feel someone has wronged us. The Bible, however, teaches that we are never excused in doing wrong on the basis that we have been wronged.
Consider the following passages.
Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord. To the contrary, if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head. Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (Romans 12:17-21 ESV)
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. (1 Peter 2:21-24)
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind. Do not repay evil for evil or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing. For whoever desires to love life and see good days, let him keep his tongue from evil and his lips from speaking deceit; let him turn away from evil and do good; let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are open to their prayer. But the face of the Lord is against those who do evil. Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness' sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God's will, than for doing evil. (1 Peter 3:8-17 ESV)
While the Bible is clear that retaliation is not the way we should respond to perceived wrongs against us, neither does it reveal our Lord God as insensitive to those wrongs. Indeed, the Lord is the Avenger of wrong and a Refuge to those who are oppressed. In the first case, He strong in our behalf toward the evil-doer; in the second, He is our place of safety. Therefore, we can know that He both cares and that He will ultimately do something about sin committed against us.
Our goal should be to learn to defer to and trust in Lord in matters of perceived attacks against us, for that is His prerogative; furthermore, we should seek to gain wisdom in regard to how we should respond when we believe we have been wronged. Thinking biblically about conflict and praying for help enable us to gain wisdom, in order that God’s Spirit might enable us to respond in a manner that pleases Christ.
Let’s build a basis for responding to others who have sinned against us by stating several central truths:
- Reactions are oftentimes wrong by nature, that is, they are hasty and self-serving. (Proverbs 12:18).
- We react based on our own private interpretation of the facts as we see them. Our interpretation could very well be wrong (Proverbs 15:33; Jeremiah 17:9).
- Reacting could be, and often is, a result of misunderstanding, caused by a failure to listen well and with the right intentions (Proverbs 18:13).
- Responding in obedience to Christ, rather than reacting to perceived wrong, is more important than getting what we want or what we think we deserve (Ephesians 4:15, 25, 29, 31).
- What we want (what we value most in the moment) can, and often does, control our heart. (Matthew 6:21).
- Our words, then, are an expression of what we treasure in our hearts (Matthew 15:19; Luke 6:45).
- We tend to use words to get what we want or think we deserve (James 4:1-3).
- When what we want rules us, Christ is not allowed to be Lord over us or our situation, and conflict is inevitable (James 4:1).
We must realize that the real enemy is not the one with whom we have conflict, for our first and greatest enemy is our own sinful heart. Our reaction to perceived wrongs demonstrates our heart’s condition. Battling the urge to retaliate is the first area needing attention and is the focus of this blog. In order to make this practical for you, if and when possible, write down your reactions in a diary or log. This will help you see your own patterns.
Ask yourself these questions in the midst of conflict—
- “What do I want? What do I want to really happen? What’s most important to me right now?”
- “What do I believe (what am I thinking) about this situation? What are my feelings? Why am I feeling the way I am? What does this indicate about what I am wanting most from the situation?”
- “Could I be wrong in my interpretation of the situation and what the other person is doing or the intentions of his or her actions? Am I seeking to understand the other person?”
- “Have I listened well? What are the feelings of the other person? What is he or she thinking about the situation? What is his or her interpretation? Have I taken the time to understand?”
- “Why is it so important to me to feel heard, and yet of so little importance that I hear the other person? Why do I automatically feel right? Why do I feel I should be understood?” This is uncovering the deceitfulness of your heart.
Take the time to process the following scriptures and answer the questions, with the intent of prayerfully learning to respond biblically, rather than in retaliation.
When words are many, sin is not absent,
but he who holds his tongue is wise. Proverbs 10:19
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is meant by “many words?”
- What is the wisdom in “holding our tongue?”
Reckless words pierce like a sword,
but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Proverbs 12:18
He who guards his lips guards his life,
but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin. Proverbs 13:3
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverbs 15:1, 28
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers,
but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.
He who guards his mouth and his tongue
keeps himself from calamity. Proverbs 21:23
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is a “reckless” word?”
- What feelings are you left with when you receive someone’s reckless words?
- If reckless words pierce, what then is the characteristic of wise words that heal (think contrast)?
- What are “harsh” words? How do they “stir up” anger?
- What is a “gentle” answer? How does it “turn away” wrath?
- How do we guard our lips?
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,
but fools despise wisdom and discipline. Proverbs 1:7
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. Proverbs 9:10
The fear of the LORD teaches a man wisdom,
and humility comes before honor. Proverbs 15:33
The wise in heart are called discerning,
and pleasant words promote instruction.
Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it,
but folly brings punishment to fools.
A wise man's heart guides his mouth,
and his lips promote instruction.
Pleasant words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones. Proverbs 16:21-24
A man of knowledge uses words with restraint,
and a man of understanding is even-tempered.
Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent,
and discerning if he holds his tongue. Proverbs 17:27-28
Ask yourself these questions:
- What is the source of wisdom?
- Where does it begin?
- What does it mean to “fear the Lord?”
- What is the connection between humility and the fear of the Lord?
- What is the connection between wisdom and the use of our words?
He who answers before listening-
that is his folly and his shame. Proverbs 18:13
A fool gives full vent to his anger,
but a wise man keeps himself under control. Prvoerbs 29:11
My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for man's anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires. James 1:19-20
1. Listening with a heart of understanding is a key element of loving communication. Good listening employs the elements of patience and humility (Ephesians 4:1, 2), the hearing of spiritual and emotional content, as well as the presence of internal, experiential struggle of the speaker. It seeks to understand rather than rebuttal, explain, argue, or fix. What does a quick answer demonstrate?
2. How are you at listening?
3. The fool is self-focused, rather than God-focused. His agenda is about getting his own way. How does a quick answer demonstrate the same?
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.
Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Ephesians 4:15, 25, 29, 31
But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. Colossians 3:8
1. According to this text, what is the purpose of truth? Why should we speak truthfully? Truth here is referring to speaking the truth of God's word, not just being honest.
2. What is unwholesome talk? How does it compare to truth? What are some examples of unwholesome talk?
3. How do words of truth build others up?
The heart is deceitful above all things
and beyond cure.
Who can understand it? Jeremiah 17:9
He went on: “What comes out of a man is what makes him ‘unclean.’ For from within, out of men's hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man ‘unclean.’ ” Mark 7:20-23
The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks. Luke 6:45
"Whoever would love life
and see good days
must keep his tongue from evil
and his lips from deceitful speech.” 1 Peter 3:10
1. The Bible teaches that it is our hearts that needs our attention. However, it tends to deceive us. Why is this?
2. What is the reservoir out of which we speak?
3. How does this make us responsible for what we say?
4. Are you aware of how often you blame others for the wrong things that you say (e.g., “You just made me so mad!”)? In what ways do you typically do this?
Responding biblically is not automatic. It takes a thorough understanding of scripture and an intentional effort to heed its instruction. It involves listening well before speaking, seeks to understand the perspective and feelings of the other, and ultimately wants to build up and restore, rather than tear down and retaliate. It speaks words that are fit for the situation and, of course, are always centered in Christ and dependent upon His grace.
Begin praying this prayer daily.
Heavenly Father, today I recognize my need for your grace in the area of my speech, that I might see the activity of my deceptive heart and turn from my selfish reactions toward responses consistent with Your character and Word. Enable me by Your power to speak the truth in love, always seeking to build others up. Control my tongue for Your glory.