The other day I was listening to a podcast where two men were discussing the rarity of people who are really willing to listen to an opposing viewpoint anymore. The context was in discussing discernment and how–even with solid biblical evidence–few people will really listen to someone who simply wants to share with them their concerns. Instead, they regularly encounter a defensive, arrogant spirit and often endure personal attacks. Simply from speaking up against a false teacher.
They went on to say how this is very different than in years gone by, where two people could have an intelligent and thoughtful conversation about Bible teachers, authors, pastors, (and I will add: Anything else).
Why is this? Why this crazily defensive and hostile attitude towards someone who disagrees with us? What has been fomenting this strange relationship phenomenon over the last few decades?
But why isn’t really the question I want to deal with today. I am more interested in what this change in how we accept and give confrontation has cost us as Christians–and what we can do about it personally.
You see, when we aren’t willing to listen to and to think on a viewpoint or opinion that is in opposition to ours we set ourselves up for failure. How in the world can we grow in holiness and keep ourselves pure and separated from the world if we think we know everything? Do we honestly believe we know all there is to know about God and His Word? We don’t have to agree with someone but we can always listen and consider what they are saying in light of God’s Word. Instead it is most common–even for Christians– to get angry, to attack and malign, and to hold grudges.
This plays itself out in a myriad of ways–
–When someone comes to us with a concern about a favorite teacher or author. How do we respond?
–When our spouse confronts us about a sin in our lives. How do we respond?
–When our child seems confused about something we said or did and asks us about it. How do we respond?
–When someone at church doesn’t like our decision about a ministry we lead. How do we respond?
–When a parent, sibling, or friend lovingly questions our entertainment choice, our child-rearing, or some other aspect of our lives. How do we respond?
At the heart of this all is arrogance. Plain and simple. “Who are you to tell me…anything?”
So this leads us to two important points that we need to consider today.
First, what kind of “hearer” are we? Are we willing to reflect on the words someone speaks to us? Or do we immediately go on the defensive? Do we allow our relationships to change or be destroyed because we don’t like what someone has said to us? Do we lash out in attack? Do we hold grudges?
This is of the devil, my friends. Even if what someone is saying to us has zero biblical merit, we should choose to listen and consider. And then, if necessary, we must forgive. Satan would like nothing more than to break down the friendships and families of Christians. And this is a very effective way.
We can cut him off at the pass by responding to unpleasant words with humility and love.
Proverbs is full of counsel about the fool. And one of the main things about a fool is that he does not listen to wise counsel–
The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, But he who heeds counsel is wise. (Proverbs 12:15)
Do not speak in the hearing of a fool, For he will despise the wisdom of your words. (Proverbs 23:9)
And then Proverbs 26:12 shows us that there is more hope for a fool than for someone who is wise in their own eyes!–
Do you see a man wise in his own eyes?
There is more hope for a fool than for him.
Do we think we know all the answers? Then there is more hope for a fool than for us!
And, second, this new dynamic should make us consider very carefully what is worth a confrontation. How many people do you know that, with a critical spirit, sarcastically attack people about the most inane and insignificant things? If this is us, then we will not be listened to when it really matters. It is extremely important that we confront lovingly on biblical matters and then let the other stuff roll. After all, does it really matter if they chose to go here instead of there? Does it really matter if they did their preferred “this” instead of our preferred “that”? Is it a biblical matter? Does their choice have eternal ramifications? Asking these questions can help us determine if it is worth a confrontation. Instead, we sometimes get this all mixed up and we confront (or make sarcastic remarks) on the trivial and never touch the stuff that has eternal ramifications. This is another subtle trick of Satan’s.
And, third, we should consider our own attitude about confrontation. It takes courage and a lot of love to confront someone in a biblical way. It is so much easier to just sit by and let it go. True love speaks the truth. Self-interest often leads to either ignoring it or saying sarcastic, back-handed remarks that hurt instead of heal.
Just recently, I was part of something like this and that experience has given me a real-life example of how all of this should work –in the right way. I will be purposely vague. I felt compelled to talk with someone about something. I hesitated for a very long time because of the possible ramifications. I have lost friends over things like this. I knew the risk and I basically told God I didn’t want to take it. But I knew that I was not doing the right thing. So I prayed and told God that if He would open up an opportunity, I would take it. Otherwise, I would stay quiet. Of course, the perfect opportunity presented itself a few days later. And, so, I, faltering and lovingly, shared my concern. And, wonderfully, the other person heard me without getting upset. They took what I told them and they acted upon it. This is how this should work between Christians (Proverbs 27:17). I was beyond thankful. And I wondered: Am I as mature and wise as this person when someone confronts me?
This is a question we should all ask: Do I hear? Or am I like the fool?
And the second question: Do I confront lovingly and only on the things that really matter?
Let’s be one of those real rarities: A Christian who is willing to thoughtfully consider what someone has to say to us and to also be one that has enough love and courage to confront when it’s biblically necessary.