Last Sunday’s sermon was on communication and based on Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 4:29 to build others up rather than tear them down. A couple of the main ideas are that healthy communication is a gospel issue that requires my heart to be deeply affected by God’s grace. Otherwise, I will be self-righteously critical, cast insults, gossip and shut people down with the words that I use. The most effective way to shut someone down relationally is to dismiss them. To pinch off their statement or idea or feeling with a contrasting position. I shut others down and destroy communication when I fail to prioritize listening.
A key principle in healthy communication is that I should hear and understand before I am heard and understood. This is what love looks like in a relationship, and especially in healthy, gospel-centered communication. When all I want is to be heard and “get my point across” rather than hear and understand the other, the flesh has taken over my heart and the result will either be that a war of words breaks out, or that one person is run over and defeated. This is the opposite of love and fosters an environment that is tragically unsafe, and will lead to relational separation and distance rather than to greater intimacy and trust.
This is significant not only in marriage, parenting and in the workplace, but also in the church. If we want to be a safe place for sinners, we must be prepared to listen well. To empathize. To seek to understand life in their shoes. We must be prepared to affirm their wounds and even their questions. Sadly, my own “gut reaction” is to fix whatever it is that I see or hear that doesn’t agree with my own positions, plans or expectations. If this becomes the tone of how I relate to people, they will slowly walk away. It’s no fun having someone punch an idea just as it comes out of your mouth. You might at well have been punched in the mouth.
Here is the focus that we need. If I am covered in the righteousness of Jesus, then I no longer have to win, be right, or look good. I can be wrong. Patient. Empathetic. Affirming of what there is to affirm. I can listen and understand before I am heard and understood.
The heart of gospel-influenced communication is being so safe in Jesus that you are safe for others.
But what happens when we blow it… and we will. We “do the gospel” with fresh repentance, owning how we again succumbed to the deception of the flesh and failed to believe the gospel. Those who are covered with God’s grace are those who love – absolutely love – covering others with the same forgiveness. After all, verse 32 in Ephesians 4 reads, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving one another, just as in Christ, God forgave you.”
Hope to see you Sunday,
P.S. If you remember the part of the message where I talked about doing heart surgery, the key question to ask if you are inviting someone to take the scalpel is, “What is it about me that you would like to see change? If God could change me, what would it look like?” That is risky business. But if we are willing to have our hearts opened, all kinds of sanctifying grace can come from it.