“No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison” (James 3:8).
We see it all the time. On Twitter, Facebook, or in face-to-face discussions, emotions flare, anger rises, and conversations quickly escalate, leaving people hurt, divided, and indignant. It’s a growing issue. With cyberbullying on the rise, it’s clear that our culture has become callous toward the innate value of others. We know the consequences of such interactions—and they certainly don’t lead to deeper and uplifting relationships that honor God.
How can we avoid such hostile interactions, remembering that we are “Christ’s ambassadors” (2 Corinthians 5:20)? In the age of tolerance, what does it look like to actually “[speak] the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15)? How can we ensure that we do not hinder our Christian witness by mirroring our culture’s vitriol rather than Christ’s eternal love?
For this work, we need wisdom. Whether you are talking with believers or those who have yet to know Christ or whether you are engaging in an everyday conversation or a difficult discussion—God’s Word has valuable insights for you. Here are five practical tips for pursuing meaningful conversations that build others up and point to the Savior.
It is not your responsibility to change someone’s heart or mind—only God can do that.
“The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).
God calls us to be set apart from the fallen world around us. We do this by seeking His face and following the Holy Spirit in all matters of life. In fact, it is impossible for us to tame our tongues without the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives (see James 3:2-8). So as you engage in conversation with others, ask for the Lord’s help. It is not your responsibility to change someone’s heart or mind—only God can do that. But it is your responsibility to “follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us” (Ephesians 5:1-2). And we desperately need the Holy Spirit’s help to do this.
“Those who guard their lips preserve their lives, but those who speak rashly will come to ruin” (Proverbs 13:3).
It’s easy to get caught up in the war of words, but the Bible tells us repeatedly that our conversation is to be wholesome, profitable, and full of grace (see Ephesians 4:29, 2 Timothy 2:14-17, Titus 3:9, Colossians 4:6). Our words are meant to profit the body of believers through gentle rebuke, encouragement, kindness, compassion, forgiveness—in short, words that strengthen a person to mature in Christ. How we say these words, from the tone of our voice to our body language, is just as important. Respectful conversation will not only bless your fellow brother or sister in Christ; it will also serve as a witness to the unbeliever watching from the sidelines (see Matthew 5:16).
“To answer before listening—that is folly and shame” (Proverbs 18:13).
As we interact with others, we must be mindful of the spiritual battles being waged over the souls of everyone around us. How can we do this? By keeping an open connection with our Lord through prayer. As you listen, the Lord may lead you to pray with someone instead of debating the finer points of theology—or He may lead you to boldly share the Gospel when you would rather be comfortable instead. The Holy Spirit will enable you to not only listen for God’s promptings, but also to listen with sincere concern for the heart and thoughts of others.
“The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint, and whoever has understanding is even-tempered” (Proverbs 17:27).
As believers, we are ambassadors for Christ. Peter defines this perfectly when he says we are to “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). To show gentleness and respect doesn’t mean we are to stay silent at all times. There will be moments when the Holy Spirit will prompt you to speak up, and He will prompt you to speak Truth that might offend someone.
Paul is an excellent example of this. When he preached in the synagogues, “he reasoned with them from Scriptures. . . explaining and proving that the Messiah had to suffer and rise from the dead” (Acts 17:2-3, emphasis added). Paul approached his arguments logically and shared with confidence, even when what he had to say was not well received. We are to do the same without resorting to insults or personal attacks, “keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander” (1 Peter 3:16).
“Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses” (Proverbs 27:5-6).
Though we must seek peace and reconciliation with everyone, it does not mean that we shrink back from sharing the Truth of the Gospel, addressing issues of injustice, or confronting unhealthy behaviors. To not speak when lives and souls hang in the balance would be a great evil. With the Holy Spirit’s help, we can discern how and when to communicate for the best expression of love and concern. Whether we are admonishing a brother or sister in Christ or calling someone to receive the gracious gift of salvation through Jesus, we must speak with bold love as a friend (see Colossians 3:16, Ephesians 6:19-20).
QUESTIONS TO CONSIDER
When engaging in any conversation, whether social media or otherwise, we must ask ourselves: Will this comment draw people closer to God or turn people away? Are these 140 characters sufficient to compassionately and persuasively discuss theology? Why do I feel the need to respond? Is this a conversation better had face to face?
Though our culture embraces the fast-paced fury of taps, tweets, and likes, we must ensure that we do not mishandle our words and squander opportunities to build people up.
When we speak, we can speak words of life or death (see Proverbs 18:21). Let’s choose words that uplift instead of tear down. Let’s choose Christlikeness over pride. And let’s remember that only God can change a person’s heart—including our own. As you pursue peaceful conversation, trust that God will honor the right desires of your heart, and have faith that He can even use you to draw people into His Kingdom. What a wondrous responsibility and privilege!