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Christian Conflict, part 4: Speaking the Truth in Love

Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. –Ephesians 4:15

I was angry with my friend; I told my wrath, my wrath did end.

I was angry with my foe; I told it not, my wrath did grow. –William Blake

As we move further off the grid we become increasingly aware of our practical dependence on our neighbors. As we try to follow Christ we become increasingly aware of ourselves as part of the membership of the body of Christ, inseparable from all other living creatures. This requires us to learn to live well with them.  And to live well with them we must speak with them truthfully.

It’s tempting to avoid speaking truthfully to people who disagree with us, hinder our work or offend us. Perhaps we fear their disapproval or depend on their fondness for us, so we pretend that nothing is wrong. Perhaps we assume that they’ll never change their ways and that we can do better without them, so we settle for criticizing them to other people or judging them within our own minds and hearts.   Either way, we accumulate resentment which is apt to burst out over some slight offense in the future.

We need the courage and the courtesy to speak directly, considerately and clearly to the people who upset us. Sometimes the problem can be cleared up easily. Twice people have told me they were deeply offended by something I said; when I asked them to elaborate it turned out that they had heard something very different from what I intended to say.  As soon as we understood each other the problem was solved.

We all have unwritten, maybe unconscious rules about when to offer help or advice and when to back off, about how to make decisions that impact other people, about how to do any particular job well. Unfortunately we don’t all have the same ones, and this can lead to conflicts in which each person is sincerely trying to follow the Golden Rule and feels deeply frustrated by the other. If we can understand this we may be able to work out a compromise.

Sometimes we disagree about matters of conscience. It may be that we can’t bridge these divides. But if we speak truthfully about our differences and listen to our opponents we may be able to learn something to refine our own view, if not to change it.  If not, at least we can own our differences openly and without bitterness,  and pray for wisdom and reconciliation.

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