September 10 – Are You Listening?

September 10 – Are You Listening?

James 1:19

“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger…” (James 1:19)

The problem with conflict in the church is that it usually isn’t the confrontation of two opinions, as in the world at large, but between perceptions of right and wrong. Each person or group feels they are on God’s side, either because “the Bible told me so” or because “God told me so.” That’s why we start with the principles of yieldedness and trust toward God, not love and humility toward others. Until I yield my right to be “right” and trust God with the outcome, I’m not in a position to confront my opponent at all. And if I do anyway, it won’t be in love and humility! When I get those attitudes adjusted, I’m ready to take the initiative.

A fundamental principle in taking the first step of directly talking with the other person is “Be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger” (James 1:19). When you meet, immediately start listening and listen so well that each of you can state the issue in such a way that the other will agree you have understood his or her position. Being slow to speak means waiting to talk until you’re not angry, fatigued, or stressed so that you will be fully in charge of your emotions and objective in your reasoning. Quick listening and slow speaking will help put distance between you and the issue and close the gap between you and the other party.

Genuine listening means you’re open, honest, and even vulnerable, ready not only to listen to criticism but also to accept it without counterattack. That’s the way trust is built. After all, without trust, real solutions will remain out of reach. Jesus said your objective is to win over your brother, not to win the conflict (see Matthew 18:15).

Let’s say you haven’t won over your opponent, he hasn’t won you over, and you haven’t found an honorable compromise. If the issue is not one on which you and the other party can agree to disagree and bury the matter, then it’s time to bring in others to help persuade and, if that doesn’t work, to serve as witnesses to the outcome. Proverbs 11:14 advises, “With many counselors there is deliverance.” With more perspectives, corporate wisdom has come to the table.

Compromise may not always be the solution, because some issues are nonnegotiable. Sin and ethical issues belong in that category, but the task force has the responsibility to determine the facts and then discern whether the issue is truly ethical from a biblical perspective and whether it is serious enough to warrant discipline.

Even ethical issues, however, are not always your responsibility. Parents are responsible for their own children but not for others’ children. If you are not in a leadership position, you don’t have as much responsibility to straighten things out.

Another nonnegotiable is doctrine, again, when you are in a responsible position. When members come into conflict over doctrine, Scripture has already spoken, and the church has already set parameters on church doctrine.

Most differences in the home or church aren’t ethical or doctrinal. They are negotiable, and finding common ground is the objective. It will mean compromise, each giving up a little territory so that the two sides can get close enough to meet and move forward together. It takes love and a servant heart to resolve negotiable issues. Which of these do you need today in order to resolve the conflict in which you find yourself?

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