The old idiom goes, “You can catch more flies with honey than vinegar.” It’s a reminder that harsh words often push folks away but gently worded responses can build on relationships, even when two people disagree. As Christians, we are commanded by the second greatest commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Consider that if we were having a bad day or just being a jerk intentionally (we are all guilty of this), we would still hope folks would forgive and treat us gently, right? At least most of us would. We wouldn’t want folks to respond in kind. We all have bad days and at some point we would hope to be forgiven when we get in one of those states. This is true whether we’re talking about our spouse, our parent, our child, our coworker, or our friend. However, when the situation is reversed, when we’re on the receiving end of bad behavior, how do we respond? Do we respond with forgiveness, gentleness, and kindness? If we want to honor that second greatest commandment, we need to. However, it’s not just honoring that command. There’s another command, found in Colossians, that we need to pay heed to as well:
Walk in wisdom toward outsiders, making the best use of the time. Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person. – Colossians 4:5-6, ESV
A point of conviction in my life has been to cease the witty or snappy response, even when it’s clearly in jest. That doesn’t pass the test of my speech being gracious. That’s a minor example, but still a valid one. As Christians, the command is for our speech to ALWAYS be gracious. There’s never a moment off. There’s never a case when someone deserves a severe tongue lashing or any sort of verbal abuse from us. Let them get it from God when the time is right. Even if we are in a major disagreement with someone, we are not to get dirty, we are not to get mean, and we are not to resort to ruthless tactics to make our point or win the argument. If we “win,” we actually lose. We damage the relationship with the person, we disobey our God, and we show ourselves not to be the loving, considerate, and compassionate people we claim our God makes us. So ultimately, in their eyes we damage Christ’s case as He makes it through us. In short: we impede the Gospel.
We are going to have disagreements with folks. And these folks may get nasty, they may become abusive, and they may be pulling dirty trick after dirty trick to score points in the disagreement. Not all folks will do this. Quite a few will attempt to have civil conversations with us. But for that handful that doesn’t, for that group that tries to get us into a dirty verbal fight, we must resist. We must seek to speak gently, graciously, our words seasoned with the peace and grace we find in Christ Jesus. While we may not “win” the argument in those people’s eyes, we will have won it in the eyes of our Savior and truthfully, His are the only ones that matter.
The easiest time to fall prey to responding the wrong way is when we are ill prepared for the fight. Therefore, we should practice responses to remain calm and gentle. We should develop beforehand what we’re going to say when folks want to drag us into a fight. We must maintain courtesy and respect, gentleness and discipline, even in the face of the nastiest attacks. By considering what those might look like, steeling ourselves for those moments, and preparing how we will act when they come, we serve the best chance to honor these verses. In the midst of the fight, our best defense to continue to honor God is to silently pray and look towards the Holy Spirit for guidance. He can give us the strength we don’t have and show us the options we’d miss if we were on our own. Let us be gentle to those who disagree. Let us be gracious to those who attack us. Let our words be seasoned with grace so that they may draw folks closer to Christ rather than pushing them away.