My goal wasn’t to get into an argument with my family member. Far from it. But when the conversation turned to religion and the salvation of his Hindu family members, I couldn’t stay silent. My desire for him to know the truth led my words at first, but the conversation went from kind and receptive to biting and sour. I wasn’t sure how to get it back on track, so I went outside to get some air.
Is it possible to have Christlike disagreements and not let our feelings lead us down a path of destruction? As humans, our emotions stay with us wherever we go. We can’t separate ourselves from them, but we can give ourselves a moment to process them and ask ourselves, “Is this really true?” and “Am I being led by unresolved hurt or by love?” When we do this, our disagreements are less fueled by anger and resentment and led more by a genuine love for others.
Disagreements are not unbiblical. We see Jesus disagreeing with people in scripture quite often. The problem comes when we are guided by our opinions rather than the Holy Spirit.
Here are five Christlike ways to handle disagreements:
1. Ask God to Direct the Conversation
Even when I’m not in the middle of a disagreement, I often do this. If someone asks me a tough question related to the Bible or about God, I always want the Spirit and sound biblical truth to lead. It is amazing what a short prayer saying, “God, help me,” or “God, guide my words,” can do. By doing so, we acknowledge that our flesh is weak, but our spirit is willing. (Matthew 26:41)
While we may not have the right words to say in the middle of a disagreement, God does. And when his Spirit directs the conversation, we can be sure we are putting the best version of ourselves out there for others to see.
2. Ask Yourself, “Do I Love This Person?”
My pastor once told a story about an administrative assistant he did not get along with. He was very young then, and they had butted heads on some issues. He found a specific verse he was going to use to put her argument to rest once and for all. But on his way to the woman’s office, the Spirit stopped him and asked, “Do you love her?” He knew if he was completely honest, the answer was no. The simple question and redirect made him realize his correction had no basis if it was not rooted in love.
Many of us are familiar with the following verse in Ephesians, but we forget the love part:
“Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.” Ephesians 4:15 NLT
When we let our love for Christ and his church lead us instead of our own selfish pride, something beautiful happens. If we read the following verses, we see God’s desire for each of us:
“He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.” Ephesians 4:16 NLT
3. Be Led By a Desire for Understanding
Have you ever been around someone who just wanted to hear herself talk? Goodness knows I have, and I know I’ve been guilty of acting this way myself. But if our only concern is having the loudest voice in the room, we’ll probably miss opportunities to see and understand God’s people. We’re going to overlook others who genuinely want to be heard and cared for because we’re more concerned with them knowing our opinion.
When we’re tempted to let our opinions lead us rather than love and care for the other person, let’s take a pause. The Holy Spirit is always willing to help us in our time of need and will give us the patience and understanding we lack.
James talks about the fact that none of us have wisdom and understanding apart from the Lord and points us toward humble acts done with hearts turned toward God rather than our own selfish motives:
“Who is wise and understanding among you? Let them show it by their good life, by deeds done in the humility that comes from wisdom. But if you harbor bitter envy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth.” James 3:13-14 NIV
4. Remember, It Is Not Our Job to “Fix” Other People
Often, we are misled by the notion that we can argue people into following God. We think if we drill our points into their heads with enough sound reasoning and determination, they will change their ways. But we do not see this happening in the Gospels. In every instance where lives are changed, it is a miracle where someone experiences Jesus’ utterly unreasonable grace and mercy.
The Holy Spirit is in the business of convicting hearts and bringing prodigals to repentance. When we try be the Holy Spirit instead of simply letting him lead us with complete submission, we fall short. More often than not, we let our flesh and our pride take over, and the person we’re trying to convince is more repulsed than drawn to the throne of grace.
Paul reminds us of what draws others toward God in Romans 2, and contrary to what we sometimes think, it isn’t arguing:
“Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?” Romans 2:4 NIV
5. Remember, the Other Person Was Created in the Image of God
It’s difficult to speak harshly to someone when we see God’s stamp on him or her. And regardless of whether or not the person is a believer, she was created in God’s image. The person we’re disagreeing with is loved by God and sought after. Every interaction we have needs to be led by this knowledge.
I once heard someone say that when Jesus led his earthly ministry, he didn’t convince others to leave their former life by pointing and saying, “You’re wrong, you’re wrong, and you’re wrong. Now, follow me.” But when we remind people that they bear the image of the Creator, something inside of them comes alive. They’re transformed because the Spirit awakens them to the fact that they are sons and daughters, and the desire for their old way of life fades.
Not every disagreement we have with others will be about God or the Bible, but these disagreements seem to stir our emotions the most. This is because we care deeply about our faith and our beliefs, and our lives are transformed because of them. But when we disagree, let’s remember to let God lead the conversation. Disagreements in themselves are not sinful, but hate for our brother and sister does not have a place at God’s table. Let’s remember the price he paid for each and every one of us, and remember that even in his darkest hour of betrayal, he cried out, “Father, forgive them.” (Luke 23:34)
Click here to check out Part 1.
Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/fizkes
Abby McDonald is a writing coach and the author of Shift: Changing Our Focus to See the Presence of God. Her mission is to empower women to seek God in the middle of life’s messes and to share their faith with courage. Abby writes regularly for Proverb 31 Ministries’ daily devotions team, and her work has been featured in numerous publications. You can connect with Abby on her website where you can grab a free worship playlist to help you shift your focus toward God. You can also connect with Abby on Instagram.