A friend expressed disapproval of a project lately, and I began to question him to better understand his thoughts. But he cut me off with, “I’m not going to argue about it.” I wasn’t planning on arguing either, but because I was puzzled, I wanted to hear more of his logic.
At least I wasn’t as aggressive as the irrepressible Ann Coulter. On a talk show once her nemesis said, “There’s no use to argue with me. I’m correct.” To which Ms. Coulter responded, “I’m not arguing. I’m attacking!”
King Solomon counseled centuries ago that “a soft answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). I’ve found this good advice over the years. My natural inclination is to respond in kind when someone uses harsh words or actions, including harsh driving! But the situation can be defused when calmer spirits prevail. The apostle Peter exhorted us not to return evil for evil, thus perpetuating evil. He exhorted that we return good for evil and stop the cycle of evil in its tracks (1 Peter 3:9). The same is true for our words.
However, there is a time to speak unvarnished truth. For example, the experience of our first lady Betty Ford as she struggled with alcohol and prescription drugs popularized the intervention. This method is commonly followed today when friends or family are trapped in addictive behavior. The intervention is done with concern but without hesitancy. I’ve known parents who had to practice tough love with additive children to shock them out of bad life choices.
Pastors sometimes feel compelled to speak unvarnished truth. My generation remembers the segregated South. As a boy, I saw the “white” and “colored” restrooms and water coolers. As a man, I saw hard racial attitudes among believers in Christ. A racist man once observed he understood I couldn’t preach on brotherly love without someone seeing racial overtones. I preached on brotherly love then, and still do. The ’60s “Jesus movement” song said it well, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.”
But I also remember going to the pulpit a few times with anger instead of compassion. I’m not sure how effective it was for me to raise my voice and scold the congregation when only one or two people had angered me. I always regretted this afterwards. The apostle Paul insisted we’re to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
Sometimes Christians must, as we say, “agree to disagree.” I might say to a brother or sister, “I don’t think your opinion is correct, but I hear you. I value you as a co-worker in Christ.”
The tongue has been called the body’s mightiest muscle. We need God’s wisdom to exercise it properly.
Reflections is a weekly devotional column written by Michael J. Brooks, pastor of the Siluria Baptist Church in Alabaster. The church's website is siluriabaptist.com.