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Footsteps to Follow: Beneficial conversations

Have you noticed our society seems unable to have beneficial conversations on controversial topics? There is a lot of yelling going on, both literally and figuratively, but not a lot of productive dialogue. Maybe you respond by just remaining silent, but I am not sure silence is always the right option.

God’s Word has much to say about our words. Sometimes the advice is to remain silent because, as James 3:6 says, “The tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity…[it] sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell” (NKJV). Not all speech, however, is evil and sometimes it is wrong to be silent. Proverbs 18:21 states, “Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” I encourage you to think of your ability to talk, write, or otherwise communicate, as stewardship, a trust that God has given you to impact your world for good, for Him.

Two conditions to keep in mind when you want to have a dialogue with someone are what you will say and how you will say it. Everyone has an opinion, so when you choose to simply share your opinion, you are often just adding to an oversized mountain of them. If, however, you are a follower of Jesus and know His Word, you have something more valuable than an opinion to offer; you have His truth about the world and humanity and His Gospel. Those are not only worthy of “putting out there,” they are absolutely necessary to share. We are commanded by God to proclaim His glory and the good news of His salvation (Psalm 96, Matthew 28:19-20).

We are to always be ready to give an answer for our hope. 1 Peter 3:15b says, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Sometimes we are so overcome with emotion or driven by the self-serving goal to make people see things our way that we put God’s truth in a poor light. This does not reflect His love nor does it cause others to want to hear it. Recently I preached a series entitled “I Disagree” in which I addressed this issue. I would like to share key points from it about presenting differing points of view.

First, we must listen well before we speak. It is how we show respect and how we seek to understand those who have a different perspective before sharing ours, a very important habit to develop. Be open to the possibility that others might know something we don’t and they may have a legitimate reason for their viewpoint. Next, we must be humble. Share your thoughts; don’t throw them like a spear. Ask questions, and then listen some more before carefully explaining why you believe the way you do. Don’t be forceful but gentle, and act out of true concern for others. Do not speak harshly, but do share the concerns their opinion raises. Gently question them regarding the outcomes of their perspective. Use questions to clarify your understanding and to help them enlarge their own.

Engaging in dialogue and debate can be tricky, but if we truly believe that we have truth that others need to hear, it is an obligation we have to offer it and not remain silent. If we would all learn to do this well and chose to enter into helpful, courteous dialogue with others, our world could be a better place.

Pastor Todd Baker, First Baptist Church of Elimsport

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