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
I’m continually challenged by this verse. Truth be told, I hate conflict. I’d much rather brush a problem under the rug than deal with it head on. Yet, I know how unhealthy that is. I know that that falls far short of God’s best for my life. As I think about this verse, the words “speak the truth in love” stick out to me. These words challenge me to consider how my natural reactions to conflict measure up.
Natural reaction 1 – Ignore the problem. Sometimes I tell myself it’s really the most loving thing to do to ignore the issue and move on. After all, I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by bringing it up. But is that really loving? I’ve found that most often this slowly builds a wall between me and the individual, putting our relationship in jeopardy. Ignoring the problem may be easier than confrontation, but it is definitely not the most loving option.
Natural reaction 2 – React in anger. The opposite end of the spectrum. If the conflict catches me on a bad day, I may lash out in anger. This obviously is not speaking in love and may end up doing far more damage than good. While anger is not always wrong (think of Jesus clearing the temple in John 2) there are certainly appropriate and inappropriate ways of handling it.
Neither of these natural reactions live up to the goal of speaking the truth in love. The second part of this verse talks about us becoming more and more like Christ. That’s a process that involves taking off the old (natural reactions) and putting on the new. In regard to conflict, here’s what that looks like for me
1 – Consider motive. I ask questions like, “why does this bother me?” “what am I hoping to accomplish in confronting this person?” and “what would happen if I don’t confront?” This step helps me to determine if my heart is in the right place in the matter.
2 – Consider words. I think through the language I want to use in addressing the conflict. Important to avoid words that attack the individual or assign blame or make assumptions. This step helps me to make sure my words are loving.
3 – Consider follow-up. I make a point to seek out the individual and engage in casual conversation soon after the confrontation. Even if things go well, the relationship can feel awkward. I try to overcome that by going directly to them and putting their mind at ease.
I still hate conflict, but the steps listed above have helped me to speak the truth in love in this difficult area. I hope it does the same for you.