When it comes to communication, all of us have had times where we have blown it when talking with someone. When that happens we can experience hard feelings, an argument, or worse yet, it may lead to violence. Like everything else in life, the Bible has answers to this important and critical task. These answers can be summed up in what is called the four rules of communication as found in the book of Ephesians.
Although these rules are generally directed toward verbal communication, we live in an information age in which we communicate in many different ways. Whether it is through email, a blog comment, or a simple letter to someone, these rules still apply. In fact, it is easier to use these rules when writing. This is because it is much easier to review what we say before sending the message than it is when speaking verbally.
The four rules of communication are as follows:
1. Be honest: Speak the truth in love—shouting does not make it true. (Ephesians 4:15, 25; Proverbs 21:19; Proverbs 26:21)
When communicating, present your information with the focus on making sure your facts are correct. This is done by following the guidelines found in Proverbs 18:13; Proverbs 18:15; and Proverbs 18:17. This means we must take time to investigate the facts, hear all sides of the story, and do not be quick to take the side of the person who speaks first about the topic.
It is important that the way your facts are presented shows your respect and concern for the other person. If this is lacking then the truth of Proverbs 18:19 will come to pass and hard feelings will follow. Sometimes these hard feelings, if not resolved will lead to poor relationships (2 Corinthians 2:5-11) and the loss of blessings by God over the long run (Mark 11:25-26).
2. Keep current: Resolve issues today—do not bring them up tomorrow. (Ephesians 4:26-27)
It is important that conflicts be resolved as soon as possible. In addition to the issues related to forgiveness mentioned above (2 Corinthians 2:5-11; Mark 11:25-26) the longer issues go unresolved, the more time that we are likely to stew over the issue in our minds. When this happen, we are sure to let our thinking lead us down the path toward sin (James 1:13-15; James 1:19-22).
Too often, we say we have forgiven someone, but in our hearts, we have not forgiven him or her. Instead, we save up the issue along with other unresolved issues and use them for ammunition in the next big argument. If apologies or forgiveness have been asked, accepted, or granted, we no longer have the right to bring them up again. This follows the same principle that God uses when it comes to our asking and receiving forgiveness (1 John 1:9; Psalms 103:12; Hebrews 8:12; Hebrews 10:17). Once we are forgiven, the sin no longer exists and we are cleansed from all unrighteousness.
3. Attack the problem not the person: Build up, do not tear down—avoid absolutes like always, never, ever. (Ephesians 4:29-30)
Too often, when discussing a problem, we make statements that are directed personally toward the person either intentionally or unintentionally. In doing so, we not only are attacking the person instead of the problem, but in the case of using absolutes, we are also violating the first rule by not speaking the truth.
If we accuse someone of “always” doing the wrong thing or “never” doing the right thing, we are not giving credit for when he or she has done the right thing. For example, if we say to someone that they “never” take out the trash it condemns them even for the times they did take out the trash. This can be discouraging to say the least especially when someone is struggling to do well and makes them less likely to want to try.
Likewise, if we make statements that are designed to belittle, insult, or enrage someone else, we are doing what the Bible calls reviling. Reviling is based on the word revile and defined in Webster’s 1828 dictionary as: “To reproach; to treat with opprobrious” (disgraceful, hateful) and contemptuous language.”
Reviling is condemned in the Bible (1 Corinthians 6:10). To revile someone is nothing more than sinning against him or her. It is neither edifying nor administering grace to the hearer (Ephesians 4:29).
The Bible says that Jesus is our example when it comes to how we should respond to those who are reviling us (1 Peter 2:21-23; Matthew 5:10-11). When we follow his example and receive unjust persecution, He tells us that it is honorable before God, and is a reflection on what the other person reviling us thinks about God (1 Peter 2:19; John 15:20-16:3).
We respond using the principle found in Galatians 6:1 and Romans 12:14-21. Communicate in the spirit of meekness, not desiring to cause the person to reject what you have to say based on how you said it. For example, if you think someone is behaving like a jerk, telling them they are behaving like a jerk will not make the discussion go any easier.
Approaching them in a way that lets them know you care for them and that their behavior is causing problems is a start. Ask if they are under some sort of stress or if there is a something that is making them feel impatient or on edge. The mood communicated is that you want to help in the communication, not say things that will make it worse.
4. Act, do not react—Be swift to hear, slow to speak, slow to wrath. (Ephesians 4:31-32; James 1: 19-21; James 1:26; Proverbs 18:13, 15, 17)
When we react instead of taking time to gather all the facts and formulate a response, it leads to us saying or doing things we should had never said or done. This is because we are reacting out of emotion and sinful lusts, which leads us to respond sinfully (James 1:14-15; 1 John 2:15-16). Most acts of domestic violence are a result of allowing our emotions to overrule reason, which results in harm to the other person.
Give each person a reasonable amount of time to tell his or her side of the story. Clarify what is being said so that the intended meaning is made clear and not assumed. This will allow all concerned to stop our natural and sinful response based on incomplete information or information that we do not like.
Think of what Jesus did when he was mistreated as we learned in rule three. If you look at how he handled temptation or adversity, he left judgment and vengeance to the righteous judge (1 Peter 2: 23; Romans 12: 19-21). Likewise, He used Scripture as His guide to correct thinking (Matthew 4:4; Matthew 4:7; Matthew 4:10).
It will take a conscious effort to use these rules so that they become a habit. Write them down and put them somewhere like your refrigerator, framed on your desk, or on a card so that you are reminded of them. Discuss them with your family and encourage one another to use them.
In the case of written communications such as an email, write the email and save it as a draft without sending it. Then leave and come back later—the next day if able. When you come back, reread your email looking for anything that would violate the rules of communication. Often you will find that things you wrote in the heat of the moment really come across bad once you have had the chance to look at the email with a fresh mind.
If you have an issue that needs discussing, arrange to meet somewhere and go over the rules before starting. If someone violates a rule, gently remind them so that a correction can be made and the discussion can continue in a way that is productive. Finally, pray with one another about the issue asking God for His wisdom in resolving the issue (James 1:5-7; 1 Corinthians 1:30). Following these rules will lead to peace and will glorify God in the process.