Being drawn into fighting battles we are not meant to fight is a temptation we all face. A better way to approach such battles is to take Moses’ advice given to the Israelites when Pharaoh and his army were breathing down their neck at the Red Sea. “The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.” Exodus 14:14 NIV
The benefit of choosing to lose is not just limited to weight loss. Although in most arenas of life losing carries negative connotations, especially if it is a choice; there are times when choosing to lose is the wisest, most beneficial thing we can do. In fact the Bible spells out some specific circumstances in which we are actually encouraged to choose to lose.
Choosing to lose is not something most people find easy to do. We do not want to lose. However, choosing to lose in a Biblical sense is rooted in a confident trust in God. It is only possible when we yield our expectations and preferred results to Him.
A case in point is when we find ourselves in an interpersonal conflict. Disagreements of opinion have a way of escalating as all the parties involved seek to prove the rightness of their point of view. We naturally associate proving we are right with winning the conflict. But the Bible, in its wisdom, indicates that in some circumstances, the best course of action is to choose to lose.
Some conflicts are ultimately won through choosing to lose rather than choosing to win.
The book of Proverbs gives a number of illustrations of this lose to win strategy in relational conflict. “Without wood a fire goes out; without gossip a quarrel dies down.” (26:20) “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (15:1) “A man’s discretion makes him slow to anger and it is his glory to overlook a transgression.” (19:11) Keeping away from strife is an honor for a man. But any fool will quarrel.” (20:3)
“Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.” Proverbs 28:23 (ESV)
One of the reasons it is difficult for us to be open in speaking the truth in love is that it often does not go well. (For an intro to this topic see blog post “Why can’t we speak the truth in love?”) But that should not be the reason we do not speak out. We need to keep the goal in mind and be willing to endure a rocky road to get there.
The goal in such communication according to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is to build one another up in love and grow together in Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-16) And Jesus made it plain in His teaching on corrective confrontations that the goal was always to be the healing of the relationship. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15)
The wisdom of Solomon from the Old Testament regarding truth confrontations provide us with a necessary perspective. “Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.” (Proverbs 28:23) The use of the word “afterward” here gives us a clue that initially truth confrontations often do not go well. We have all experienced it. We can go into a sharing the truth in love time with the best of intentions only to have it backfire in our face. And if we are not careful we can come out of it so beat up and discouraged that we vow never to do that again.
But God wants us to approach it in a spirit of faith, do our best to be obedient to the nudging of His Spirit and ultimately trust Him with the results. We can cling firmly to the hope that by God’s grace and the faithfulness of His Word, that what we do in faith will eventually be rewarded with the outworking of His will. And “afterward we will find more favor” than if we had simply cowered behind a flattering tongue. It may take some time to resolve things, but afterward we will be thankful we did what we did.
And I must add, even in situations where we do not see the hoped for “afterward” reward, we must comfort ourselves in the fact that we have done God’s bidding and that is reward enough.
Why is speaking the truth to people so difficult? Yesterday I gave a message out of Ephesians on the love of God for us as the basis for our expressing Christ’s love toward others. In an interactive poll given in both Sunday Services I discovered two very interesting facts. Eighty percent of all the people in attendance admitted there is someone in their life they are having trouble loving right now. And eighty percent also acknowledged that the hardest thing for them to do in relationships is speak the truth in love.
Prior to yesterday I had conjectured that the majority of people were struggling with these issues. But I was not prepared for such a high percentage – eight out of ten. That has given me pause.
Prime facie it illuminates the incongruous fact, that relationship conflict is a frequent reality for followers of Christ, who ironically, are called to evidence their discipleship by loving one another. (John 13:35) This reminds me of an insightful little ditty I heard years ago. “Living with the saints above, oh that will be glory. Living with the saints down here, that’s a different story.”
But at a deeper level it reveals an even more startling fact. We saints, who have received the lavish love of God despite our own sinfulness are struggling to show that same love to others. We who should be well equipped for such a task, are having difficulty initiating the loving resolution of our relationship conflicts. And it all appears to hinge on our inability to speak the truth in love.
Probably the biggest obstacle we face in receiving and benefiting from truth, particularly the last 10%, is our consideration of the source.