Used at Belhaven University and in the class: Christ-likeness—The Fruit of the Holy Spirit
Our Lord Jesus said, “Whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”1
Christ brings us eternal life with God through His sinless life, His crucifixion and atoning death, His bodily resurrection, His eternal alive-ness, His presence with us, His ongoing help to us, His prayers for us, and His certain return for us. We are brought into and remain in right relationship with God only by His grace, depending upon Christ in faith. And then, “We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do….The Lord works in us to will and to act in order to fulfill His good purpose.”2
How are the Lord’s followers to practice Christ-like love? Two suggestions: Listen Without Interrupting and Speak Without Injuring.
Listen Without Interrupting
Scriptures: Fools find no pleasure in understanding but delight in airing their own opinions….To answer before listening—that is folly and shame….Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry….Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.3
Psychiatrist Karl A. Menninger (1893-1990) asserts, “Listening is a magnetic and strange thing, a creative force. When we are listened to, it energizes us, and makes us unfold and expand.” For people to reveal themselves and share their hurts and fears, we must be silent. We must allow our heart to open wide to understand them and have compassion toward them. Listening is important for others to feel loved and valued by the Lord and by us. Sometimes as we listen to others patiently, their hard shells crack and they can see a way out (sometimes God’s way out) of their problems. Zeno of Citium, Cypress (334–262 BC) said, “We have two ears and one mouth, so we should listen more than we say,” and that echoes much of the Bible’s teaching. A good listener doesn’t jump in on your sentences, saving you from actually finishing them, or talk over you. Instead, they wait and allow you to keep going.4 Jesus Christ sympathizes and empathizes with our weaknesses.5 His eyes are on His followers and His ears are attentive to our cry.6 We who are Jesus’ people need to imitate the Lord’s listening skills.
Listening with half an ear presumes already to know what the other person has to say. Impatient, inattentive listening despises the other person, only waiting for a chance to speak and thus get rid of them. Here too our attitude toward our brother or sister only reflects our relationship to God. We are no longer capable of hearing other people’s confession, if we refuse to give ear to them on lesser subjects. Secular education today is aware that often a person can be helped merely by having someone listen to them seriously, and upon this insight it has constructed its own soul therapy. But Christians have forgotten that the ministry of listening has been committed to us by Christ who is Himself the great Listener and whose work we should share. We should listen with the ears of God that we may speak the word of God. (excerpt from Dietrich Bonhoeffer)7
A Caution About Listening
While Christ commands us to be patient and forbearing with one another, we must also beware people who are chronic complainers, venters, and grumblers, but never take steps to change the things they can change or to accept the things they can’t change. We may need to limit our time with negative people who are not willing to move forward toward God and His ways of life. Rather than help them, we can unwittingly enable them to continue in their victim mentality and behavior. And instead of helping them up, they often pull us down into their negativity and misery. “Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of foolish people suffers harm.”8 The disease of whining is very contagious.
Speak Without Injuring
Scriptures: You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor….The mouth of the righteous is a fountain of life, but the mouth of the wicked conceals violence….With their mouths the godless destroy their neighbors, but through knowledge the righteous escape….The words of the reckless pierce like swords, but the tongue of the wise brings healing….The heart of the righteous weighs its answers, but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.9
The Lord commands us to careful with our words. Once we speak painful words, they can be forgiven but are often not forgotten. Our words hurt, wound, and scar other people more than we realize. Our tongue has no bones, but is strong enough to break a person’s heart. Before we accuse others of a fault, let’s be sure that we are not guilty of the same thing ourselves. In psychology, The Law of the Mirror proposes that the origin of our negative feelings towards another person comes from something in our own heart and not in the other person. Romans 2:1-3 says something similar. Often the person whose case is weakest makes the most noise and tells the most people. The Lord commands us to tell the truth and to maintain and promote (not injure) other people’s reputations.10 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but speak only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.11
Winning the war of words involves choosing our words carefully. It is not just about the words we say, but also about the words we choose not to say….God is at work, taking people who instinctively speak for themselves and transforming them into people who effectively speak for Him. (excerpt from Paul David Tripp)12
Prayer: Heavenly Father, forgive us for failing to listen without interrupting and to speak without injuring. We get it wrong so often. Lord, have mercy upon us and help us to do the good we want to do and that you command. And help us to not do the evil we do not want to do and that you forbid. Make us Christ-like listeners and talkers. Give us sincere love for others. Help us to honor others above ourselves. Fill of us with your Holy Spirit, overflowing with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Notes (various translations used): 1 Matt 12:50. 2 Eph 2:10; Phil 2:13. 3 Prov 18:2,13; James 1:19; Phil 2:4. 4 Sarah Dessen. 5 Heb 4:15. 6 Ps 34:15. 7 Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945) was a German pastor, theologian, and anti-Nazi dissident. He was executed by hanging as the Nazi regime was collapsing. This quotation is from his Life Together (1939). 8 Prov 13:20. 9 Ex 20:16; Prov 10:11, 11:9, 12:18, 15:28. 10 Shorter Catechism 77-78. 11 Eph 4:29. 12 Paul David Tripp, War of Words: Getting to the Heart of Your Communication Struggles.