Communication starts with who you are.
We live in a paradoxical time. We have access to an unparalleled amount of information at speeds beyond the imagination of anyone living before 1980. Yet, in spite of all this information, we are losing the ability to communicate with one another. One evidence of this is the divorce rate. A staggering amount of marriages end within ten years. A constant problem in failing or failed marriages is the lack of ability to communicate. When talking with couples that are married or who want to be married, the mentor puts communication high on the priority list of items to work through with the couple. As we approach this important area of life, I think it is important to avoid a new legalism; you know something like “Ten Steps to Great Communication!” Let’s seek a new starting point.
Communication starts with who you are. For the follower of Christ, this means that we are new people in Christ, God’s adult sons and daughters. We cannot change the way the ungodly communicate. A basic principle operates in every human. Our words come out of our hearts (the inner person). See Matthew 12:33-37; Luke 6:45. Destructive words come from destructive hearts (Matthew 15:19); this is the way of life for people who do not follow Christ (Romans 3:13-14). To tell an ungodly person how to reform their way of talk is to provide a temporary, inadequate fix.
We used to live in a house with ongoing water leaks.
Once we discovered a leak in our house, as a ceiling tile fell to the floor. The proper procedure was to repair the leak. We did not go out and buy a new ceiling tile, put it in place, without fixing the leak, and then say, “Our problem is solved!”
Those who follow Christ have experienced a radical change. We are no longer what we were, but we are new in Christ. The old inner person has been put off, and a new inner person has been put on (Colossians 3:9-10). As you carefully read the text, you will see that the new inner person is not perfect but is experiencing continual renewal. As J.I. Packer said, it is like we live in a house that is being renovated, and sometimes we have to deal with the dust and trash of renovation. But it is this radical change and ongoing renewal that gives us a new starting point. If you believe in Christ, you are new in Christ. Now live like the new person you are, not the like the old person you used to be. By faith live in conformity with your new life that you have through union with Christ. Our problems come when we don’t live by faith in Christ and try to deal with life in a fleshly manner. A new pattern of life happens as we keep in step with the Holy Spirit (cf. Gal 5:19-26). The Spirit acts within us to renew us according to Christ (Colossians 3:8-9). A married couple who knows Christ can say to each other, “Honey, the Lord has fixed the leaks in our hearts! Now he will help us clean up the mess and redecorate!” The first step in communication change is to know the Ascended Christ by faith and then to act by the Spirit in conformity with him.
We might suppose that having a good, beneficial conversation with people that we desire to talk with would be relatively easy, and especially that talking with a brother or sister in Jesus Christ would be the easiest thing in the world. Surely, we’re not talking with a stranger or an enemy, are we? We all know from painful experience that having profitable, God-honoring conversations often prove to be troublesome events. But let us walk with the Lord of glory in his beautiful ways.
Communication starts with the word of Christ.
The message of Christ must find a home in our hearts. The “word of Christ” is best understood as the “message that comes from Christ”; namely, what the Lord Christ communicates to us in the God-breathed scriptures. Our hearts are to be the place where his message lives. What does this mean? When you live in a home, you control and make use of the resources available in that home. Clearly, when Christ’s word lives in our heart, it is controlling the “cellphones” and the “tablets” and the “computers” by which those in the home are able to communicate with others. Is Christ’s message controlling the content and the manner of what we say? What did Christ say to others? How did he say it? To answer those questions is a starting point. Please read and reread the Four Gospels!
Christ’s message must live richly in us. What does this mean?
Pay close attention to it. In regard to communication, we should listen to the kind of words that Christ wants us to speak and the way in which we should speak them to one another.
Submit to the authority of Christ’s word to direct our speaking. This is a conscious decision of faith. Since we believe in his supremacy, we listen to how he directs us to talk with people.
Assimilate his lessons. Establish new patterns that agree with what he is teaching you. This is part of being a learner (disciple) of Jesus. Seek the help of the Holy Spirit in doing this.
Develop plans for dealing with communication problems. For example, if you know that a certain person or situation presents an opportunity to speak in a way that is not like Christ, then you should prepare to speak in a godly manner. Prayer is necessary.
The message of Christ must structure our speech.
I’ll mention two ways.
First, since Christ is God’s wisdom, his word leads us to speak wisely. Am I listening to this person, or am I just waiting for a chance to speak? Is this the right time to speak? What needs do I perceive in this person as we converse? Am I trying to assert control or to develop a relationship?
Second, it leads us to speak constructively (teaching and instructing). We should frame our words so that the other person is blessed with the knowledge of the Lord.
Communication starts with the glory of the Lord Jesus. We must practice “Christ-structured” or “gospel-formed” communication. Ask yourself, “What on earth is my mouth here for?” We live in a time in which the basic creed is self-satisfaction and self-expression. This heavily influences the way we communicate. People ponder, “How can I get my point across? How can I verbally manipulate others to do it my way?” People try many sinful methods to maneuver people with their words, like flattery, sweet-talk, half-truths, harangue, loudness, anger, obscenity, nagging, slander and gossip. The Lord calls us to speak with a different purpose: to communicate his worth and to express his love.
We must seek ways to express the Lord’s significance. Remember the guiding principle of “for the sake of his name”. We must be intent on making known that God’s reign takes place through the Person, work, word and power of the Risen Lord Jesus Christ! We are to lift up the fame of his name. Christ’s name is what draws followers of Jesus together; it unites a gospel community. We do this by giving thanks for concrete, practical matters in which Christ has made a change in us. We want others to enter into the joy of having the Lord at work in our lives. “Christ is remaking me, and I want you to experience this joy, too!” The point is: If you are new in Christ, you should speak like someone who is new in Christ.