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Avoid Being Wrong When You’re Right

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When King Pyrrhus defeated the Romans at Heraclea in 280 BC, he achieved a great victory—and a great defeat. His army’s casualties were so excessive they undermined the value of his conquest. In war, sometimes a win turns out to be a loss on closer inspection. These “Pyrrhic victories” can turn a battlefield success into an unintended catastrophe. The conflict may be won but at a high cost.

Pyrrhic victories can also take place off the battlefield. Too often they’re found in our families, friendships, and churches. In a conflict, a stand is taken in a manner detrimental to those involved. Maybe, like us, you’ve unwittingly made this wrong assumption: I’ve faithfully defended a biblical position on a contested issue, and so I’ve honored Christ. But this sentiment is incomplete. If we’ve expressed a biblical truth without biblical love, we’ve missed the mark. Upholding Christ-honoring truth requires Christ-honoring communication. How we say what we say always matters.

If we’ve expressed a biblical truth without biblical love, we’ve missed the mark.

This is true in every area of disagreement we may encounter: Family members make lifestyle choices we know are sinful. Friends adhere to doctrinal positions we believe to be in error. We reach an impasse with fellow church members over personal offenses or conscience issues.

Whatever the points of contention, even if we believe ourselves to be right, we must avoid being wrong in our manner of communication if we want to honor Christ.

Twin Virtues Needed in Every Conflict

We’re the parents of college-aged twins. When one comes home from university for the weekend and the other doesn’t, we miss the one who remained on campus. The weekend doesn’t feel right or complete.

Similarly, attempts at communicating in conflict can only be considered biblical or Christ-honoring with the presence of two virtues: humility and love. These twins are part of the Lord’s plan for godly communication, and they’re necessary to avoid being wrong in our manner—even when we’re right in our message.

These virtues guard us from being rude, harsh, angry, argumentative, manipulative, or condescending. In love—as we’ve been loved by Christ—we’ll communicate not only with conviction but also with gracious affection. In humility—as we’ve been served by Christ—we’ll communicate not only with courage but also with deference to others, considering them more important than ourselves.

Let’s Get Practical

How can we practically display Christlike humility and love in our communication? In at least five ways.

1. Recognize the other viewpoint.

Listen to gain an understanding of the other person’s circumstances and heart. Ask questions for clarification, and give space for a thorough response. Proverbs 20:5 reminds us that “the purpose in a man’s heart is like deep water, but a man of understanding will draw it out.” Seek to thoroughly comprehend the other point of view so your response is relevant and focused.

2. Respond with gracious wisdom.

Let James 3:17 guide your response: “The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.” Imagine communicating like that. Purpose and pray in advance—even in the moment—to communicate with the wisdom James describes. This quality of speech is supernatural but possible as you walk in the Spirit.

3. Reason from the Scriptures.

The Scriptures are the Christian’s authority for all of life: “The rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether” (Ps. 19:9). Since our goal in disagreement must be for all involved to glorify Christ by submitting to his Word, resist the temptation to argue from personal experience or preference. While the commands and principles of Scripture are our standard, sometimes we may disagree on how they’re applied. Explain your position biblically, but be careful not to elevate your applications to the level of the Bible’s authority.

4. Reaffirm your love.

We live in a culture that equates disagreement with hate. That’s not the genuine Christian way, for “love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7). In light of such prevailing assumptions and accusations, it’s helpful to overtly communicate that you genuinely care, and that you’re seeking to love as Christ has loved you. Provide reassurance of your affection and concern—with both actions and words.

5. Realize your limitations.

Remember it’s the Lord, not you, who transforms hearts and lives. You can say and do the right things, but that doesn’t guarantee that others will agree or mend their ways. Your hope must be firmly fixed on your sovereign God, who does all things well in his good time.

Trust the Lord that his Word will accomplish his purposes in both you and others as you continue to pursue being right—in the right way.

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