Mastering the Art of Christlike Dialogue

It’s not always easy to speak the truth in love, but with Christ’s help we can dialogue in healthy ways.

Back in 1993, as I listened to Christian leaders respond to the media over social and political concerns, I sensed something was wrong in the way God’s people spoke to those with differing views. Not knowing what to do, I prayed, “Father, there is so much wrong with our society and with Christianity, I have no idea what you would like me to do to help, but would you show me what’s wrong and what you would like me to do to help?”

To answer my question, God led me to a local organization that offered K-12 sex-ed curricula. After thoroughly studying that material, it was obvious to me that it promoted unhealthy sexual behavior that was dishonoring to God. I was ready to fight for what was right.

But a short time later, God challenged me with two questions: First, “Do you want to follow My Son?”

I quickly replied, “Yes, I do.”

Next, “Did My Son fight and quarrel?” God’s answer came through Matthew 12:18–19: “Here is my servant whom I have chosen, the one I love. … He will not quarrel.”

Then I learned from 2 Timothy 2:24, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome.”

I got the message. The next morning I called the executive director of the local organization and asked if she would be willing to dialogue with me, and she said yes.

In our first meeting, we established the common ground of healthier kids and a healthier society.

During our monthly dialogues, I listened as she shared her perspective; then she listened as I shared mine. After several conversations, her organization agreed to rewrite the curriculum. They added an entire chapter on abstinence and stated it to be a wise and desirable choice for young people.

The executive director, who had worked with the public for 22 years, said to me, “I want you to know that in all the years I’ve been doing this, this is the first time I’ve been able to sit down with someone who has an opposing view and have honest communication.”

God had shown me the need for Christlike dialogue.

What Is Christlike dialogue?

Christlike dialogue is honest conversation guided by the Holy Spirit that includes four characteristics: other-minded listening, seeking and speaking the truth in love, focusing on Christ’s interests and trusting God with the outcome.

1. Other-Minded Listening (Phil. 2:3-4; James 1:19–20). Listening is an opportunity to pause from the busyness of life to make time to hear what is going on in the life of another human being, to hear their story, to try and understand what they believe and why they believe it and to gain insight into their unmet needs. If we remember that all people were created in the image of God with the same need to know and trust him, our empathy and loving concern for others should grow.

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2. Seek and Speak the Truth in Love (John 14:6; 8:32; Eph. 4:15). We cannot effectively and consistently speak the truth in love unless we abide in Christ. Grace and truth come through Jesus Christ, and both are needed in Christlike dialogue. Grace is kindly and compassionately conveyed by asking questions and listening attentively. Truth is spoken humbly, yet boldly with great patience and careful, gentle instruction.

Each person agrees to give one another the freedom to speak the truth as each perceives it, without interruption from the other(s), except to ask questions for clarification. In Christlike dialogue, we seek God’s wisdom rather than people’s opinions, so we encourage people to identify their source of truth and what that source of truth has to say in regard to the matter of concern being discussed.

3. Focus on Christ’s Interests (1 Tim. 1:15; Eph. 4:13). With Christlike dialogue, the focus moves away from selfish ambition and argumentative monologues to focusing on Christ’s two primary interests of seeing the lost saved and the saved sanctified.

4. Trust God With the Outcome (1 Pet. 2:23; 2 Tim. 2:24–26). Jesus surrendered to the will of his Father, and trusted him with the outcome, as should we. When it comes to responding to people with opposing views, our answer to each of the following questions will help us know if we are surrendered to the will of God, and willing to trust him with the outcome.

• Am I refraining from quarreling?
• Am I being kind?
• Am I gently instructing?

Agree to leave another person’s decision, and the consequences of that decision, between that person and God. (Some situations may require church discipline to be administered in love. Steps one and two of Matthew 18:15–17 offer great opportunities for Christlike dialogue.)

Christlike dialogue is unnatural. It’s more natural to argue and want to control the outcome than it is to speak the truth in love and leave the outcome with God. It’s more natural to be self-centered and quick to speak than it is to be other-minded and quick to listen.

So Christlike dialogue is about putting off our old natural sinful self, being renewed in the spirit of our minds and putting on the new self so we come to know Christ better and become more like him.

Over the past 25 years, God has taught me many valuable lessons pertaining to Christlike dialogue. Here are a few more:

Christlike dialogue prepares us to represent Jesus well. As Christians, we represent Jesus through the words we speak. We either represent him well, or we represent him poorly. If we represent him poorly, we push people away from Christ and remain part of the problem in America.

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If we are to engage people with differing views in ways that are pleasing to God, we must examine our own hearts and repent of anger, bitterness, resentment or hatred toward anyone created in the image of God. Those attitudes lead to gossip, quarreling, and speaking unkind, unloving, and judgmental words that grieve the heart of God. As we repent and put Christlike dialogue into practice, we become part of the solution to the brokenness in America.

Relationships are more important than issues. When God allows people into our lives who don’t see things exactly as we do, it’s important to remember that our struggle is not against flesh and blood.

In the spiritual battle between good and evil, Satan is at work trying to deceive people into believing these two lies:

1. Issues are more important than relationships.
2. Being “right” is more important than doing right.

Regardless of what the issue is, Satan uses those two lies to destroy relationships. He succeeds when people withdraw their love from one another. Way too often we hear of divisive church splits over nonessential issues such as the style of worship music.

Persevere in love, despite differences. If we love Jesus, we will love people as Christ has loved us, even those we perceive to be unreasonable and unlovable—which at times might include us. Disagreeable people give us unending opportunities to extend grace, mercy and kindness as God has to us. While Satan schemes to cause hatred and division, the Holy Spirit gently reminds us to persevere in love for others, despite differences.

• That doesn’t mean we condone or agree with something that is wrong.
• It doesn’t mean we compromise truth or stop doing what is right.
• It does mean we stop trying to get people to see things exactly as we do.

God wants his people to be like him. When he allows people with differing views into our lives, may our first response be to pray for guidance and wisdom as we dialogue, for his love for others, and for both parties to know Jesus better. Our culture needs the light only Christ can bring, and we are his conduits—a high calling and privilege. When God allows people with differing views into our lives, may we seize the opportunity to intentionally engage in conversations that honor God and bring him glory.

Parts of this article were excerpted from Christlike Dialogue © 2018 by Jeffery L. Rosenau. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form without written permission from Jeff Rosenau, 7622 South Ivanhoe Way, Centennial, Colorado 80112.