Communication: Preventing and Solving Problems

Good relationships are not built because of an absence of problems. Nobody is immune from problems. All men are sinners (Romans 3:10-18), which means that they are selfish and often sin against each other--and that is all that it takes to set the stage for conflicts. But take heart! Solid and lasting relationships can be built by people who know Jesus Christ as Savior and who learn to deal with problems biblically. In Ephesians 4:22-24, Paul reminds us that that we should not continue to live as lost people do (verses 17-19), since we have put off the old man (i.e. the unregenerate man) and have put on the new man (i.e. the regenerate or saved man). Instead, we should learn to practice in our behavior what we already are in our new position in Christ. We need to continue what began at salvation by putting off the old, unrighteous habits and putting on new, godly habits. In the verses that follow (verses 25-32), Paul illustrates how this put off/put on dynamic applies to a critical area of the believer's growth--communication. There are Four Rules of Communication which God wants us to use in all our relationships. They are good for both preventing and solving problems with others.

I. First Rule Of Communication: Be Honest (vs. 25)


The word "speak" is an imperative. In other words, this is something that God commands us to do: "You speak!" People cannot read our minds. "For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man's spirit within him…" (I Corinthians 2:11a). Therefore, clamming up is out for the Christian!

Speak truth

The phrase "speak truthfully" is in the present tense, which in the original language of the New Testament involves continuous action. We are always to speak truth! Violating this principle is easier than you might think. Here are some examples of failing to speak the truth:

  • Outright lies or deception.
  • Back door communication: Masking the real message through indirect hinting or insinuations.
  • Not really meaning what you say.

Are You Guilty of Insincere Communication?

  • Do you ever answer the question, "What's wrong?" with "Nothing!", even when you know that something is wrong?
  • Is what you say contradicted by your facial expressions or body language--which often reveals your real intentions?
  • Do you ever flatter people on the outside (to avoid conflict) while you fume on the inside about an offense against you?

Speak truth lovingly (See 4:15)

We can be devastating in the way we use even the truth!

Proverbs 12:18:

Reckless words pierce like a sword, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.

Therefore, we must take great care to speak the truth with the other person's best interest in mind. We must be sensitive not only to what we are saying, but also how we are saying it (i.e. tone of voice, volume, facial expressions, eye contact, and posture).

Colossians 4:6:

Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

II. Second Rule Of Communication: Keep Current (vs. 26-27)

In your anger, do not sin (v.26a).

  • Anger is not always sinful.
  • Anger is the God-given energy to solve problems.
  • Anger becomes sinful (James 1:20--"man's anger") when it is used to attack people (Proverbs 25:28) or ourselves (stewing about the problem) (Ephesians 4:26-27).

Nevertheless, when you do sin in your anger, God wants you to deal with your sin right away (v. 26b).

  • By confessing it to God.
  • By confessing it to the other people.

Who Has The Responsibility Of Resolving The Problem?
When there is a conflict, who has the responsibility of taking the first step--the person sinning or the person who has been sinned against? Look at what Jesus says:

Matthew 5:23-24: Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother, then come and offer your gift.
Matthew 18:15-17: 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. But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The answer is: Both! Whether you have sinned or been sinned against, Jesus says you need to go to resolve the matter. (Ideally you ought to bump into each other on the way to meet each other!). The Head of the Church left no loopholes. His instructions cover all the bases because the unity of His Church is very important to Him.

Failure to solve today's problems leads to greater problems (v.27). We are guilty of disobedience and we provide a "foothold" for Satan to gain an entrance into our lives so that he can…

  • Build a wall of resentment (and even bitterness) between us and the other person(s).
  • Distort subsequent problems (Making "mountains out of molehills"--leading to even more conflict).
  • Destroy unity in a marriage--or in Christ's body.
  • Ultimately undermine God's glory and our witness!

The High Cost of Not Solving Problems!

Jay Adams, in The Christian Counselor's Manual (p.52):
The Problems between Christians should not continue unresolved. When they do, strength is sapped from the congregation and members work at cross-purposes. Unresolved problems hurt everyone and dishonor Christ's name. There is no place, therefore, for such loose ends in the church. God does not allow for loose ends; rather He insists that every personal difficulty that arises must be settled.

So how can we deal with problems in a way that pleases God and truly helps the other person?

III. Third Rule Of Communication: Attack Problems--Not People (vs.29-30)

Put Off "Unwholesome" Talk

  • By-passes the problem.
  • Zeroes in on the person's character (Matthew 5:21-22).
  • Tears down or rips apart (James 3:5-12).
  • Grieves God's Spirit (and thus affects relationship with Him).

Put On "Helpful" Talk

  • Identifies the problem.
  • Zeroes in on personal responsibility (Matthew 7:1).
  • Expresses solutions in terms of action.
  • Benefits those who listen (i.e. it motivates toward righteousness).

IV. Fourth Rule Of Communication: Act! Don't React (vs.31-32)

We are not to react to the sin of another person by returning evil for evil. Rather, we must learn to put off these typical sinful reactions (v.31):

  • Bitterness: The refusal to treat someone as if they never hurt you.
  • Wrath: Flaring outbursts of anger.
  • Anger: Settled indignation or hostility that frequently seeks revenge; the "slow burn."
  • Clamor: Harsh contention and strife; public quarreling.
  • Slander: Abusive, injurious speech ("You idiot!").
  • Malice: The desire to harm others or to see them suffer.

No matter what others may do to you, Jesus Christ is still worthy of your obedience. "Sin #1 never deserves sin #2!"

Instead we must learn to act Biblically in response to the sin of others and put on the following attitudes and actions:

  • Kind: Benevolent, helpful, courteous.
  • Tenderhearted: lit. "of good heartedness", compassionate, sympathetic to the real needs of the one sinning against you.
  • Forgiving: Giving up your "right" to revenge, to hold a grudge or to get even.

Changing habits of communication is not easy, but it can be done (1 Corinthians 10:13). Nevertheless, changing sinful habits is easier than not changing--because the "way of the transgressor is hard." (Proverbs 13:15a). No matter how irresponsible the other person is, you can act biblically! While you ultimately cannot change the other person, there is one thing you can change--how you respond to them. May you learn to do so for the glory of our Savior--for He is worthy of your obedience!

Communication: Practical Steps

Life Application

Knowing what God says and doing it are not one and the same thing (Matthew 7:24-27). Just because you may be familiar with some of God's truths concerning communication does not guarantee that you will successfully live them out in your daily life. You must learn to do them (James 1:22-25). Take practical steps of action toward becoming a biblical communicator and problem-solver.

Avoid the Wrong Approaches to Dealing with Problems

Don't be an "Ignorer" (Sinful Passivity).

  • The person that is too focused on other things to make the necessary effort to deal with problems.
  • Examples: Eli (1 Samuel 3:13); Jacob (Genesis 34:5, 30).

Don't be a "Winner" (Selfish Manipulation).

  • This person is "never wrong." He is more interested in winning arguments than in solving problems.
  • Example: See Proverbs 18:12.

Don't be a "Give-Inner" ("Peace at any price").

  • This person will do anything to avoid conflict--even if it means by-passing solutions to problems.
  • Example: David in 2 Samuel 14:28-33 and 1 Kings 1:6.

Instead, be a ”Problem-Solver.”

  • Wants to please God by addressing problems God’s ways.
  • See the Four Rules of Communication in Ephesians 4:25-32.

Confront and Confess Unproductive Habits [1]

Too much talk (Proverbs 10:19).

  • The gossip--Talks about others rather than to them (Proverbs 26:22).
  • The ”interrupter”--Can’t wait for others to finish before jumping in with his/her “two cents” (Proverbs 12:23).
  • The ”motor-mouth”--Non-stop talking! This kind of speech eventually ruins relationships (Proverbs 10:8).

Too little talk.

  • Failure to express appreciation (Proverbs 16:24; Philippians 1:3; Philippians 2:3).
  • Failure to acknowledge one’s own failures (Matthew 5:23-24).
  • Failure to get beyond superficial “small talk” (Ephesians 5:19).

Negative talk (Ephesians 4:29).
Note: The word “unwholesome” refers to something that is rotten or diseased. It describes speech that is unpleasant if not destructive to the listener.

  • The ”manipulator”--Uses malicious words to control or punish people.
  • The ”side-tracker”--Habitually talks about problems. Keeps the conversation focused on problem after problem—without getting to solutions.
  • The ”doom-and-gloomer”--(a.k.a. the "complainer"). Almost always focuses on what is wrong. Rarely says anything positive. A depressing person to be around.
  • The "exaggerator"--Applies verbal overkill to make his point. ("You always…"; "You never…" ). Results in defensiveness and suspicion in the listener.

Impulsive talk--Talking before thinking. Involves blurting out, making rash commitments, or retaliatory statements (Proverbs 29:20; James 1:19).

Overkill talk--Using harsh or anger words to make a point (Proverbs 15:1).

Develop the Skill of Listening (James 1:19).

  • Humility--Focusing on the interests of the one talking, rather than just focusing on your own interests (Philippians 2:3).
  • Effort--Requires diligence and discipline (Proverbs 1:5, 8; Proverbs 4:1, 10).
  • Attention--Whole body involved (Proverbs 5:1; Proverbs 22:17).
  • Real concern--For what the other person is feeling (Romans 12:15).

[1] Most of the ideas in this section are taken from the book, Your Family God's Way by Dr. Wayne Mack.

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