Filtering Your Speech
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Scott SaulsScott Sauls is senior pastor of Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee, and author of Jesus Outside the Lines, Befriend, From Weakness to Strength, Irresistible Faith, and A Gentle Answer. Scott also served at New York City's Redeemer Presbyterian Church as a lead and preaching pastor and planted two churches in the Midwest. His work has been featured in publications including Christianity Today, Relevant, Qideas, Propel Women, He Reads Truth, Leadership Magazine, The Gospel Coaliti...more
Scott Sauls continues the discussion on the value of gentle answers in human interactions, especially in the midst of a cultural environment dominated by “us against them” thinking.
Filtering Your Speech
Bob: You may have had the experience of having conversations with members of your family, or your extended family, and you don’t see eye to eye on what’s going on in our world. Scott Sauls says Jesus had a group of disciples, who didn’t have compatible worldviews when it came to society and to government.
Scott: This disciple’s group is a group of people that included Matthew, the tax collector/the big government guy; and Simon the Zealot, the small or no government guy—so you’ve got a Libertarian and Marxist—you know? Jesus said to that group, that included those two, “By this, the world is going to know that you belong to Me, that you get a long in ways that nobody can out there/that you love one another.”
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, September 10th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You’ll find us online at FamilyLifeToday.com. So what are we supposed to do, when we have friends, family members, loved ones, and we don’t see eye to eye on things that are pretty important? How do we get along with each other? How do we communicate? We’re going to talk more about that today with Scott Sauls. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. Have you ever posted anything on social media, where you’ve gone, “Oh, I probably shouldn’t have posted that”—[Laughter]—but too late to pull it back now?
Ann: Yes; very recently.
Bob: Has that happened recently?
Dave: Oh, last week, I posted this simple little comment—
Ann: —which this is together.
Dave: —about a controversial topic in the world. I’m not going to get into it—just a simple little thing—didn’t take a stand—just “Let’s put this out there. I think I need to say something”; you know?
Dave: I didn’t write a blog; it wasn’t even a paragraph—a couple of words. First response, less than a minute, a woman from my church: “Well, guess I’ll have to find a new church.”
Dave: That was her response. I’m like, “Oh my goodness! She has no idea what I even think about this topic; I didn’t say anything.
Ann: Actually, I posted it. [Laughter]
Dave: Oh, yes; that’s right. [Laughter]
Ann: Dave had to recover from it. [Laughter]
Dave: I’m glad she admitted that; I was trying to be nice.
Ann: I posted it; yes.
Bob: But social media is one of those environments, where the first thing that pops into our mind—which is most often a reflexive, impulsive, not-well-thought-through—response to our environment.
Ann: Yes, that would be me.
Dave: In fact, after that, Bob, my—two of my three sons said, “Dad, from now on, text us first before you put anything out there.” [Laughter] That’s pretty wise
Bob: I did see somebody on social media say, “I have friends who I run all my tweets by or all my Facebook® posts by before I post them, and it has saved me a lot of pain and a lot of embarrassment from things that I just thought, ‘This is what I feel like saying, but I probably shouldn’t say it in this moment.’”
We’re talking about how important our communication is because it reflects, not only what is in our heart, but it affects our relationships and how we communicate love to one another. We’ve got our friend Scott Sauls, who is joining us again for this conversation. Scott, welcome back.
Scott: Good to be with you all.
Bob: Scott is teaching pastor at Christ Presbyterian Church in Nashville, Tennessee. He is an author; he is a blogger; he is one of those guys that we look to for wisdom in—
Dave: I look to him, a lot, for wisdom.
Ann: He’s a biblical thinker too.
Dave: He just looks wise; doesn’t he? [Laughter]
Ann: He does.
Dave: He really does.
Scott: It’s the bald head.
Dave: It’s the bald head; see, I finally got it out there.
I did think, “Wouldn’t it be interesting—if we’re talking about: ‘Should we post this?’ and “Should we text this to somebody first?’—what if we did that in our homes?—‘Hey, should I say this to Mom?’”
Ann: We’ve done that. I’ve had friends—my sister and I used to have this little accountability that she would call me and say, “This is what I’m going to say to my husband tonight.” I would be like, “NO! Whatever you do, do not say it!” We would practice. It’s kind of like what we talked about earlier when Scott said, “You look in the mirror and have that conversation in the mirror first.” I think that’s really a wise thing to do.
Bob: —having communication accountability buddies,—
Bob: —who you can go to beforehand; so they don’t have to clean up the mess, but they can help you prevent the mess.
Scott has just written a book called A Gentle Answer: Our “Secret Weapon” in an Age of Us Against Them. 2020 feels like it’s been “us against them” on steroids. We’ve just had conflict after conflict, culturally at least; and those cultural conflicts filter their way into family relationships and into church relationships.
You’re a pastor, but you’re also a husband and a dad. Are you a naturally gentle-answering person? Is it part of your personality to return a gentle answer?
Scott: It really depends on the context. I think, in most relationships and interactions, that’s probably part of the picture; yes. I think that, when I get into discussions—especially disagreements with people I really care about and I know they really care about me—I can let my guard down more. It can get more heated, and I’ll say more apologies—I’ll put it that way—I say more apologies to people that I know better and am living life closer to than I do with strangers or people that are just acquaintances.
Bob: I have found that where I stumble in this area is in areas where I am most passionate or in areas where I am most fearful; because if I’m really fired up about something, or if I’m really anxious or afraid about something, that’s when I will be less prudent with my speech.
Scott: Yes; I think that is really wise to recognize the association between passion and fear because, a lot of times, the things we get most passionate and heated up about—it might come across as assertiveness/maybe as overconfidence—when in fact, on the inside, we’re afraid that something that matters to us is being threatened.
Maybe, in a family discussion, it could go a number of different directions; but let’s just say your spouse is pushing back on you. Maybe, our greatest fear is being misunderstood; maybe, our greatest fear is the likely silence that’s going to probably follow this conversation; maybe, our greatest fear is not being on the same page; maybe, our greatest fear is not being perceived as being right or our not winning.
We have all kinds of different fears. Some of them can be born out of pride; some of them can be born out of a very precious place; you know? We’ve got to kind of analyze: “Okay; what am I afraid of?” and “What do I stand to lose if my fears are realized?”—is that thing important, or is that thing really just a product of an inflated ego on my part?
Ann: That’s a great question to ask of even: “Why am I afraid?” I don’t think it always starts with fear that we know; because I think many times, at least in our marriage, it starts with anger. If anger is a secondary emotion, then, the first/primary emotion would be fear. I would respond to Dave in anger; and in a family situation, we’d be in a fight, and I would be angry. He wouldn’t say that I am fearful.
Ann: But I was fearful that I wouldn’t be seen, which stems from—
Scott: Do you have any video footage of this? [Laughter]
Dave: Actually, we do.
Ann: We do actually. [Laughter]
Dave: We have a few of those caught on video.
Here’s one, as a parent, that I think we’ve all probably experienced. Our child—especially a teenager or older—starting to say things or act in ways that seems like they are walking away from the faith that we’ve tried to ground them in their whole life. Often, a parent will respond angrily, because we’re fearful. It’s not just a gentle answer; it’s like, “What are you thinking?!” How do I respond?—because the posture of a parent in that moment is critical to draw them into a conversation; right?
Dave: So teach us; model for us. What would it be?—a tone?—would it be words? How do we/how do we respond, as a dad or a husband, in that situation?
Scott: I think it’s really smart of parents, like you just did, to recognize the difference between a teenager, and a toddler, or an eight-year-old; because the younger they are the more directive parents need to be; because they are a hazard to themselves; right? They can really get hurt if we’re not directive. Those are the years, too, where they are a lot more receptive just developmentally to: “This is what we believe,” “This is why we believe it,” “This is who we are as a family.”
Then they start to develop into those years, where they start to have opinions and—
Scott: Yes; what the most threatening thing to a parent is their child’s first opinion. [Laughter] And questions and doubts—doubts about things that are just dear; that are everything to us, as parents, especially that have to do with faith. What can backfire with teenagers is when we try to parent, you know, a 17-year-old as if they were still 8, where we are offering directive guidance rather than persuasive guidance, which oftentimes, involves more listening than speaking to get to the bottom of what is behind their questions,—
Scott: —and where they are coming from, and what’s in their heart/what’s informing their questions and their doubts.
Bob: You are old enough to have adult children, who are forming their own opinions and thinking things through differently than, maybe, you’ve thought them through. Here you are, a pastor who is known for what you think, and you’re supposed to be influencing other people to think more biblically. When your own kids start to post on social media things that don’t reflect well on you, how do you handle that?
Scott: You know, I am, I think in a lot of ways, one of those dads who hit the jackpot. I don’t think I can remember a single time where either one of my kids has embarrassed me publicly. They’ve got plenty of material; if they wanted to do that, they’ve got plenty of material. I’m serious; like I respect my daughters for that a lot. One of them is in her early-20s; the other is 18.
Even as a real-time example happened recently, where our oldest daughter wanted to put her name on something—like a public document that several people are signing—and the question was: “Is this going to put you in a bad place, Dad, because what I want to sign?” She’s a real advocate for certain vulnerable populations; and oftentimes, that kind of advocacy can be wrongly interpreted as being partisan in one direction or another; she’s not. She’s just actually a biblical person, wanting to defend and advocate for people, who are not getting a fair defense and advocacy.
She’s a real justice person; she’s like, “Is this going to get you shot at by certain people?”—because I pastor a church; and my audience, you know, from writing and speaking is pretty mixed, politically. As you all know, if you’ve got a mixed political audience, you will get shot at from the polar extremes on both ends. I said to her, “This has nothing to do with me. You’re your own person; God’s at work in you in a unique way. You’ve got a unique voice. You do what your conscience leads you to do, and I can handle it. My question is, ‘Can you handle it if people criticize me for something you do and start to use what you signed against me?’”
I told her, “I can handle it, and you should follow your conscience”; but part of that is the climate that she’s created of being somebody, who is very careful not to embarrass her dad publically when she has a lot of material; you know? I mean, she’s becoming more and more of a peer and less and less like a child—
Scott: —to us, which is a beautiful thing to watch.
Bob: As parents, I think we have to recognize we raised our kids to be adults, not just to parrot everything they heard from us, but to think on their own. When they do that, it’s going to make us uncomfortable; but this is really what we want. We want them to think right. We’d like them to think everything we think, but that’s not realistic; we didn’t think everything our parents thought.
Ann: And I love the conversation. For me, as our kids got older, I loved discovering who they were, what they thought, what they believed. I didn’t always believe and agree with their stance on certain positions. One of our sons got married, and his wife was sitting in on these conversations. She started getting up, pacing around the house. We would dialogue about controversial subjects. It was one of my favorite things to do, because it was out of love. It was just dialoguing: hearing his heart/hearing my heart. It wouldn’t get hot, but it would get pretty intense and passionate.
Then, we’d be done; and we both really cared about each other and went, “Wow; that was a great conversation.” Well, she finally said, “I can’t do this anymore!” She hadn’t said anything. I said, “What do you mean?” She goes, “This is so, like—I’m just so bothered by the whole thing.” Our son turned and said, “It’s—we do this all the time”; but she had never had those conversations/where she wouldn’t even talk to her parents about her views, because they’d be controversial.
Bob: Yes; talk about that, Scott, in the context of a gentle answer; because different personalities and different temperaments are going to express their gentle answers differently. We can now be the gentleness police, coming along and saying, “You weren’t gentle enough in how you said that”; and the context may have been perfectly appropriate.
Scott: Yes; so if we’re all created in the image of God, and Christ is God—the four of us are agreed on both of those things—Christ has three, what theologians call, offices: He’s prophet, He’s priest, and He’s king. When we try to act like the king in any contested conversation, it’s not going to go well. [Laughter] When you have two people trying to act like the king, it’s really going to be a train wreck. Our two remaining alternatives are to let Jesus alone be the king; and we need to ask ourselves: “Is this moment a prophet moment, or is it a priest moment?”
The prophet is the one who speaks truth. The priest is the one who communicates tenderness, gentleness, and humble in heart—that part of Christ/that aspect of Christ. Sometimes, it’s combined. We’ve got to ask, “Okay; do I major in prophet and minor in priest in this situation?” or “Do I major in priest and minor in prophet?” It just depends on what the situation is; but the two have to go together because, as soon as you separate prophet from priest—if we’re all prophet and no priest, we become kind of bully-ish—again, we’re not going to persuade anybody except people in our own echo chamber, and how boring is that? If we’re all priests, then important truths might be taken off the table that need to be part of the conversation.
Bob: I think you are right in there to help us figure out, in our conversations with one another, how we can be prophetically gentle. I always come back to John 1:14. Jesus reveals the Father, full of grace and truth/full of prophet and priest. We’ve got to figure out: “If we naturally tend to be truth people, how can we amp up the grace?” “If we naturally tend to be grace people, how can we amp up the truth so that we can be full of both?—not try to minimize one for the sake of the other—we want to speak the truth in love”; right?
Scott: We do. Posture is body language/tone is so important. I think about the woman caught in adultery. Jesus, as Jesus does, gave us the perfect example about how to handle, let’s say, a situation where you’ve got sexual immorality; right? Woman was caught in the act of adultery. First, how curious that there was no man who was brought out in public, caught in the act of adultery, even though it takes two to get caught.
Scott: So there is an injustice that’s already revealed by the absence of a man being dragged into the public.
All of these sort of condemning religious men, who wanted to execute this woman, have left because Jesus said, “Hey, whoever has no sin, you be the first to cast a stone at her.” Of course, they all left. Jesus is the only man remaining, who is also the only man in that conversation, or any conversation, who was qualified to cast a stone; and He chose not to. Instead, He said, “I do not condemn you. Now, go leave your life of sin.” Priest: “I do not condemn you”; prophet: “Leave your life of sin.” The order is incredibly important of those two sentences. If you reverse that order and say, “Leave your life of sin,”—and “I don’t condemn you,” will be on the other side of that—you have transitioned away from Christianity into moralism; and it’s not Christian.
Scott: It’s not Christian to lead with: “Get your act together; then we’ll have the acceptance conversation.” It’s precisely the opposite, where Christ loves people before they change. He creates belonging for them before they believe and before they obey.
For some, He creates belonging for them, knowing that they never will obey. Think about the ten lepers that He healed. Only one of them came back and said, “Thank You.” He’s like, “Where are the other nine?” He knew what the answer to that was; that question was more for the one who came back than it was of His curiosity.
We don’t do that well, naturally; but supernaturally, we have the resources to be able to. Again, part of that gets back to the logs-and-specks conversation. We have all the resources that free us to be humble and to address how we contribute. Jesus has given us every resource:
“There is nothing that you know about the worst part of yourself that I didn’t know before you and that I don’t know better than you. You are exposed, but you are not rejected. You’re known, and you’re loved; so get over yourself.”
Stop feeling like you have to be right about everything and realize that whomever it is that you’re trying to confront, persuade, swing over to your side—realize that for every criticism you offer them—their heart needs ten praises, just like yours does/just like yours does. And just like you, every dysfunction or misbehavior that you see in this other person, or this other group, just never forget this closing line from the movie, Wonder, or the book, Wonder: “Every person you meet is fighting a hard-hitting battle.” There is always a battle beneath our expressions of sin, and dysfunction, and offense. Empathy, compassion—these are all Christ-like things—but it does take a supernatural intrusion into our hearts for us to become those kinds of people.
Dave: You know, there is a verse that a lot of preachers never preach. I’ve done it only a few times, and it’s interesting why. I’m sort of being factious; but Matthew 5, where Jesus says, “Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother/sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them and then bring and offer your gift.”
I joke because pastors—they’d rather have the gift than people leave and go reconcile their relationships—but it does highlight what your book is all about. Relationships and reconciliation are more important to the heart of God; this is critical stuff we’re talking about.
Scott: Well, that’s almost all the Apostle Paul wrote about when it came to human relationships. He’s always trying to bring Jews and Gentiles together. The church is supposed to be the place where people, who cannot even get along with each other out in the world, become friends and then become as family to each other. That’s the sign that we belong to Christ, according to Christ Himself: “Lord, I pray that they will be one.”
This disciples group is a group of people that included Matthew, the tax collector/the big government guy; and Simon the Zealot, the small or no government guy—so you’ve got a Libertarian and a Marxist—you know? Isn’t it striking that there is no record of a single political debate between those two in the gospel? You would think, because all of the Gospels talk about how the disciples bickered with one another—not one on record.
Three years together—they lived together; they died together. Matthew is the one and only Gospel writer who acknowledged the fact that Matthew was a tax collector and Simon was a Zealot. Jesus said to that group, that included those two, “By this, the world is going to know that you belong to Me, that you get along in ways that nobody can out there.”
Dave: I also think, I mean, if you apply this to the family—just think, “If I am going to respond with a gentle answer, it could be very easy for me—as a husband, as a dad, as a sibling—to sit and wait: ‘She’s going to come to me and ask for forgiveness/say she’s sorry,’ —when my son or daughter—no; I should go and say, ‘I’m sorry,’ and with a gentle answer, invite a conversation,”—that is on me.
Ann: —which reminds me of Luke 6:27: “But I say to you who hear, love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, and pray for those who abuse you.” Wow; if we would live that out, our homes would look different; and our country would look different.
Bob: Scott, what you are giving us with your book, A Gentle Answer, is a coaching manual. It’s a way to think differently about our communication/think biblically about our communication, and represent Jesus well in conversations with friends, family members, coworkers. There may be no more important time for us to be doing that.
We’d love to send to our listeners a copy of Scott’s book, which again, is called A Gentle Answer: Our “Secret Weapon” in an Age of Us Against Them. If you can help support the ministry of FamilyLife® with a donation this week, Scott’s book is our gift to you to say, “Thank you for partnering with us in helping to provide practical biblical help and hope for husbands and wives/moms and dads all around the world.”
FamilyLife Today is reaching hundreds of thousands of people every day, on radio to our podcasts, using Amazon® Alexa—all the different channels that are available to us. We’re seeking to effectively develop godly marriages and families, because we believe godly marriages and families can change the world one home at a time. Again, if you can help advance the ministry of FamilyLife Today, we’d love to send you Scott’s book as a thank-you gift for your donation. Go to FamilyLifeToday.com to donate, or call 1-800-FL-TODAY. Scott’s book, again, is called A Gentle Answer: Our “Secret Weapon” in an Age of Us Against Them. Ask for your copy of the book when you make a donation, either online or by calling 1-800-FL-TODAY.
Now, tomorrow, we want to talk about anger; because honestly, some of us are feeling angry/frustrated—angry is the right word. We’re feeling angry when we see things going on in our world, and we want to think rightly about that and act rightly about that. Scott’s going to be here to coach us on that tomorrow. I hope you can be with us as well.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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