10 Ways to Fight Like a Christian

Posted by Pastor J.D. on May 9, 2013

“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” (Ephesians 4:29)

In Ephesians 4:29, Paul mentions two kinds of speech: that which builds up and that which pulls down. This verse and the surrounding passage show us ten ways that we can handle conflict well—10 ways to fight like a Christian.

1. Examine your heart.

This is a huge first step in any conflict. Even if you’ve been wronged, what does your emotional response say about your heart? Is it possible that malice, wrath, or bitterness have snuck in? These things are like alarm systems for your heart, pointing to idolatry, which is often a much bigger issue than whatever your spouse (or brother or friend or boss) has done to you.

2.     Overlook whatever you can.

Part of speaking to others with grace is discerning what needs confronting and what should be overlooked. That’s a lot of what Paul means by that little phrase, “as fits the occasion.” On certain occasions (not all!), confronting little infractions only serves to heighten tensions. There are times you need to speak up and confront; and there are times to just let it go. There’s a real art to knowing the difference.

3.     Be practical in how you fight.

Again, think about what “fits the occasion.” My wife and I have learned the hard way that there are certain times, places, and moods that are just bad for arguments. So we never fight, for instance, if we’re both exhausted. We table the argument and come back to it within 24 hours, after we’ve had time to rest. Now, there’s always a temptation to just table a critical discussion endlessly, so you need to be sure to keep your word. If you say, “Let’s talk about this in the morning,” then put it on your calendar and actually bring it back up.

4.     Be quick to listen and slow to speak.

As our Pastor of Counseling Brad Hambrick says, the vast majority of communication problems are not expression problems, but listening problems. You’re plenty skilled at making your point known; but the “communication breakdown” is the result of your stopped up ear. Listening well is one way of applying the biblical truth of considering others’ interests more important than your own (cf. Phil 2:3–4)

5.     Seek their sanctification, not your vindication.

Once you let go of the idea that you have to win every argument and vindicate yourself, you can finally focus on what helps the other person and the relationship. That means backing off, even when you think you are in the right.

6.  Believe in God’s overriding purposes in your relationships.

Knowing that God has a purpose for your relationships introduces an element of hope, even to the most broken of those relationships. This will not automatically make a difficult relationship easier, but it does add perspective: God knew you would be in that relationship, and he intends to do something beautiful with your conflict.

7. Speak grace-saturated words.

When grace saturates your speech, it changes both the content and the tone of what you say. Instead of assuming the positives and noticing the negatives, you begin to assume the negatives and intentionally point out the positives. You avoid being sarcastic and condescending, because that kind of talk—even if it’s technically “true”—only serves to ostracize and tear down.

8. Don’t give up until there is no longer a chance of reconciliation.

This is specifically applicable to married relationships, though the principle is broader than that. I see so many couples going through the pain of divorce, and even though there are a few isolated cases in which divorce is biblically justifiable, I wish that more people would just give the power of grace a chance before giving up on that relationship.

9. Truly forgive.

Forgiveness is a choice to put an offense away from our minds, but it’s not conditional on another person’s repentance. Many people think, “I’d forgive so-and-so if they would just ask for it.” But don’t confuse forgiveness with reconciliation. Reconciliation takes two people; forgiveness only takes one. For your own sake, do not wait on another person’s repentance before you forgive. The only alternative to forgiveness is bitterness.

10. Do all things out of reverence for Christ.

The only way to follow any of this is for the cross to grow large in your life, to be so overwhelmed by Christ’s sacrifice for you that it reorients how you view every offense against you. If you try to resolve conflict as an act of service to your spouse, you will always lose motivation. You have to do it for Jesus. 

Pastor J.D.


J.D. Greear is pastor of The Summit Church, in Raleigh-Durham, NC and author of Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary (2011) and Stop Asking Jesus into Your Heart: How to Know for Sure You Are Saved (2013). More

22 responses to 10 Ways to Fight Like a Christian

  1. Loved the distinction between reconcilation and forgiveness! I feel like so many people are stuck waiting for the other person to move when we should be the first to extend forgiveness.

  2. But, But…..But. lol. That is the response my flesh gives. Thanks Pastor J.D. The cross gives us thick skin and a soft heart.

  3. #7 may be a little tricky for me, but it clearly points out how sarcasm can be misconstrued. Thanks, JD and thank you, Jesus!

  4. Kevin McMahan May 13, 2013 at 8:14 am

    On #8, don’t give up until there’s no longer a chance of reconciliation, what do you think about expanding that? Maybe something like: Never give up until the other person walks away and even then, be open to reconciliation?

  5. Unfortunately, I can’t agree with the 9th point.

    Biblical forgiveness *IS* conditional. 1 John 1:9 is crucial to the discussion of the biblical doctrine of forgiveness. I encourage you to read Chris Brauns’ book, _Unpacking Forgiveness_, for a biblical view of forgiveness. Or, for an intro to the topic, consider what Kevin DeYoung says:

    “Many Christians, influenced by Lewis Smedes and a lot of pop psychology, have a therapeutic understanding of forgiveness. They think of forgiveness as a unilateral, internal effort to get our emotions under control. But if we start with a biblical notion of God’s forgiveness, we see that such a view falls short.” (http://thegospelcoalition.org/blogs/kevindeyoung/2012/09/01/what-is-forgiveness/)

  6. I agree with David Giarrizzo that I can’t agree with point #9. The Bible never teaches us to forgive people who have not repented. Neither does it show God forgiving unrepentant people. In-between forgiving people when they repent, or holding bitterness against people whether they repent or not, is “19 Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” (Romans 12). The whole paragraph shows how believers can have freedom from bitterness even when it would not be right to forgive someone.

  7. I will have to disagree with David Giarrizzo’s disagreement with Pastor Greear’s point # 9 on the basis of Romans 5:10, “For if while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.” Here we have evidence of God’s reconciliation made possible through Jesus Christ’s death, but underneath this is God’s willingness to forgive and offer salvation through the same means. This is a unilateral decision of Almighty God; we will not be reconciled to Him, though, until our confession of sin and repent in faith believing in His salvation through Christ. Pastor Greear’s premise is correct biblically, it seems.

  8. Hi Terry, I had also disagreed with point 9. I fully agree with the fact that God initiated reconciliation while we were still his enemies, and I think we should try to do that with people who have become our enemies. The issue is whether God grants forgiveness without the condition of repentance. I believe that God is quite clear in requiring our repentance prior to granting forgiveness, even though these things are obviously “real” for him in the heavenly realm far above and beyond the way we see them in our here and now experience. I think that there is a better (and what I think is a more scriptural) way to show people how to handle unrepentant sin in others, rather than forgiving. I see plenty of Scriptures that show that we are to treat unrepentant sin one way, and to be very quick to forgive whenever repentance is expressed.

  9. I agree that we should forgive in all instances. Question: Did not Jesus ask the Father to forgive them because they know not what a do? Contextually, there is room for my reconsideration on my part.

  10. Jesus’ words from the cross should be a clincher here. He did not say, “Father, I forgive them…” he said, “Father, forgive them…” Jesus taught us to love our enemies, and pray for our persecutors (Mt 5:44). On the cross, he prayed for his persecutors out of love for his enemies. He was not forgiving them, but praying that the Father would forgive them. As we would pray for God to save a loved one, but would not consider that prayer answered until the loved one repented and received Jesus Christ by faith, so Jesus prayed for something that would be answered by God bringing someone to repentance so that he could then grant him/her forgiveness. Saul/Paul is at least one example of Jesus’ prayer being answered. How do we know? Because of his genuine conversion to faith in Christ. Instead of teaching people that they should forgive unrepentant people, we should teach them to pray the way Jesus prayed. It is actually a very liberating thing for a believer when they can pray for an unrepentant person that God would do whatever it takes to forgive them. It keeps them ready to respond with forgiveness the moment that repentance is expressed.

  11. Amen to Monte’s original comment!…
    The “forgive or be bitter” argument is both fallacious and unbiblical. First, it is fallacious because it creates a false dichotomy; it commits the informal fallacy of “black or white/either/or” and disallows a third possibility. Second, it is unbiblical for the exact reason Monte gave: We are called to love even our enemies (who, of course, are those who haven’t repented and we haven’t forgiven). Furthermore, as Willie mentioned, we are to be like Christ who, as he hung dying on the cross, had an *attitude* (key word!) of forgiveness. The Son may have asked the Father to forgive; but as 1 John 1:9 shows, God’s forgiveness is conditioned on the repentance of sinners. And consider the Gospel call: “REPENT AND BELIEVE.” Even there, in the most basic Gospel message, we see this condition placed on the forgiveness of God.

    Part of the problem here is a poor soteriology. Too much of evangelicalism today misunderstand the ordo salutis (order of salvation). (Aside: This is just one reason I so much appreciate the historical confessions such as the Westminster and my favorite, the London Baptist Confession of 1689!) When God forgives a sinner, it is only after that person has repented of his sins and put his faith in Christ. Preceding this, however, is the effectual call of God upon the sinner and the work of regeneration within the sinner by the power of the Holy Spirit. Only after God has made all of sinful man’s affection wholly changed can that sinner repent and place his trust in Jesus for salvation. This is the Gospel that is so often talked about in YRR circles today. But we must understand that forgiveness from God for our sins requires our repentance. Thus, this conditional forgiveness is the same kind of forgiveness we must model to those who offend us and repent. (As a New Testament case study, notice in the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant in Matthew 18:21ff, forgiveness of the debt was only granted by the master after the servant repented and sought mercy.)

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