Today, we welcome a guest post from Lou Priolo who currently serves as the director of biblical counseling at Eastwood Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, AL. Lou serves as a ruling elder, author, and international conference speaker. Lou often speaks and writes on biblical counseling, marriage, and parenting. If you would like to follow Lou's writings, visit his new website at this link.
You’ve seen it a thousand times. Two Christians, members of the same family (or of God’s family), are trying to resolve a conflict when one of them shuts down right in the middle of the process. “What’s going on here?” you wonder. You’re not sure where to begin probing. “Is he angry? Is she afraid? Is it a matter of vengeance—is she purposely shutting down in order to pay back the other for some hurtful comment that was made earlier in the conversation? Has he never been taught proper biblical communication skills? Is she trying to avoid conflict, or, is it simply a matter of her choosing to not answer because she doesn’t know what to say?”
Regardless of what’s behind it, in the final analysis, if the Christian doesn’t understand that he has a biblical responsibility to communicate in the midst of conflicts—if he is not convicted that in most circumstances it is unbiblical to refuse to communicate (even if it’s only to politely ask for a “rain check,”)—then he will be slow to change.
Because change is difficult, our conscience must often be one of the greatest driving forces behind that change. Of course this involves more than just the awareness that not to change would be sinful. It also involves knowing that God will be pleased for us to do that which is biblically necessary to bring about change. So it is our love for God as well as our love for our neighbor that impels us to speak when we don’t want to.
Christians, as a rule, are to be active rather than passive in the communication process. They may not sit passively by, expecting those with whom they are supposed to be conversing to take all of the initiative. But rather than volunteering the data necessary for the dialogue, inactive individuals expect their counterparts to drag out of them all but the most basic information.
The Selfish Nature of Not Communicating
Withdrawing in the midst of a conflict (without good reason) is usually an unloving decision. To prematurely withdraw from a conflict because the conversation is not going your way is selfish.
He who separates himself seeks his own desire, he quarrels against all sound wisdom. (Proverbs 18:1)
It’s one thing to put a stop to an argument when your opponent isn’t playing by the rules (God’s rules). It’s quite another to abruptly run away from it out of self-interest.
The Apostle Peter was guilty of selfishly (fearfully) withdrawing from the Gentiles when certain Jews were around. He sinned publically and was publicly rebuked for his hypocrisy by his fellow apostle, Paul.
But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For prior to the coming of certain men from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles; but when they came, he began to withdraw and hold himself aloof, fearing the party of the circumcision. The rest of the Jews joined him in hypocrisy, with the result that even Barnabas was carried away by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that they were not straightforward about the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in the presence of all, “If you, being a Jew, live like the Gentiles and not like the Jews, how is it that you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews? (Galatians 2:11-14, emphasis added)
There are lots of selfish reasons people withdraw from conflict—pride, vengeance, impatience, intolerance, jealousy, sinful fear, laziness and malice, to name a few of the more common ones. A wise biblical counselor will help his counselee understand not only the selfish nature of fleeing in the midst of a conversation (or not initiating one when it is biblically necessary to do so), but also explore with him the underlying heart attitudes that generate his withdrawal.