Talking Torah Part 4: How Not to Bully Others With Your Words
Remember the feeling when you walk into a store and you get bombarded with salespeople? Remember how it feels to have someone working hard to show you all of the benefits of a product, and how it is so much better than what you have, yet they’re trying too hard and you really aren’t interested? Most likely, you don’t like that feeling and you get put off by those people. You don’t want to be that person, especially when it comes to discussing Scripture with someone. Unfortunately that’s a reality many of us have experienced when we are new to Torah or trying to share the truth of Torah with someone else.
So far in this series we’ve covered how you need to be mature (3-5 years mature) before you really start sharing and discipling others when it comes to the Torah. We have also looked at how both our attitudes and our actions can turn someone away from the truth; how our approach may not quite be what it should and we could actually be trying to bully them into Torah. In this final post of this “Talking Torah” series, we will look at how we can be bullying others about Torah with our words. Let’s look at how being mindful of what we say is just as important as with what attitude and how we say it.
How Your Experiences May Be Affecting Your Conversations?
Perspectives come from experiences and directly affect the attitude they adopt in a conversation as mentioned in a previous post. This is true for everyone who participates in a conversation on any topic, including Scripture.
When someone receives the understanding that the Torah applies to them today, there is usually a gamut of emotions that go through them. These emotions can range from joy, love, and thankfulness because of the truth to anger and distrust because we feel we’ve been deceived. The first three, joy, love and thankfulness are obviously good and are the ones we should operate out of when speaking with others. Unfortunately anger and distrust may also color our views on specific topics, such as our time and teaching in or from mainstream Christianity. Remember, our experiences color our perspective, which affects our attitude. Our attitudes then dictate how both our actions and our words are projected into a conversation. What those words mean to an individual though, is based upon their perspective. This is true whether you are the one speaking the words or the one hearing them; which is why our words are so important.
We have discussed how our attitudes and our actions affect our conversations in previous posts, but we still have to address our words and how not to bully others with them. We do this by taking the other person into consideration first.
Among the best ways to take others into consideration is to ask these questions BEFORE you start the discussion. If you aren’t certain of the answers before you begin the conversation, then you need to tread very lightly until you do know the answers; get the answers as soon as you can.
1.) What is your point and purpose of having this conversation?
This may be the most important question as it sets your tone, defines your perspective, and reveals your attitude. Ask yourself “why am I wanting to tell people about this topic and what am I trying to accomplish?” With the wrong motivation you are more likely to do harm than good. If your goal is to convince someone, or even show them, how their beliefs are wrong and misguided, then you need to stop. Do not go forward as this is the wrong motivation. Any motivations led by your own desires are not the proper ones. If you come into a conversation with any other motive than to love your neighbor then you have already taken the wrong route and risk damaging your relationship and losing credibility with the person.
2.) Can you maintain calm, peace, and a loving attitude if they become hostile and disagree with you?
If you are unable to keep yourself from getting riled up when in a heated argument, then we advise against entertaining discussions. Discussions relating to religion and deep-seeded beliefs (objects/subjects of their faith) often enflame people’s passions. So often tempers flare and the words spoken become both hostile and/or defensive. You may take offense and you may offend them. In these situations, neither side benefits.
For more on how to handle offense, please see our teaching titled “It’s A Matter of Self-Offense”.
3.) What is your knowledge level on a subject? Do you just know something isn’t true or do you have the explanation of how or where the misunderstanding is?
It’s always dangerous to get into a conversation/debate/argument with someone relating to Scripture if you don’t have a strong foundation and depth of knowledge in the specific area. It’s one thing to have a general knowledge, but the discussions we’re talking about often go deeper. In those discussions it is most beneficial for you have a deep knowledge of the topic and can communicate it clearly and in multiple ways. If you cannot do that, then do not have the discussion.
4.) Do they believe the whole Word of God is true?
If the person you are speaking with does not already believe the whole Word of God to be true, then things are likely going to be difficult for you. If they only believe the New Testament applies, then you may struggle making your point. They are less likely to be open to what you have to say if they do not already believe the whole Bible is true. In these types of discussions, it’s best to stay on common ground and avoid arguments/debates.
5.) Are they a deeply religious individual with strongly held beliefs?
When someone is deeply religious, or very zealous about their beliefs, your ability to offend them increases almost exponentially. The closer held a specific belief is to someone, the less open they are to discussing it. If you challenge a deeply held belief, you may quickly find the person close themselves off to what you have to say. Additionally, and perhaps more importantly, they are more likely to feel like you are attacking them personally. After all, what are we as people other than the summation of our beliefs? Tread very carefully in discussions with such people, we strongly recommend you avoid such sensitive subjects unless they come to you actually seeking more truth. You MUST remember it is NOT YOUR job to tell them they are wrong in what they believe.
When you take that stance the person is automatically put into defense mode and you’re on the attack. These people are not your enemy nor your opponent; so you don’t get to treat them as if they are. Even if your loved ones are deceived, as so many are and likely you were yourself, you do not get to go and point out everywhere they are wrong. 9 times out of 10, they are not going to accept what you have to say. You don’t get to convict them of anything; the Holy Spirit of YHWH will do that. You only get to love them.
6.) Is the individual open to other perspectives and willing to test their own beliefs? Are they seeking?
This may be the second most important question of all. Unless a person is actually seeking the truth, regardless of what they find, they are highly unlikely to accept anything you have to say. There is a reason Scripture tells us that if we seek we will find. The inverse is also true, if we are not seeking the Father and His truths, we will not find it. Not only will we not find it, but we also won’t be open to it if it is presented. We don’t recommend engaging in discussions about the Torah with someone who is not simply seeking truth. Yes, you may plant a seed in passing, giving them something to think about. However, we would strongly recommend against actually engaging in a discussion with them as at best it will be unfruitful at the moment, at worst, offense is taken and relationships are destroyed.
About Your Words
Notice how four of the six questions are about you. This is because if you are not in the right place, with the right motivation, the correct attitude, and the proper level of maturity, things will only be more difficult and your frustration is likely to skyrocket. It’s unlikely that much good will come out of discussions when neither you nor the other individual are in the right place. Most likely, one or both of you will come away feeling personally attacked and negative about the discussion.
There is a reason we are warned about both our words and our tongues.
James 1:26 (ESV)
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person's religion is worthless.
Proverbs 15:4 (ESV)
A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
Proverbs 18:21 (ESV)
Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Ephesians 4:29 (ESV)
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.
Proverbs 12:18 (ESV)
There is one whose rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing.
Matthew 12:36 (ESV)
I tell you, on the day of judgment people will give account for every careless word they speak,
Your words are powerful and are not something to be taken lightly; they can be a blessing or they can wound deeply.
All too often our conversations with loved ones about the Torah start out with good intent and well meaning, but when we start to encounter resistance to what we say and believe, the fruits of the spirit begin to disappear. The same is true of our loved ones; they may start out open and willing to listen, but if they sense or start to see anything but pure, unadulterated love from you they will often begin to react with hostility toward you. This begins a vicious cycle of negativity with each interaction elevating above the one before it until pretty soon both sides are angry, being both defensive of their own beliefs and aggressive. Almost all good fruit disappears and bad fruit begins forming in their relationship; and thus a wall of separation begins to form. Once these negative feelings begin to take hold, our attitudes change from love to hostility. Our goal in the conversation transforms from being to communicate the love and truth of the Word to proving we are right and they are wrong and thus the wedge begins to form. Our perspective has become an “us” versus “them” mentality until pretty soon one side wants nothing to do with the other.
We can even justify this to ourselves with Scripture, after all what does light have to do with darkness and if we are no longer welcome then we need to shake the dust of that relationship off of our feet and move on, right? Wrong. We need to see these people as friends, loved ones, people loved by the Creator. We should not see them as the enemy, hostile people against the Word of God.
If you have had, or are having discussions like this, you need to shift in your perspective; it changes your attitude towards them. We cannot communicate and show the love of the Creator for that individual when our own perspective sees them as the opposition. Before we ever let that fire of hostility ignite within us, we need to stop, drop, and roll in a different direction. Instead of reacting to what our loved ones are saying, we need to respond out of love.
For more on responding instead of reacting, please see our blog titled “React or Respond?”.