Many people struggle with obnoxiousness. Some of them mean well. Some of them even say true things while they are being obnoxious. Some of them are just mean. That is not good if you claim to be a Christian. Christians ought to always speak God’s truth in loving ways.
If you struggle with an absence of love and grace, or if everyone around you thinks you struggle with an absence of love and grace, what should you do about it? Certainly, start by repenting and asking God for help. But very practically, let me suggest that you also ask a faithful friend to help you.
Real friends can help each other become more gracious while managing to remain friends. How can you know when to repent of an angry tone of voice? How can you identify patterns of severity, if you don’t have anyone who loves you enough to point it out? While there are times a pugnacious person can figure out that they have been completely obnoxious, there are so many more subtle times when sarcasm or roughness make smaller displays. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”
Because it is so hard to give and receive correction, those Christians desiring to become gracious should specifically charge their faithful friends to be on the lookout. You should literally ask your friend to take note of your words, tones, and facial expressions in your conversations. Then you should ask the friends to boldly point out any time that it seems like you are being less than gracious (the mere absence of harshness is not a high enough goal). Jerry Bridges suggested a series of pointed questions to ask friends that know you best about ways you come across to others.
Are we dogmatic and opinionated, blunt and abrupt? Do we seek to intimidate or dominate others by the sheer force of our personality? Do people feel ill at ease in our presence because they think we are silently judging their weaknesses and correcting their faults? If any of these traits are characteristic of us, we must face them honestly and humbly. (The Practice of Godliness, CO Springs: NavPress, 1983, 228)
You have got to be humble to open yourself even to a faithful friend, but you struggle with harshness, being gently exposed is exactly what is needed. Although Christians see some of their own faults, godly friends can often see more of their faults. Obviously, no one wants the doctor to just cut out the big obvious cancer and leave all of the smaller tumors in place, even if it means more pain for the patient and a longer recovery time.
In addition to asking for help identifying examples of one’s severity, the Christians should ask their friend for specific advice or personalized strategies to cultivate kindness in case the same situation recurs. General medicine can offer some help to a group of sick people, but a specific prescription given by someone who knows the details of the person’s symptoms will prove to be a much more effective remedy.
Another benefit of having these difficult but good conversations with Christian friends about loving communication is that the friends involved can then pray for each other about the specific matters discussed. While no man or woman can change the heart of another man or woman, God can change any heart.
Friends may plead on behalf of one another before the transforming God. When Paul desperately desired to be present with a needy group of Christians, but could not be, like the Thessalonian church, he could always pray for them. “We give thanks to God always for all of you, constantly mentioning you in our prayers” (1 Thes 1:2); “And we also thank God constantly for this, that when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men but as what it really is, the word of God, which is at work in you believers” (1 Thes 2:13).
“For what thanksgiving can we return to God for you, for all the joy that we feel for your sake before our God, as we pray most earnestly night and day that we may see you face to face and supply what is lacking in your faith?” (1 Thes 3:9, 10) “Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you, and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you, so that he may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints” (1 Thes 3:11–13).
When your friends make the effort to help you see your sin, you may not want to hear it; after all, they are rightly called wounds from your faithful friend. The believer longing to cultivate graciousness should remind himself or herself of several things to be receptive to reproof.
First, you asked for it—literally. Second, the Bible is so clear that fools don’t receive correction, but wise men and women do. One example in Proverbs says, “Whoever corrects a scoffer gets himself abuse, and he who reproves a wicked man incurs injury. Do not reprove a scoffer, or he will hate you; reprove a wise man, and he will love you. Give instruction to a wise man, and he will be still wiser; teach a righteous man, and he will increase in learning” (Proverbs 9:7–9). In spite of how being reproved feels emotionally, remembering this truth can strengthen your heart as you listen.
Finally, you should remind yourself that confrontation is the means the Lord has established to help people see and repent of their sin. You should thank God for sending you a faithful friend. You should also thank your friend for his or her love and courage to be God’s instrument to help you grow in their graciousness.
Becoming gracious is important enough to get your friends to help you with it. Ask God for the courage and the humility to get the help you need.