Is there ever a time not to quote Scripture? Imagine this scenario. Sunday after church your friend approaches you asking to talk. Heís having struggles in his marriage. At the office a project is requiring extra hours and at home the kids are in a high-octane phase thatís driving his wife nuts. The result is a household full of tension and irritability, with a number of petty, smoldering conflicts gradually merging into one ongoing conflagration.
ďI know these arguments donít please the Lord, and I know Iím partly to blame,Ē your friend says. ďWhat do you think?Ē Itís your opening. Time for Scripture, right? ďBro, you just need to love your wife as Christ loves the church. Iíll pray for you!Ē
Itís biblical (Eph. 5:25). Itís true. It applies to his situation. But is it what he needs to hear? Surprising as it may seem, the answer is no. Not yet. Why? Hereís the principle: donít quote Scripture until you can personalize the truth. ďHusbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church,Ē is true Ė gloriously and challengingly so. Itís also generic, one-size-fits-all. Husbands from Papua New Guinea to Pennsylvania can apply it. But your friend isnít a symbolic representative of all husbands everywhere. Heís one person walking out his life before the Lord, loving a specific woman and specific children in a succession of unrepeatable, never-to-be-duplicated moments. Godís ultimate goal is for Ephesians 5:25 to be embodied in concrete, particular ways in real time, at 5:47pm on Friday the 29th and 9:30 on Saturday morning after breakfast.
What does that mean for you? Simply this: ask more questions. Donít use a Bible verse to end a conversation before it requires too much of you. Find out how your friend is struggling, in specifics: when did it happen last? Where? Why? When you can help your friend see what loving his wife, in this season, this week looks like Ė then you can remind him that planning to take the kids Saturday afternoon or pick up pizza for dinner Wednesday night so she doesnít have to cook is his personalized expression of Ephesians 5:29.
Sometimes, even with good question, you may not know how to help someone particularize truth. You know a verse applies, but youíre not sure how because the situation is complex. Thatís okay. In that case youíre honest with your friend, and Scripture doesnít become a conversation stopper. You talk about the verse. You pray together. You commit to helping walk with your friend while you both grow in wisdom. But the goal is to make truth personal Ė even when it takes time.
Why is this so important? The ultimate answer is because God is personal. He is not a general truth about life, but a person. And he relates not to abstract humanity, but to real people. The Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The living Redeemer writes down names, whole chapters of them (see Romans 16, for instance).
So yes, your friend needs Scripture. So do you Ė but Scripture thatís personalized, melded to real life. Donít be content with abstractions. Ask questions. Pray for wisdom. And then speak.
Photo by Brett Jordan