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God created humans with the marvelous gift of speech. Yes, we are designed to communicate. Yet, the art of conversation does not come so easy when we are mentally bent toward evil (Gen. 6:5; 8:21), possessing a treacherous heart that we cannot know (Jer. 17:9), and having a natural inclination toward bad. So, here is guidance on “talking to” or “talking with” someone instead of “talking at” them.
TALKING AT SOMEONE: is when you release your unpleasant emotions on someone. This is a conversation in which any dissent, alternative view, or even interruption is viewed as arguing. When “talking at” another, you are unloading your emotional worldview onto the other. Additionally, “talking at” someone shows our heart of pride and defensiveness. We do not really care what their views are, and we are not listening to what they have to say. When they are talking, we are only thinking of our witty response as we continually interrupt. We want to be fully heard and satisfactorily understood before we receive any feedback or perspective from them.
TALKING TO OR WITH SOMEONE: This is joining another person in a mutual conversation to invite them into your biblical worldview and seeking their perspective, insights, or how their worldview compares. When talking “to someone,” we need to view them as more than an audience, and our job as a Christian and the purpose of our engaging them about God’s Word is more than an emotional release. We are inviting them into our biblical worldview, seeking to speak to or with them and contrasting their worldview, but all the while, we are not seeking to have a mute set of ears for our pleasure of hearing yourself talk.
HOW SHOULD WE SPEAK
As Christians, under the obligation of the Great Commission, we should seek out every opportunity to share God’s Word with the intent of teaching so as to make disciples. (Matt. 24:14; r28:19-20; Acts 1:8) In so doing, we imitate Jesus and Paul. Jesus came to earth for many reasons but one main reason he came “into the world [was] to bear witness to the truth. (John 18:37) Yes, we must speak, but it is also how we speak that is also important. We must do so “with gentleness and respect,” and we should evidence concern for the other person’s feelings and as well as their beliefs. (1 Pet. 3:15) This does not mean that we accept false beliefs. We want to do more than just talk; we want to teach and, if possible, reach the person’s heart. One way of doing this is actively listening to the other. We want to look them in the eye periodically during the conversation, but not so much so as to make them uncomfortable. Make sure you ask questions that evidence that you were listening and are concerned about and value what they are saying. Our “speech [should] always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” – Colossians 4:6.
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