David L. Goetsch
Speaking the Truth in Love to Unbelieving Family Members (Ephesians 4:15)
Do you have family members who are unbelievers? If you do, and most of us do, your relationship with them can be rocky at times. One of the most difficult challenges we face as Christians is building and maintaining relationships with unbelievers. When the unbelievers in question are loved-ones the challenge becomes even more difficult. The key to building and maintaining positive relationships with unbelieving family members is learning to speak the truth to them in love. This message comes from Ephesians 4:15: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.”
Above all else, relationships are built on trust and mutual-respect. But it can be difficult to trust or respect people who reject your most cherished beliefs, even when they are family members. This is why some Christians choose to limit their relationships to fellow believers. I have counseled numerous Christians who refuse to join their extended families in celebrating Thanksgiving and Christmas because certain family members are unbelievers. Although this approach may be more comfortable than engaging with them, it is at odds with the teachings of Scripture. We cannot do our part to carry out the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19) unless we are willing to engage unbelievers and invest the time and effort necessary to build positive relationships with them. When the unbelievers are family members, the need to engage becomes need more important.
Because positive relationships are based on trust and mutual-respect, the most important ingredient in building them is honesty. Speaking the truth in love to people who may not want to hear it means being honest with them, even when your honesty may hurt. Of course, it is important to be tactful when speaking the truth to unbelievers. Think of tact as making your point without making an enemy or driving in the nail without breaking the board. Beating unbelieving family members over the head with your Bible is not likely to lead them to Christ.
On the other hand, you must be honest with them. When their words or actions fly in the face of God’s Word, you have a Biblical obligation to speak up. Scripture is replete with admonitions to be honest, not the least of which is the Ninth Commandment (Exodus 20:16). If you are going to influence unbelieving family members for good, they have to trust you. Those you hope to influence must know they can count on you to tell them the truth and deal forthrightly with them on any and all subjects even when they don’t like the message.
Scripture speaks to honesty in Proverbs 11:1 where we are told that a “false balance” is an “abomination to the Lord.” The broader meaning of this verse is that God expects us to be honest with other people, to speak the truth; but he expects us to do this out of love not condemnation. When unbelieving family members know you are confronting their un-Godly behavior out of love rather than condemnation, they will be more likely to hear the message you are trying to convey; perhaps not at first, but over time.
When engaging unbelieving family members, remember that people do not have to endorse your beliefs to respect them. Nor do they have to share your beliefs to trust you. Further, just because people act in sinful ways does not necessarily mean they reject your Christian values. People often shun Christianity not because they reject its values but because they don’t want to live by them. Most people respect honesty, trustworthiness, patience, kindness, and other Christian values even if they fall short in these areas themselves.
To build relationships with unbelieving family members that will help you carry out the Great Commission, be honest with them and build trust. Speak the truth to them, but do it in love. When it comes to accepting the Gospel, unbelievers must first have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand (Deuteronomy 29:4). The trusting, truthful, caring relationships you establish with unbelieving family members might open their eyes, ears, and hearts so they can see, hear, and understand the Gospel.
Dr. Goetsch is the author of Veteran’s Lament: Is This the America We Fought For? and Christian Women on the Job: Excelling at Work without Compromising Your Faith, Fidelis Books, an imprint of Post Hill Press.