Is there ever a time not to quote Scripture? Imagine this scenario. Sunday after church your friend approaches you asking to talk. He’s 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 that’s 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.
“I know these arguments don’t please the Lord, and I know I’m partly to blame,” your friend says. “What do you think?” It’s your opening. Time for Scripture, right? “Bro, you just need to love your wife as Christ loves the church. I’ll pray for you!”
It’s biblical (Eph. 5:25). It’s 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? Here’s the principle: don’t quote Scripture until you can personalize the truth. “Husbands, love your wives as Christ loves the church,” is true – gloriously and challengingly so. It’s also generic, one-size-fits-all. Husbands from Papua New Guinea to Pennsylvania can apply it. But your friend isn’t a symbolic representative of all husbands everywhere. He’s 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. God’s 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. Don’t 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 – then you can remind him that planning to take the kids Saturday afternoon or pick up pizza for dinner Wednesday night so she doesn’t 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 you’re not sure how because the situation is complex. That’s okay. In that case you’re honest with your friend, and Scripture doesn’t 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 – 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 – but Scripture that’s personalized, melded to real life. Don’t be content with abstractions. Ask questions. Pray for wisdom. And then speak.
Photo by Brett Jordan