Incarnating means putting something into flesh. Jesus was God incarnate. God put on human flesh or, another way to say it, he was clothed in humanity. In a similar way, as believers, we are called to incarnate Jesus. We are to be clothed in Christ (Romans 13:14). And indeed we are (Galatians 3:27). As believers our lives become testimonies of this truth. Jesus clothes us in His righteousness. This truth means we are called to resist putting back on the filthy rags of self-righteousness and self-sufficiency. Being filled with the Spirit of Christ means we give great attention to the commands the Lord left for us regarding how to interact with people. As we seek to fulfill the first and greatest commandment to love God (Matthew 22:38-39), we are simultaneously called to love others like Jesus loved (John 15:12).
So how do we do this, especially when things are particularly challenging in our relationships? When things heat up how can we incarnate Christ in our conflict?
Show Instead of Tell
Inside each of us is a little lawyer’s voice. Sometimes the voice is small, just little whispers or tiny thoughts. There might be thoughts of how you have done far more diaper changes than your spouse. Reminders that you are always the one initiating the phone call or text message in a particular friendship. Little whispers of how you always apologize first and how you folded the laundry without being asked last week. Often the little lawyer voice gets louder in conflict.
Jon’s wife was upset because she felt he cared more about his golf swing than about her. Jon’s little lawyer voice began flooding him with reminders of how much he has sacrificed for her. Bob and Jane listened to their teenaged son complain that he can never please them and that they never encourage him. Simultaneously Bob and Jane’s little lawyers brought out evidence as recent as that very week proving they had encouraged him. Paul Tripp speaks of this little lawyer voice and how harmful it is in marriage relationships, “I tell husbands and wives around the world that if they want to experience lasting change in their marriage, they first need to fire their inner defense lawyer.”1 The truth is no matter what relationship you are in, the little lawyer voice needs to go.
Incarnating Christ means you avoid defending your love and instead demonstrate it. The moment your love is challenged don’t defend it—display it. Fight the temptation to tell how you have been encouraging or how you want to be more encouraging. Instead, start doing it right then and there. For Bob and Jane it could mean that their response would be admiring their son’s courage to be vulnerable enough to share with them how he felt. For Jon it might mean being willing to hear how his recreation with golf was impacting his wife, setting aside all the evidences of the sacrifices he makes, and listening with a heart to understand. Jesus was accused of many things even by those he loved. Instead of defending himself, he often demonstrated his love in his actions. When he heard the accusing words of Lazarus’ sisters, “Lord if you had been here our brother would not have died” (John 11:32), or the question from the disciples, “Lord don’t you care that we are perishing” (Mark 4:38), he did not defend himself, but instead he displayed it by raising Lazarus back to life and calming the sea. He showed his love; he did not defend it.
Ask Instead of State
Asking questions is probably one of the best ways we can incarnate Jesus. Jesus was the master questioner. His questions were explorations of the heart of a person. Asking questions opens conversations; making statements closes them. Asking questions puts others first as we set aside our agenda and learn more about the person before us. Judy Dabler in her article “Avoiding Assumacide”2 says that honoring others with questions rather than assumptions allows intimacy to have a chance.
When Jeff’s roommate shared with him that he had once again fallen to the temptation of pornography, Jeff stated, “If you wanted to stop you would stop.” The statement not only led his friend to feel even deeper shame, but also made him less inclined to share with Jeff again. Asking a question in this situation would have allowed Jeff to learn more about his friend and his struggle and perhaps open the opportunity for Jeff to walk with him.
Hope Instead of Despair
In order to incarnate Christ in conflict, we must lean fully on him. Demonstrating love and asking questions are just two ways to incarnate Christ. Conflicts are full of challenges, and even when we seek to incarnate Jesus there may still be difficulties. We fail in our attempts and can become discouraged. Yet, the Lord is merciful and forgiving and often provides more opportunity to incarnate His grace and love. He is committed to the good work He started in us.
Join the Conversations
Each one of us has had difficult times in relationships. Perhaps even now you are facing a challenge. What are some other ways you have found we can incarnate Jesus in your relationships?