Nobody likes to be criticized. So, if you’re going to accuse someone of doing something wrong, make sure the accusation is valid and limited to the actual offense. If you accuse someone of four injustices, and they only committed three, then they will vehemently defend themselves against that one false accusation, while ignoring their other crimes. That’s what Jacob does in today’s passage. Laban has accused Jacob of four offenses, which we discussed last Friday:
Laban forgave Jacob of the first three offenses, but then seeks evidence confirming that Jacob also committed the fourth. When he finds none, Jacob goes on the offensive.
Please read Genesis 31:36-42.
Now that Laban accuses Jacob of one thing that Jacob didn’t actually do, Jacob attacks. This is why you shouldn’t use words like “always,” or “never” in an argument.
If you are upset with your spouse because they have a bad habit of showing up late, then that is a valid complaint that you two can discuss calmly and lovingly. But if you accuse your spouse, “you’re always late! And you’re always making me late!” Then, your spouse will remember that one time that they weren’t late, and they will get all defensive, like Jacob: “that’s not true! I wasn’t late yesterday. You were running late yesterday. How dare you accuse me of always being late!”
The truth is that people love to justify themselves. And, if we can find a chink in the armor of anyone who is accusing us with a valid criticism, we will attack that weakness fervently, and ignore the general truth of their accusation.
Jacob goes on this monologue declaring his own righteousness compared to Laban’s villainy. The truth is that they were both scoundrels who tricked one another constantly throughout their time together. But, because Laban is wrong about this one single accusation, Jacob feels the need to justify himself regarding the entirety of their relationship.
And Jacob isn’t the only one who feels the need to justify himself. Look at Laban’s response to Jacob’s tirade:
Please read Genesis 31:43.
Laban is just as bad at justifying himself! He calls Jacob out, saying, essentially, “these are my children and grandchildren!” He goes back to his original accusation against Jacob, which Jacob has conveniently ignored, namely that Jacob has stolen away Laban’s children and grandchildren. Both men are caught in a loop where they insist on defending themselves and ignoring any accusations made against them.
There are two practical steps that we can take away from this devotional:
First, when we have a complaint about someone, we need to use language specific to that complaint. Never say ‘never’ in an argument. Always refuse to say ‘always’ in an argument. Avoid absolute language that attacks a person’s character, and focus on the problem at hand. When you address a singular problem, you can come to a definite solution.
Second, when someone voices a complaint about you, admit that you have an urge to defend yourself, and silence that urge. Before you can defend yourself, you must first listen to what your accuser is saying. A wise man once told me, “affirm your accuser,” meaning that the vast majority of complaints against you will have at least some hint of truth to them. In order to preserve your relationship with your accuser, affirm the truth in their accusation and try to address it. When you are receptive to their criticism, you will most likely receive less of it in the future.
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