Just about any time a heated discussion crops up and Christians are involved, someone will invoke the “Tell the truth in love!”
The implication is that someone is saying something that is uncomfortable for another to hear. Perhaps there’s the feeling someone’s being a tad harsh or judgmental. At the least, the concern is that someone is being told something they don’t want to hear or don’t agree with.
So, we exhort one another to “Tell the truth in love!” as if that will unsquirm the situation. This falls into the “a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down!” wisdom lore. The added sugar is not particularly healthy for you.
To soften the blow of a harsh but necessary truth, we’ll mince our words, shuffle our feet, preface our remarks with qualification, and seek permission:
“Uh, do you mind if I’m honest with you…?”
“You know, to be perfectly truthful…..”
“Well, I don’t mean to harsh your mellow, but it is, you know, the truth after all….”
Often, when the one being truthed is resistant they will respond with something like, “Well, that’s your truth, but it’s not my truth!”
Who says the truth isn’t supposed to hurt?
Somehow we’ve fallen under the delusion that telling one another the truth isn’t supposed to ever be painful, especially when it’s done with “love.”
This leads to the false conclusion that if the truth hurts, what’s being said or done is hateful or mean.
Well, to be perfectly honest and truthful – the truth, when it’s really the truth, will probably sting a little.
Truth calls out wrong and says there needs to be a change. Truth separates the good from the bad, righteousness from sinfulness, light from dark, the truth from lies.
Truth is absolute and firmly grounded in God’s word which is “living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12, NIV).
For Christians all truth is God’s truth, and Jesus is the Truth.
Applying truth to a situation is going to sting and that’s a good thing. Like when you put iodine on a cut.
Everything hangs on the hinge of love
The phrase “telling (or speaking) the truth in love” comes smack dab in the middle of chapter 4 from Ephesians (scroll down to see the full text below). This is one of the Apostle Paul’s great letters where he is taking the church of Ephesus to task on several items. In other words, using the Gospel truth, he’s intent on whipping them into shape.
In the first half of the chapter, Paul is telling the Christians of Ephesus (and us) how they are supposed to behave, reminding them of their calling in Christ. He points them to unity in Christ through being true to the gifts (specific callings, talents, aptitudes, etc.) that they have been blessed with.
In the second half of the chapter, he goes on to tell them how not to behave. He contrasts the Christ-redeemed mindset against the mindset of the world around them (the Gentile world, meaning the unredeemed, unchristian world).
The goal is to grow up in spiritual maturity by serving one another and through thinking and behaving differently; providing a contrast to the lost, sinful world swirling around them.
One of the evidences of spiritual maturity and a key component to differentiating the faithful from the faithless is the act of “speaking the truth in love.”
In fact, love is the hinge upon which the Christian life hangs and the mark that sets us apart.
Just before Jesus was crucified, he declared to his followers, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:34-35, NIV).
A great exposition on this is;"The Mark of the Christian” by Francis Schaeffer which you can read online for free at http://www.ccel.us/schaeffer.html.
Sharing hard, inconvenient truths
As Christians doing our imperfect best to live godly, biblical lives through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are both called out and set apart from the world, as well as called to be salt and light into the world.
When it comes to our culture, our society, our community – however you wish to define your world – we are to be in but not of.
To be perfectly honest, this often puts us at odds with those around us when certain topics arise and we take our responsible and rightful stand on the truth.
For example, when it comes to homosexuality, the Bible is very clear that engaging in a same-gender sexual relationship is wrong in any context (Romans 1:24-32).
It’s just as wrong to engage in a heterosexual sexual relationship with someone you are not married to, whether fornication or adultery (Galatians 5:14-24, Ephesians 5:1-8).
The Bible is also clear that marriage is a different gender union involving one man and one woman (Genesis 1, Matthew 19:6, Ephesians5:21-33, 1 Corinthians 11:1-3).
There are many more issues like these where the Bible is clear on what is right and what is wrong in God’s eyes.
Christians have no problem with these truths.
Those who are not Christians do.
Because as Paul writes,
“[Christians] have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the [Holy] Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned.” (1 Corinthians 2:12-4, NIV).
When, as followers of Christ, we stand on our convictions which are aligned with the Word of God and enlightened by the Holy Spirit, we are generally not going to be well-received by others.
They didn’t like Him, so they’re not going to like us
Being a Christian in the 21st century means the same thing it did in the 1st century: We will be walking out our faith in a hostile world.
- There will be haters: Jesus said bluntly, “All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22, NIV).
- There will be betrayals: "Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child. Children will rebel against their parents and have them put to death. All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved" (Mark 13:12-13, NIV).
- There will be false friends pretending to be Christians: “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve" (2 Corinthians 11:13-15, NIV).
- There will be lies preferred over truth: “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry” (1 Timothy 4:3-4, NIV).
- There will be wolves among sheep: "Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognize them" (Matthew 7:15-16, NIV).
- There will be scoffers: “First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, 'Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.' But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water" (2 Peter 3:3-5, NIV).
- There will be persecution: “There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. But before all this, they will lay hands on you and persecute you. They will deliver you to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors, and all on account of my name. This will result in your being witnesses to them” (Luke 21:11-13, NIV).
So now what are we supposed to do?
It can be hard being a Christian knowing that merely living out our beliefs will mean we are viewed and labeled (wrongly) as bigots, homophobes, haters, prudes, unintellectual, backwards, stupid, and many more much worse things.
In fact, being open about our faith could cost us jobs, relationships, clients, promotions, and more. It can draw abuse to ourselves and our families.
But living out our beliefs, our calling, our commitment to Christ does entail from time to time speaking truth to others and into our culture, our society, and our communities. It’s what Jesus did and commands us to do as salt and light.
A few years ago, atheist comedian Penn Jillette received a gift of a New Testament from a business man who had attended his show. He posted a video about the experience. He described the man as a sane, nice, kind, and a good man who looked him in the eye.
Jillette stated, "If you believe that there's a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you believe it's not really worth telling them this because it would be socially awkward...how much do you have to hate someone to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that.”
The bottomline is that telling the truth (the Gospel) about the Truth (Jesus) is about as loving as one can be, even when it’s not what others want to hear.
To do otherwise, to withhold the truth, is to truly be a hater.
Yes, there are fools in the world and God loves us
Not too long ago someone posted on a social media site a statement to the effect that “God has an opinion about atheists.” They then quoted Psalm 14:1 that states, “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, their deeds are vile; there is no one who does good.”
Another person, an atheist, took offense and posted, “So, are you saying God is calling me a fool?”
This was followed by a well-meaning Christian who was trying to tell the truth in love who posted, “Oh, no! God doesn’t mean that you’re a fool. God loves you!”
The truth of the matter is that, yes, God does love atheists! But that’s not the whole truth. Yes, God loves atheists…
- And yes, God does mean it when He says in his Word that those who don’t believe in Him are fools (Psalm 14:1, Psalm 53:1, Luke 12:20).
- And yes, the truth is those who deny Christ, who deny God, who refuse salvation, and who reject the transforming power of the Holy Spirit are going to hell Mark 9:43-48, Luke 12:1-10, Luke 16:19-28, 2 Peter 2:1-9).
- And yes, the truth is that all of us who persistently and willfully choose sinful living over godliness will reap consequences (James 1:15).
- And yes, the truth is that Jesus came to earth, died on a cross, and rose from the dead so that our sin and sins can be redeemed and forgiven (John 3:16-20).
- And yes, if we confess our sinfulness and need of Christ, we can be made righteous (1 John 1:9).
- And yes, we are to love those who hate us, pray for them, treat them respectfully as we truthfully share the Good News (Matthew 5:39-18, Luke 10:27, Romans 13:9-10, 1 Corinthians 13, 1 Corinthians 16:14, Jude 1:18-25).
When it comes to “speaking the truth in love” it’s not about being nice, sweet, and conciliatory.
It’s about saying things, intensely, sincerely, in our best Jack Bauer demeanor, but non-threateningly, such as, “You and I are going to die and spend an eternity in hell if we don’t make some serious changes. Now!”
We say it because it's the truth. If they walk away, we don't shoot them in the knees, but we also don't pat them on the head and say "It's okay," as if we're validating their sinful choice.
Instead, we love them, care about them, stand with them when they're in pain, pray for them, give them a cup of water when they're thirsty, be a friend to them, and continue to remind them from time to time of their need of salvation.
Truth applied lovingly pulls no punches, stands firm in its God-endorsed validity, and is spoken with humility and tears, knowing those who reject God’s truth and who reject God are facing an eternity in hell.
And hell is no party. And that’s the truth.
Ephesians 4, New King James Version (NKJV):
I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavoring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all. But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ's gift. Therefore He says: "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men." Now this, "He ascended"--what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.) And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting, but, speaking the truth in love, may grow up in all things into Him who is the head -- Christ -- from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by what every joint supplies, according to the effective working by which every part does its share, causes growth of the body for the edifying of itself in love. This I say, therefore, and testify in the Lord, that you should no longer walk as the rest of the Gentiles walk, in the futility of their mind, having their understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, because of the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart; who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lewdness, to work all uncleanness with greediness. But you have not so learned Christ, if indeed you have heard Him and have been taught by Him, as the truth is in Jesus: that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, putting away lying, "Let each one of you speak truth with his neighbor," for we are members of one another. Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath, nor give place to the devil. Let him who stole steal no longer, but rather let him labor, working with his hands what is good, that he may have something to give him who has need. Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ forgave you.
- Click here to read it in the English Standard Version (ESV): http://www.biblestudytools.com/esv/ephesians/4.html
- Click here to read it in the New International Version (NIV): http://www.biblestudytools.com/ephesians/4.html
FYI: My blog posts have fallen off over the summer due to "life happening." I'm hoping to get back in the full swing of things over the next few weeks as we move into fall. Thanks for your patience!