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Sep 28, 2010

Speaking the Truth in Love

In a recent Sunday school class we were studying John 1:14 which ends with the statement that Jesus (“the Word”) was “full of grace and truth.” Other passages based on the same concept combine God’s truth with his mercy (See Gen 24:27, Ps 25:10, Prov 16:6), loving kindness (Ps 26:3), or longsuffering and goodness (Ex 34:6). For God, who is full of both grace and truth, full of mercy, infinitely longsuffering and good, and the very definition of Truth, this combination is not a problem and simply part of his incomprehensible and perfect nature.

But for us mere men, we often struggle to display or speak both grace and truth, especially at the same time. For us, this often seems like a choice between two contradicting options and thus we feel like we must make a choice between the two. We must choose between speaking the truth and speaking in love. Do we answer honestly or do we answer gently? Do we tell someone the honest truth or do we protect their feelings? Do we stand up for what we believe or do we keep quiet out of respect for the beliefs of others?

This dilemma was the basis of a recent GEICO commercial where they showed Honest Abe Lincoln struggling for an answer after his wife asked him if her new dress made her back side look big. As men, we often feel like poor Abe pulled between honesty and love, and not just when someone asks us for an opinion on their new outfit. How often do we struggle with speaking out over something on principle but having to worry about how we say it so that we don’t ruffle feathers or hurt someone’s feelings? Why does it seem so difficult to state an opinion without worrying about whose sacred cow we’re going to kill or how we’re going to offend someone?

So why is this such a struggle? Why can’t we more easily speak the truth in love? Why are some of us paralyzed into silence when we should speak up? Conversely, why do so many of us hurt people with our careless words when we finally do speak?

Surely this is just another impact of both our sinful hearts and our finite fallen minds. Unlike God, we often struggle with doing more than one correct thing at a time. It seems like when we finally build up enough courage to say what we should (truth) we blow it on saying it gently (in love). So instead most men just keep quiet so that we won’t offend or hurt anyone, or get in trouble. This again leads to a whole generation of “nice guys” who don’t stand up for anything and dutifully keep their mouths shut when we should be leading, teaching, and ruling.

It doesn’t help that our society is also teaching us that voicing strong convictions (speaking truth) is a sign of closed-mindedness, bigotry, hypocrisy, sexism, racism, homophobia, or any number of other evil labels meant to keep us silent and on the sidelines of public debate. In fact, the whole concept of objective truth itself is rejected by many in our culture, so who can even speak to what is true? Rational debate today quickly degrades to a heated emotional argument over whose subjective, personal opinion is more important or popular. Forget what is actually right! No wonder so few men (or women) speak up anymore for what they believe. We’re automatically called unloving by anyone who merely disagrees with us. Again, we’re taught that you can be either loving or truthful, but not both. Given the choice, our society today (and often the church too) seems to value getting along (a counterfeit form of love) over being truthful.

What was refreshing for me in my Sunday school was to consider that Jesus had no problem with what we find so challenging, combining grace and truth. The Bible assures us that Christ was both full of grace, mercy, and loving kindness and at the same time was also full of truth. In fact, Jesus was not just full of these attributes, but as God himself, IS each of these!

1 John 4:8 “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.”

1 John 4:16God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him.”

1 John 5:20 “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us an understanding, that we may know Him who is true; and we are in Him who is true, in His Son Jesus Christ.

Rev 3:7 ““And to the angel of the church in Philadelphia write, ‘These things says He who is holy, He who is true.”
As God always displays his holy attributes in everything he does, he is able to be both true and merciful at the same time. When God speaks truth, he does so with love and grace. And in the power of Christ in us, we are expected to do the same. Ephesians 4:15 instructs us to speak “the truth in love, [so that we] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head – Christ.”

As usual, this is easier said than done thanks to our lingering sin nature. Still, we need to follow the example and command of our Lord and not let the world or our past experiences control us. Don’t forget the power you possess with Christ in you, such that “with God all things are possible.” As men of God we need to be bold enough to always speak the truth, even when it’s not convenient, popular, or accepted. But as men of God, we also need to be loving, merciful, kind, and good, especially when speaking the truth. This is just one of the wonderful challenges we can tackle as men in our continual sanctification into the image of Christ. So man up and practice speaking the truth in love and don’t neglect either.