Much of the Christian life involves getting the right balance. Heresies in the church usually arise when we over-emphasise a certain doctrine or teaching, resulting in imbalance. Those involved in teaching and leadership always need to get the right mix. To proclaim God’s word is both an honour and a grave responsibility. Speaking the truth in an unloving fashion is just as harmful as being very loving while minimising truth.
When I have to mow the lawn, using the old two-stroke mower, I need to get the right mix of petrol and oil. Only a proper mix, with the right balance, will allow me to cut the grass effectively and efficiently. The same is true here. Speaking out against various social evils is an important task. But it needs to be done carefully.
It can be a dangerous thing to claim to speak the truth. We need to constantly ensure that we are indeed speaking the truth, not just our own version of it. We need to keep close scrutiny over what we say and what we hear, as the Bereans did (“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.”- Acts 17:11). But we also need to watch over the way that we say it. Paul got the right mix when he said, “Watch your life and doctrine closely” (1 Tim. 4:16).
What Is Truth?
Truth is both personal and propositional. In John 14:6 Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life”. Truth then is a person, not just concepts or theory. But truth also involves statements of fact and of right and wrong. The phrase “the truth” is used 152 times in the New Testament. We are exhorted to proclaim the truth, guard the truth, nurture the truth, defend the truth. Indeed, the Bible constantly stresses the importance of doctrine and of sound teaching. There is a very strong emphasis on truth in the Christian faith.
However, we live in an age that is facing a crisis of truth. Truth is relative, we are told, and everyone should decide for himself or herself what is true. In distinction to this, the Bible is very much concerned to affirm that truth exists, that God has revealed himself, and that we can know truly about ourselves, our world and our God.
Thus Christians need to once again reaffirm the importance of truth, of sound doctrine, of good teaching. But all along we need to remember Ephesians 4:15, which exhorts us to “speak the truth in love”. And we need to remember 1 Pet 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.” Standing for, and proclaiming truth, but in a Christ-like manner, is the goal. It can be a real balancing act at times, but we must strive to get the right mix.
Yet no matter how hard we may try to get the right mix, we will never please everyone. We will still get a lot of criticism, from all sides. Indeed, we expect criticism from the world. The painful part is when so much criticism comes from fellow Christians. I have been painfully aware of this recently. It seems that some people are never satisfied with what you say or the way that you say it. Yet we need to listen to the criticism. We all have blind spots and weaknesses. We need each other and the perspective of others. We need above all a humble spirit to receive from others, to learn from others.
Dealing With Criticism
There is always a fine balance to be found in speaking prophetically, in warning against sin, in speaking the truth, and doing so in a loving, compassionate manner. I constantly struggle to get the balance right. There are always people who accuse me of being too soft, too wishy-washy, too accommodating, while at the same time there are those who say I am too judgmental, too harsh, too condemning. Such discordant choruses can only bring confusion. So all I can do is take the various complaints and criticisms to the Lord and say, “OK, what is the truth in this? What are you trying to say to me in all of this?” As long as we really want to do God’s will in God’s way, He will be faithful to reveal His truth to us.
And don’t worry about the source of criticism. God can speak to us in many ways – he even used Balaam’s ass once to rebuke a prophet (Numbers 22). Responding to criticism is like eating a fish dinner: we need to eat the meat while leaving aside the bones. We need to listen to the criticisms we receive, but not allow them to so weigh us down that we become ineffective in our work. Just take them to the Lord and let him convict where necessary. The important thing is that we remain open and flexible, with a teachable spirit.
Taking a Stand
Each month this newsletter warns of dangers and threats posed to faith and family. Of most concern are those threats coming from within the churches. When church leaders and/or denominations start compromising on important moral issues like homosexuality or abortion, then dark times are upon us indeed.
Scripture, of course, warns us about this: it says these things will happen. In 2 Tim. 4:2-4 we find these words: “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage–with great patience and careful instruction. 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.”
Part of our job is to warn, to expose, to teach, to rebuke. But it is also our job to make sure this is done in a Christ-like manner. It is easy to condemn, to take a strong stand. It is harder to speak the truth in a way that reflects God’s heart. I continually ask God to show me his perspective on these matters. All of us need to do that.
Some of us have been called to take a prophetic stance, to speak out on social evil. This is a legitimate calling. But it needs to be done in God’s way, with God’s heart. Please pray for us that we get the right mix.