Some topics can never be exhausted, be it with one article or a hundred. Some issues keep cropping up which need to be addressed over and over again. This is one such topic. I have written on it numerous times before, but it is worth running through it at least one more time.
A key passage that relates to this is of course Ephesians 4:15 where Paul writes about “speaking the truth in love”. The context is Eph. 4:1-16. This speaks to the pressing need for love and unity in the body of Christ. The more immediate context is vv. 14-16.
There Paul urges us to move on from being infants, blown about by “every wind of teaching”. Instead we are to grow up into a mature, united body, speaking the truth in love. So here both elements are held up as the highest priorities. It is never a question of choosing one or the other, but fully embracing both, simultaneously.
We are to promote truth, seek truth, defend truth, and affirm truth. That includes refuting false teaching and resisting those engaged in “deceitful scheming”. All this is imperative, and every Christian must fulfil their calling here. But so too is loving one another and seeking with all our strength to maintain the unity of the body.
Both of these things must be pursued wholeheartedly and diligently by every believer. Jesus of course spoke about the very same things. He emphasised the importance of truth time and time again. And he also affirmed the overwhelming importance of believers loving one another and striving for genuine unity.
Of interest is when he spoke of how the world would know that he was really sent from God. He said the key which will draw people to himself is how much love we have for one another, and how much unity we demonstrate. John 17:20-23 speaks of this need for demonstrable unity, love and devotion to one another. These are the marks of the true Christian, and of the true church.
And of course in places like John 14:6 he spoke of the importance of truth, and how he encapsulates truth, and that there is no real truth apart from him. And he goes on in that chapter to speak about the “Spirit of truth” whom the world cannot accept but whom believers receive to guide and help them in their Christian walk.
The trouble with all this is, as I have written before, seeking to get the biblical balance right. We all know of Christians who push truth at all costs, but are incredibly unloving in the process. And we all know of Christians who elevate love above all else, but care little or nothing about biblical truth.
Both extremes are of course unhelpful, unbiblical and un-Christlike. We cannot be a champion of truth alone. We cannot be a champion of love alone. We must champion both truth and love, together. Thus when it comes to truth speaking, it must be done with love. When it comes to loving others, it must be in the context of truth.
Whenever any one element here is isolated or separated from the other, really tragic results ensue. Those who champion love without truth lead us into all kinds of error. Indeed, we are constantly warned in Scripture about false teaching and false prophets.
They are to be avoided like the plague. And loving a person does not mean leaving them in their sinful and enslaved condition. Love means willing the highest good for the other person – that is, willing God’s will for them. And God’s will is that we all be set free from the bondage of sin, self, and Satan.
Thus there is nothing loving about telling a homosexual that God made him this way and accepts him just as he is. The homosexual, like every other person in the world, needs to know that Christ came to set the captive free. We are all slaves to sin, and we all need to be liberated, and that is something only Christ can do for us.
So loving a person must always be done in the context of truth speaking. We really do not love someone if we will not tell them the truth. The two always go together, and we dare not separate what God has brought together. We need to be truthfully loving.
But the other extreme must also be avoided like the plague. There are far too many believers who think their only task in life is to speak truth, defend the faith, and weed out heretics. Now all of these things are of course important, but if done without love, they can become counterproductive and even harmful.
I have spoken before about self-appointed heresy hunters who go around shooting down every other Christian who does not think 100 per cent like they do. Any deviation from their view of orthodoxy and the person immediately becomes anathema.
We all have likely experienced this. I have on many occasions. One minute I am a friend, a brother in Christ, and fellow believer, and the next minute I have been excommunicated and treated like a pariah. If I dare to differ in one area from their theological agenda, I am at best given the cold shoulder and at worst treated like a piece of dirt.
This of course is extremely painful and hurtful. It is also not the way of Christ. You cannot claim to be a brother in Christ one minute and then treat someone as the Antichrist the next. Sure, it depends on the issue. If it is a major doctrinal error, then firm words must be spoken, in love. And sometimes the breaking of fellowship becomes inevitable.
If in my next article I claim that Jesus is not God, I would want every single reader to challenge me, exhort me, pray for me, and seek to win me back to the truth. And that I will do for any other brother. If I do not respond, and refuse to repent of my error, then at some point more firm steps will need to be taken.
But if I happen to take a differing view on eschatology or any number of other issues which are important but not first-order doctrines, then I should not have to be treated like an infidel just because I happen to differ. We should allow for a measure of grace with one another in these areas. (Of course I realise all this becomes even more complicated as we try to delineate just what are first-order doctrines, second-order doctrines, and so on.)
I have had a number of Christians break off fellowship with me for all sorts of lesser doctrinal reasons. And sadly, some of these people seem to relish this. Indeed, many of these folks indicate they never had much love to begin with. They seem to enjoy being so devoted to truth that they don’t care about losing a brother. Some even seem to take delight in their rebukes and condemnation.
Whenever church discipline is mentioned in Scripture, it is always with the view to restoring the fallen brother. It is never about gloating, or rejoicing, or enjoying seeing the other one accursed and cast loose. Yet I see some truth defenders who seem to have little love at all. The only thing that matters for them is being right, and if you are not exactly right with them, then they will unleash all their heavy artillery upon you and treat you as dung.
Indeed, they really can become quite unloving, quite ungracious, and quite nasty – all in the name of truth of course. It has happened to me often, and I don’t want to be guilty of doing it myself. That is why I so often cry out for prayer support.
I fail often in this regard. I often fail to achieve the right balance. I often can be less loving than I ought to be. I can be guilty of majoring in minors. Thus I am in desperate need of God’s wisdom, God’s grace, and God’s help. I covet your prayers in this regard.
When you have a public ministry like this one there is all the more need to make sure you get things right. I know I have often failed to properly represent my Lord, and I have often failed to properly fulfil Paul’s command in Eph. 4:15. I have often gotten the biblical balance wrong.
As I say, it is never an easy task, and it is always possible to veer in the wrong direction. We all have to work at getting the mix right, and fully achieving what Christ wants for us. I often pray that God would show me when I am getting off track, either in terms of truth or love.
I hope there are many out there praying for me in this regard. I so very much need it. Forgive me for what has become a bit of a ramble here, but the words of Jesus found in John 17, mentioned above, keep burning within me. I know I will one day stand before my Lord to give an account not only of all the right (or wrong) theology, teaching, doctrine and truth I have been articulating, but of how loving (or unloving) I have been as well.
As we all do, I want to hear these words on that day: “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of the Lord”. It really is preferable to be judged in this life rather than in the next. I want – as much as possible – to get my act together now, and please Him now, and not wait till later to learn about how much I blew it. I need God’s hand of chastisement and correction now when I deserve it, and I need the help of the rest of you as well.
If this rather personal article inspires you to pray for me and intercede for me, I will be tremendously grateful indeed. Indeed, parading myself before you like a fool (as Paul did at times in his Corinthians’ correspondence) can be a humbling thing indeed. But if it results in your increased prayer support, leading me to become more like Christ and to represent him more faithfully, then it is all well worth it.
Thanks for indulging me in all of this. Bless you.