I have discussed this issue before but it keeps cropping up so I guess I will have to keep writing about it. We are told in Scripture to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). Plenty of other texts urge the same thing. So we must do it, but the trick is getting the balance right.
Love without truth becomes mere sentimental sap which helps no one, and in fact harms many. Truth without love can of course be harsh and repulsive. So all Christians are called to be fully loving as we fully speak the truth in all things. We may not always get it right, but we must try nonetheless.
But from my perspective, if we are erring here, it is on the side of minimising truth while seeking to maximise love. That is, far too many Christians seem to think that if they offend anyone, alienate anyone, upset anyone, or ruffle the feathers of anyone as they speak truth, they must not be very loving, and so they simply ease up on truth-telling.
They seem to think that somehow it is more Christlike just to be “loving” (without the necessary boundaries of truth) than to proclaim truth and risk getting some people bent out of shape. It goes without saying of course that we can often be unloving, ungracious, and unkind as we speak truth.
But the perversion of something good does not negate the good thing itself. It is always a good thing to speak truth. That we can sometimes lack tact, warmth and graciousness here does not relieve us of the command to speak truth. Throwing the baby out with the bathwater helps no one.
But far too many believers seem to think that if anyone is getting upset, then it must be our fault, and so we must just curtail the proclamation of truth. Better to be liked, they seem to think, than offend anyone. So they simply stop speaking truth altogether.
But this is a grievous error and is totally unChristian. We can only love people as we speak truth to them. Not to speak truth to them is not to love them. The most loving thing you can tell a drug addict for example is that they are killing themselves, and they need help to get off their deadly addiction.
Not telling the addict this truth is not to love him. Yet so many Christians have bought into a worldly notion of love. They think speaking the truth in love will mean people will always accept us, embrace us, and be happy with us. They think if any negative reaction occurs, we must not have been very loving, and we need to stop speaking truth until we get things right.
As an example, one very sincere and well-meaning Christian told me this elsewhere, in relation to a post I had on the abortion issue: “Just a thought, if we, as Christians, continue to alienate people that obviously have issues, this includes the Gay debate, how do we reach out and be the scared hands of Christ to these people, the very hands that saved me from death, and also available for there salvation, God doesn’t need use to save anyone, but he chose to use his people as salt and light, I know if I was on the other side now, I would walk away because all I would see is judgement, this is the God the secular world will see, instead of a loving caring father. Just sharing my heart, thanks.”
Now I thanked him for sharing, and in one sense he is quite right. But in another sense he is quite wrong. He is under the mistaken impression that the true Christian will never offend anyone, never produce negative reactions, and never make anyone think we are being judgmental.
Not so. As I sought to answer this person, the very same objections were thrown at people like Wilberforce. “Wilby old boy, you are coming across as so judgmental – how will slave traders come to Christ if you keep going on about the humanity of blacks?” Sorry, but the truths of the gospel always cause offence. Many people simply hate the truth.
Indeed, one simply has to read the gospels without humanistic blinkers on to see how much rejection the loving Jesus encountered. Everywhere Jesus went, he was offending people, enraging people, alienating people, and causing divisions. So much so, in fact, that he was eventually crucified for all his efforts. There are many dozens of examples of this. Let me just offer a handful from just one gospel: Matthew’s:
-Matt 8:34 Then the whole town went out to meet Jesus. And when they saw him, they pleaded with him to leave their region.
-Matt 10 Jesus warns his followers would face rejection, hatred, contempt
-Matt 10:14 If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, leave that home or town and shake the dust off your feet.
-Matt 10:34 Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace on the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.
-Matt 11:20 Then Jesus began to denounce the towns in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent.
-Matt 13:57 And they took offense at him. But Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honor except in his own town and in his own home.”
-Matt 15:12 Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this?”
-Matt 24:9-10 Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. And then many will be offended, will betray one another, and will hate one another.
-Matt 26:31 Then saith Jesus unto them, All ye shall be offended because of me this night
So here we have the most loving, gracious, kind, and forbearing person to ever walk the planet, yet everywhere he went he caused division, offended people, and produced quite negative reactions. Yet plenty of Christians think that they can somehow be more loving than Jesus.
Sorry, hate to disappoint you, but it ain’t gonna happen. While we definitely all need to grow in all these graces, if we wait till we are fully love incarnate – even then we will not prevent people from getting upset when we speak the truth. That simply goes with the territory when living in a fallen world.
Jesus in fact warned his disciples that he was sending them out as sheep among wolves (Luke 10:3). He warned them time and time again that they would not be well received. In fact, he promised them that they would be hated just as he was hated.
Since my friendly critic used the example of homosexuality, let me close with a few quotes from an important article on this. Bob Russell speaks on the unfortunate “silence of many churches” in regard to the Chick-fil-A controversy – also homosexual-related. He asks why so many churches and church leaders remain silent on this and related issues. Here is one reason:
“Some are fearful of criticism. No one likes to get nasty emails or hear derogatory comments about their church. If you stand for Biblical marriage you are sure to be accused of being bigoted, hateful, or intolerant. Dan Cathy is a prime example. Jesus said, Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. (Matthew 5:11) But it doesn’t feel blessed when it happens, and it seems many Christian leaders do everything they can to avoid persecution. Perhaps they love the praise of men more than the praise of God.”
He concludes with these powerful and very wise words: “Here are four reasons why church leaders need to speak up consistently and courageously:
“Our silence is not saving homosexuals. Sin separates us from God and leads to death. The church is required to call people to acknowledge their sin and repent. And, yes, churches want to be known for what they’re for, not for what they’re against. We want a reputation for loving people, not condemning them. But failing to call people away from a sinful lifestyle is neither loving nor caring. The proper response to a driver going the wrong way up an exit ramp is to blow the horn. To fail to sound a warning would be unconsionable even though initially the wayward driver doesn’t want to hear it. The church must provide acceptance for repentant sinners and provide encouragement away from sinful lifestyles. And there are scores of Christians who were once involved in the LGBT lifestyle who have found their new identity in Christ because Christian leaders were not afraid to speak the truth.
“Better now than later. Church leaders will soon have to take a stand one way or the other. The longer you wait to mow the grass or establish order in a classroom the more difficult it becomes. The longer you wait to let your congregation and community know where your church stands, the more flak and fallout you will experience. Churches cannot feign neutrality much longer.
“Our silence is contributing to the loss of our children to the church. While we stay mum so we don’t alienate the world, our own children and grandchildren are being swept away by the constant pro-gay propaganda coming from the media and the entertainment world. We assume they believe the same way we do, but when they hear little or nothing from God’s Word on this issue they get swept away by the spirit of this age.
“We are commissioned to preach the whole counsel of God regardless of consequences or we will be held accountable. We were not called into ministry to put our finger in the air and see which way the cultural winds are blowing and adjust. We were called to preach the word in season and out of season and not just say what itching ears want to hear. (2 Timothy 4:1-5) And the Bible clearly warns us about our failure to do so: When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you accountable for their blood. (Ezekiel 33:8)
“John Calvin said ‘A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw the truth of God attacked and yet would remain silent.’ In the end, we will be judged not by the favorable impression we have in the world but by our faithfulness in proclaiming God’s truth. That takes boldness … and constant vigilance. But we are following in the footsteps of forefathers who, ‘loved not their lives even unto death’. For ‘Silence in the face of evil is itself evil. God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.’ – Dietrich Bonhoeffer”
Absolutely. My friendly critic has a genuine heartfelt concern that we be loving. And quite right too. But being loving does not mean that we are so afraid of not offending people that we no longer proclaim truth. That is not loving the lost, but simply condemning them to a life of misery now and sending them to a lost eternity.
Better to speak the truth as lovingly as we can, even if it means being rejected and scorned by many, than to speak no truth at all, and in effect hate everyone we meet.