Honest Talk About My Own State
There is no love without truth and no truth without love. This is perhaps one of the greatest realities that one can submit to. Speaking from the perspective of one who wrestles with the tendency to embellish when telling stories, I can admit that truth isn’t always easy. Conversely, I also have a dogged dedication to theological truth. Often times, this trait has led me to use honest descriptions devoid of love.
Our, God is both sovereign and possesses a sense of irony at times. I have been wrestling with this article for weeks. The basic gist of what I want to say has been percolating in the vapid recesses of my mind for some time now. As if kicking me square in the keister (Minnesota vernacular for rear end) God treated me like Balaam this past Sunday (July 21st, 2019). That is not to compare the pastor He used to a donkey, but I got the message loud and clear any way.
This Sunday in question saw me struggling with putting metaphorical pen to paper and pushing myself to confront- to face the issue. The pastor of my local church followed his plan to preach through Revelation. He opened the sermon with the profound question, “Which is more important, truth or love?”
There I sat, my mouth all agape and dumbfounded. This topic that I had been staring at for so long was no longer simply staring at me silently from across the table. It walked across the room. Then pulled a chair up right in front of me and sat down and breathed its heavy and cloying exhale directly into my stunned visage.
“Here I am partner,” it seemed to say, “When are you going to deal with me? Enough is enough.”
So here we sit…
Embracing the Truth of Honest Critique
I can often be my own worst critic. If you know me, you know this about me. Also, those who know me the best, will recognize that I tend towards a heavier critical eye towards professing “Christians”. Frequently, this critical eye is driven by my own self-loathing that seems impossible for me to escape. For every criticism of another that I offer I am often pointing the barrel of a loaded gun back at myself.
I have known for some time that there is a fine balance between love bearing and believing all things and speaking the truth in love. My struggle has been with speaking truth in love and believing all things.
I tend to want to go straight to the truth. After all, God commanded us to not lie. Sadly, the desire to go straight to the truth, hasn’t always led me to honest critique of myself. Even in the moments when I perceive myself to be standing with Luther-like boldness I am only spewing “truth” with no consideration for the love that should be behind it.
Moreover, I am often in need of utter transparency about my own sin while struggling to mask it for the sake of my own comfort. Which ultimately, ends up leaving me as far from comfortable as I can get. I do not have a mere plank to remove from my eye. I have entire lumberyards sticking out of my forehead. Try that image on for size.
I will sit here now and argue with you and Paul that I am by far the worst of sinners. I am the “chiefest” of the chief of sinners. It is in this context that I am going to speaking the honest truth of what has been on my heart and mind as of late.
Honest Descriptions and Radical Examples
We have all been guilty of just vomiting out something that is true when we perceive it needs to be said. Generally, this happens when someone has done something to hurt us. I recently told a friend that is suffering from hateful things said to them, “Hurting and hurt people will hurt others. Even if the one they hurt hasn’t provoked it.”
Like a beloved family dog, when we are in pain, we bite. Yet, for many in Christendom, the biting sometimes seems to come unprovoked. We can understand the dog that just had surgery nipping at us. What we do not understand is the seemingly content dog, jumping up and charging at us with teeth barred and snarling. Sadly, I am afraid this is how much of the secular world, views Christians. Even more sorrow provoking, we as Christians have brought this on ourselves.
There isn’t a single person reading this article at the moment that isn’t fully aware of the Westboro Baptist Church. (I say that with confidence because I just linked to at least one video of them.) Most of us that have a finger on the pulse of Western Christian Culture, have gone to great lengths to distance ourselves from WBC.
Furthermore, many of us have seen the videos of hate-preachers standing on the streets literally screaming at people calling them names. It is so easy for us to decry these folks and fall easily into the No True Scotsman Fallacy when we observe these folks in action.
The man who stands on a corner during a Gay Pride event and calls out about the effects of homosexual sex on the human body may be speaking truth, but is he really doing so in love? The easy and proper answer for us is an emphatic, “NO!”
Honest Descriptions and Gospel Minded People
It is easy for us, by I us I mean the ten or so folks that read my articles, to decry men like Reuben Israel and Brother Jedd. Their antics and tactics are nothing at all like Christ’s. Sure, Jesus used hard and often biting language, but it wasn’t done the same way these men have done. I have ministered in the wake of men like Reuben and Jedd. The aftermath is maddening. Consequently, I spend almost as much time explaining what sets me apart from them as I do preaching the Gospel. Over time I have learned to let my words and actions demonstrate the difference.
However, I am afraid I have also been the raging bull in a china shop at times. There aren’t many street preachers that haven’t been that person at least once. Furthermore, I would dare say that many solid Christians that aren’t engaged in public evangelism, are just as guilty of causing damage.
I have stood outside of facilities where abortions are performed and stared straight into the face of clinic escorts and called them “deathscorts”. In the moment, I was quite convinced that it was best way to proceed. Subsequently, I have become convicted that it isn’t right. Sure, it is true. It is a very apt and honest description of what they are there for. Where is the love in it? Are some descriptions useful in this case? Sure. Is the use of name calling speaking truth in love? I do not think so.
I will even draw a distinction between calling names and making comparisons. For example, I will draw a correlation between clinic escorts and concentration camp guards.
On a Personal Level
How about on personal level? I have met Christians that insisted on referring to homosexuals as Sodomites and Homos. Moreover, I am not talking about Brother Jedd calling scantily clad college co-eds whores. I mean genuine Gospel minded Christians that think it is their calling to call a gay man a homo or call a lesbian a dyke. The justification for this is that it is true.
“I refuse to call a Sodomite gay! They aren’t gay, gay means happy. They aren’t happy, they are homos!”
I have literally had that conversation with people that are convinced that level of honest speaking is the most loving. These are men and women who are truly dedicated to Gospel Advancement. They are passionate about truth and seeing souls saved. However, they are also convinced that the language that they use must be as shocking as possible.
What I think they have forgotten, as I have done more than I care to admit, is that the cross should be the offense.
Honest Speaking Should Be Speaking Truth in Love
Ephesians 4:15 uses a phrase that we love to toss out with little to no thought about its meaning. The scholars that I have consulted on this topic have almost across the board stated that it should read “truthing in love.” This changes it for us in an imperative way. No longer is speaking truth separated from love.
Far-too-often, it is easy for us to say, “Well of course we need to speak the truth in love. But when all else fails, TRUTH!” Conversely, many will say, “Well of course we need to speak the truth in love. But at all costs LOVE!”
Ordinarily, I am the “TRUTH” guy, unless of course it comes to addressing my own sin. Yet, as I said, understanding the imperative of truthing in love, changes how we react and interact with the lost. Dare I say it even changes how we interact with other Christians.
In an article I wrote about baptism I spoke to the reality of how easy baptism has become in WCC. There is little to no counting of the costs of following Christ. Truthing in love means telling not only unbelievers hard things but also other believers. However, that kind of honest language has to be motivated by a desire for the good of the other and the glory of God.
Don’t Just Take my Word for It
Consider these words from theologian Albert Barnes on the verse:
- The truth is “to be spoken” – the simple, unvarnished truth. This is the way to avoid error, and this is the way to preserve others from error. In opposition to all trick, and art, and cunning, and fraud, and deception, Christians are to speak the simple truth, and nothing but the truth. Every statement which they make should be unvarnished truth; each promise which they make should be true; every representation which they make of the sentiments of others should he simple truth. “Truth is the representation of things as they are;” and there is no virtue that is more valuable in a Christian than the love of simple truth.
(2) The second thing is, that the truth should be spoken “in love.” There are other ways of speaking truth. It is sometimes spoken in a harsh, crabby, sour manner, which does nothing but disgust and offend. When we state truth to others, it should he with love to their souls, and with a sincere desire to do them good. When we admonish a brother of his faults, it should not be in a harsh and unfeeling manner, but in love. Where a minister pronounces the awful truth of God about depravity, death, the judgment, and future woe, it should be in love.
It should not be done in a harsh and repulsive manner. Neither should it be done as if he rejoiced that people were in danger of hell, or as if he would like to pass the final sentence; it should not be with indifference, or in a tone of superiority. And in like manner, if we go to convince one who is in error, we should approach him in love. We should not dogmatize, or denounce, or deal out anathemas. Such things only repel. “He has done about half his work in convincing another of error who has first convinced him that he loves him.” And if he does not do that, he may argue to the hour of his death and make no progress in convincing him.
To Be Honest; I Fail Often
If I have to face the reality of my humanity here, I admit I fail often. I often err on the side of truth over truthing in love. I must be honest about that. Nothing changes unless we start with addressing our own error.
Equally important is realizing that it isn’t loving to withhold honest speaking to avoid hurting. As I mentioned in a previous article, I had occasion to display truthing in love. I believe in one part of the scenario I managed to do so. However, I am striving to be honest, I failed in the second part of the scenario.
I spoke honest heartfelt words. As much as I want to assert that it was motivated by love, that would not be honest. As I stood, literally face-to-face with another man and called him a wolf, I was pronouncing an anathema. It was not mine to pronounce. In the moment I wanted it to hurt. However, even if I was correct in my assessment, my desire was not for his good in that moment. Therefore, I was wrong, my heart was not interested in truthing in love.
It would seem as if this confession should be easy. On some level it is. The thing that pains me the most is that I said many true things that evening. Much of what I did say was motivated by love. Much of what I said was an honest representation of error. However, the damage that was inflicted by one moment of speaking absent of love, was inflicted to me. Any message that I brought from that point forward would not be received well.
This was a hard but valuable lesson to learn. As much as it stinks to go through it. I am now glad for it…
My beloved reader(s?), please stop and consider your motivations for any words you speak. It is not merely enough to be speaking truth if it is devoid of love. Not just any love, but biblical love. The desired end of any honest comment you make should be for the good of the other to the glory of God.
As the scriptures remind us, faithful are the wounds of a friend.
The husband who answers his wife’s question about her pants by saying, “It isn’t the pants that make you look fat dear.” may be speaking truth, but it won’t be a faithful wound, no matter how honest it is.
If I could compel any of us to one action it would to always consider the imperative of Ephesians 4:15. No matter who we are speaking to or when we are speaking, our light should so shine before men in our words, that they glorify God.
Please stop and consider this imperative as you go about Advancing the Gospel. Do not merely spit out truth if your heart is not bent towards the good of the person hearing. Allow the glory of God to be your motivation in preaching even the hard things.
Allow your speech to be seasoned with the salt of God’s loving goodness, mercy and forbearance. Leave the name calling and inflammatory language to the heathens and hate-preachers. Do not try and justify intentionally abrasive and irritating words by claiming that Christ did the same thing. If your desire is honest Christ-likeness, you will recognize that the harshest words of judgement should be reserved for you. But God!
Honest Love Will Hurt
Equally, if the situation warrants, speak hard and honest truth with boldness. Yet, do it in love. Then do me a favor, when you figure out how to do this every time you open your mouth, let me know. I need the help.
Soli Deo Gloria!