The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love. Ephesians 4:11-16 (NRSV)
Speaking the truth is generally a good thing to do. Jesus followers are called and equipped to speak the truth. But what do we do when the truth is potentially dangerous? The Old Testament prophets certainly didn’t win any popularity contests by telling the truth. Jonah ended up spending three days in a fish’s belly- all out of fear of what would happen to him when he confronted the people of Nineveh with news of God’s judgment. Jeremiah was thrown in prison- and later into a muddy cistern- for telling the truth, because it was a truth of judgment and of bad things coming. Jeremiah’s message didn’t make the people in control- especially the king- very happy at all. We humans don’t like to hear that we need to change course or that our actions are going to get us in trouble. We don’t like to be challenged, even when we really need it.
But sometimes it is necessary- and there are times that God calls us- to sound a warning.
What do we do when speaking the truth isn’t nice? It’s easy to get being a good Christian and being nice confused, but sometimes being loving isn’t nice. Jesus wasn’t being nice when He toppled over the money changers’ tables in the temple, but He was acting in the cause of truth and defending what was right. Exacting consequences upon a child who has violated rules may not seem nice, but carrying out punishments when appropriate may be the most loving thing a parent can do to prevent a child from making future and more damaging errors.
Enabling a family member or friend to continue on in a destructive habit or to endure another’s abuse may seem “nice” but those acts are neither loving nor Christian. Enabling another’s destructive habits or tolerating another’s abuse also denies the truth that we are children of God, worthy and deserving of giving and receiving love and respect. Sometimes loving means tough love and confronting others with hard truths.
Speaking the truth is something we are called to do with humility, with the heart of Christ- always with the best interest of the other and of the relationship with that person in mind. It may be true that Uncle Bob has a big mouth, or Cousin Jack could stand to lose a few pounds, but how do we confront that person in love about their offensive or destructive habits? How do we offer support and help rather than just cutting criticism? How can we build another up instead of tearing another down?
Every person is an example. Some of us are examples of what not to do. It is easy to criticize but far more difficult to empathize and to walk with each other and to admit our own faults and shortcomings to God – and maybe even to a trusted Christian confidant as well- first before we dare to confront another person. Jesus taught us that we should remove the logs from our own eyes before we go digging around trying to remove other people’s specks. We should go to Him with an honest inventory of our own behaviors and sins and wrongs before we approach someone else about his or hers.
(Jesus said): “Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.” Matthew 7:3-5 (NRSV)
Every human being alive is a fallible and fallen sinner. This is the most important thing to bear in mind before approaching anyone to speak a hard truth. Love is the key. Love for the other person that reflects the heart of Christ, and love that says, “I am in this struggle with sin and missing the mark right along with you.” Love that says, “Let’s get closer to the heart of Christ together.”