UnChristlike sayings

Rethinking the meaning of "speaking the truth in love"

Issue: "Lyons thrown to Baptists," Sept. 20, 1997

I don't remember his name, but I do remember what a Kentucky Baptist preacher/weekly newspaper editor told me a dozen years ago. He had a police band radio and liked to go out with his camera when he heard that a drunk was being arrested. Unlike Paris paparazzi he never chased anyone, but he did take photos of staggering citizens stopped by police, and he put those pictures on his front page.

The preacher/editor told of how a man came to his office one day, pleading with him not to publish embarrassing photos of his brother, and giving an emotion-grabbing reason for his request: "If you run those shots of Bubba, it'll just kill Momma." The editor replied, "Tell Bubba he better not drive drunk."

Did the preacher/editor lack love? Some-especially those who put bullet holes through his office window-said so. But the editor believed that if embarrassment could force a life-saving change in behavior, it would not be loving to look the other way. The same principle applies with other sins that we perceive, both in ourselves and others. We are not being kind to ourselves when we fool ourselves into thinking that wrong is right, nor are we loving others when we are not truthful. As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 13:6, "Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth."

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The first question for journalists, for ministers, and for all of us is, do we love the people of God enough to bring the truth to them? A secondary question is, how do we bring the truth to people? In a kind way, yes, but Paul's phrase about "speaking the truth in love" (Ephesians 4:15) is often taken out of context.

After all, one verse before his famous phrase Paul criticizes "the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming." Those words do not appear particularly loving to some ears today.

And in case we still have any tendency to think that sugarcoating is next to godliness, Paul provides a summing up in Ephesians 4:25: "Therefore, each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body."

Christ above all certainly spoke the truth in love, but many of his statements were not sweet. From the gospel of Matthew alone it is easy to compile what some would call the unChristlike sayings of Christ. Jesus called his opponents "ferocious wolves," "vipers," "hypocrites," "blind fools," and so on. When Peter acted wrongly, Jesus said, "Get behind me, Satan." Nor were Christ's actions weak: He loved the moneychangers when he used a whip to drive them out of the temple. He cared enough to tell them the truth about their actions and their need to repent.

There is of course a big difference between God's inspired words and ours, which may convey unrighteous anger. Insisting that love and truth go together does not give us a license to speak the truth spitefully. But the tendency among many Christians today is to lean in the opposite direction: Love rules, truth loiters behind. We forget that love and truth can be like sodium and chloride. Love without truth is mush, and truth without love can also be poisonous. Sodium and chloride together make salt.

All Christians are called to be salty. Some are called to be watchmen. God tells us in Ezekiel 33 that when the watchman "sees the sword coming against the land and blows the trumpet to warn the people, then if anyone hears the trumpet but does take warning and the sword comes and takes his life, his blood will be on his own head.... But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet to warn the people and the sword comes and takes the life of one of them, that man will be taken away because of his sin, but I will hold the watchman accountable for his blood."

Speaking the truth in love means blowing the trumpet in a way that will wake up the sleeping. Few people enjoy being rudely awakened. I doubt if any drunks enjoy public embarrassment. But the Kentucky preacher/editor/watchman was speaking the truth in love as he plastered across his front page pictures of the plastered.

His readers, after all, learned a valuable lesson: If you don't want to be embarrassed publicly, don't do embarrassing things. The Latin expression coram Deo, signifying "everything to be done in the sight of God," should be enough to keep us flying straight. When that does not happen, we need to show Christlike love and speak Christ's truth.

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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