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Is it Always Loving to Speak the Truth?

I am a recovering fundamentalist. Fundamentalism didn’t start out as a bad thing. It started out as a movement to stand for the authority and truthfulness of scripture against the attacks of modernism. But little by little fundamentalists began to withdraw from society, throwing biblical hand grenades over the church walls at a “perverse” and “corrupt” culture.

Truth and Love - resized

The ethos of modern day fundamentalism is a commitment to “speak the truth” in every situation. To preach it. To be unashamed. To have conviction. Seems commendable, right? I certainly thought so.

QUESTIONING MY ASSUMPTIONS

As a former fundamentalist, I always loved when people would try to temper my passion by telling me to speak the truth, but to speak it in love. My reply? What could be more loving than speaking the truth? Especially the truth of the Bible.

But let me ask you: Is it always loving to speak the truth? Or to put it another way, does speaking the truth necessarily entail love?

Imagine with me that a grieving wife comes to you after just finding out that her husband has cheated. She pours out her heart, revealing several emotions: sadness, fear, anxiety, anger, bitterness, and frustration. Now imagine in that moment that you say to her, “You know Susan, the Bible says that you and I deserve hell for our sins. And if you got what you deserved, that’s where you’d be. So even in the midst of this painful trial, you need to realize that what you’re going through isn’t hell. Which means even now, God is treating you better than you deserve.”

Technically, everything you said was true. But was it loving?

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

The Bible isn’t silent on this issue. Solomon helpfully reminds us that timing is everything. He says in Ecclesiastes 3:1-8,

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: 2 a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; 3 a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up; 4 a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance; 5 a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together; a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing; 6 a time to seek, and a time to lose; a time to keep, and a time to cast away; 7 a time to tear, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak; 8 a time to love, and a time to hate; a time for war, and a time for peace.

He also says in Proverbs 25:11, A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver. 

Solomon knew what we often do not: Just because there are true things you could say does not mean there are true things you should say.

Paul says virtually the same thing in Ephesians 4:29, Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.

Implicit in Paul’s command is that fact that there are words unfit for any given occasion. There are words that don’t match the need of the moment. These words can be lies, profanities, or slander. But they can also be the truth.

Question: How do you discern what truth is the right truth to speak in any given situation? How do you know when your truth speaking is actually loving?

Comments(7)

  1. Reply
    Josh says

    Hey Andy. Great questions! One thought that I had while reading this was that there are several examples of Christ and His followers speaking boldly, bluntly and with heavy rebuke to both believers and non-believers in the NT with little regard for or sensitivity to the circumstance. At the same time, there is clearly sensitivity in other circumstances, like Jesus dealing with the woman caught in adultery. Interestingly, Jesus seems to have dealt tenderly with compassion to the adulteress and yet boldly (with disgust?) towards the religious leaders.

    I think it’s really difficult to examine our motives and know when/what is right to say. I wonder if our motivation ought to be to pray more for the Holy Spirit to help us in those hard to discern situations and trust more in a sovereign God who could literally change the words of our speech before they reach a persons ears.

    In the end, following James’ example to be slow to speak, quick to listen… And Paul’s example of what it is to truly love in 1 cor 13 should go a long way. 🙂

    • Reply
      Andy Barlow says

      Good points Josh. I think Jesus’ example demonstrates that sometimes speaking the truth can seem harsh while truly being the most fitting thing one could say. It’s a tough balance. But prayer, dependence on the Spirit, and being slow to speak should help us all.

  2. Reply
    Matt says

    Good thoughts Andy. I find myself asking lots of questions about how to “speak the truth in love” especially when dealing with people from other religious backgrounds.

    I had some similar thoughts sparked by the”Contradict” bumper sticker I saw once. It has a Truthful message, citing John 14:6, but is it really loving to tell someone THROUGH A BUMPER STICKER, that without Christ they will be eternally separated from the Father? This is an urgent message for sure, but is this the best means of communication? Perhaps this partly stems from our convenience-minded culture, that cares more about quantity than quality. But, I think it mostly comes from a distorted view of the Gospel. We are freed to proclaim the Truth in love, but it is easy to twist this and make it an obligation flowing from a sense of “duty”. We are called to proclaim the Gospel, but it is not a burdensome command.

    Not to say that God can’t use a bumper sticker, but it seems like a hands-off, impersonal, unloving approach.

    Sorry for the rant – enjoyed the read!

    • Reply
      Andy Barlow says

      The bumper sticker thing reminds of a saying: the medium is the message. I think you’re right that bumper-stickers tend to trivialize weighty matters. For example, would you use a bumper sticker to tell your wife that her father passed away?

  3. Reply
    Garrett says

    Good thoughts, Andy.
    Speaking in love will never contradict truth, but speaking truth definitely does not mean it is necessarily in love

  4. Reply
    David Wagner says

    Your post brought to mind Matthew 7:6, Andy: Do not give dogs what is holy, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, lest they trample them underfoot and turn to attack you. I often find myself wanting to thunder away – and more times than not, doing so – on FB at those who promote and encourage unholy lifestyles. However, in full disclosure, rarely have I built up a relationship with each individual, letting them know that I care about THEM, before attacking the sin which they will certainly take as an attack upon themselves (Who wouldn’t?). My desire to be right is usually exercised before my calling to love. And this is where I believe I should hold onto my ‘pearls’. If the individual is not in a place to accept that truth, I should probably hold onto it and instead cultivate a stronger relationship to help them grow in faith to the point they can handle a ‘wise rebuke’. Whenever speaking in public, it is necessary to consider one’s audience. I believe the same principle applies to speaking truth.

    All that being said, believers who have indeed built a strong relationship with their Brothers and Sisters are wise in speaking hard truths to their true friends. True friendship cannot exist without each friend being able to be open and honest and issuing a challenge or rebuke if going down a wrong path. We at times can withhold a needed word if we feel it may threaten the continuation of that friendship. Yet that is an occasion when the blunt truth is most likely needed and if the friendship is deep, it should be able to withstand even a blunt truth said poorly as the love of those friends for each other includes a healthy does of forgiveness.

    Finally (and then I’ll shut up!), I didn’t realize until I looked up the ‘pearls’ verse that it follows up and is in the same titled section of ‘Judging Others’ with the speck and log in each other’s eyes verses. We really must always check ourselves when doling out judgements if we are also prone to the same sin. I find it most interesting that the taking care in how we judge part is before the ‘pearls’ part. In essence, Christ tells us to check our own motives and inventory our righteousness BEFORE determining whether the recipient of our truth is in a place to receive it! Thanks for making me think, Bro!

    • Reply
      Andy Barlow says

      Good thoughts David. Thanks for sharing.

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