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.
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?