Speaking the Truth in Love
Judgement. Criticism. Harshness. Narrow-mindedness. Some of my least favorite things. Things I’d expect to run into living each day in an over-caffeinated, performance and appearance driven world. Just part of the package. Oddly enough, one place I’ve run into some of the harshest criticism is the one place I’d assume it didn’t exist – the church. Silly me. I don’t mean my church specifically, but the church, as a whole. People who say they’re Christ followers, but live out of the narrowness of their particular brand of “tradition.” Not to say they aren’t Christ followers, but that in place of following Christ’s commands to speak the truth in love, words better left unsaid are spoken in anger and haste. Hurtful words. Sadly the love portion of the command gets thrown in the ditch, replaced by the demands of man-made tradition or a personal piety that ignores the welfare of others.
The Importance of Love
This simply isn’t “following” Christ; it’s not how Christ lived. When asked about the greatest command Christ answered, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Most of Christ’s admonitions against judgement were made addressing a specific group of people of the day – the religious people. Those who held positions of high authority within the Jewish church. Men who were bent on imposing harsh rules of law upon a people they’d been chosen to lead. Leaders who twisted and corrupted the law, ruling and subjecting their flock to their harshness.
These were the ones who questioned Jesus, after witnessing him heal a man on the Sabbath. Jesus responded, “If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” The law itself wasn’t the issue. Christ said he came not only to uphold the law, but to fulfill it. The law was being corrupted by religion short on love.
Oh, The Verbal Darts
Many times in my life, I’ve experienced the verbal darts thrown by supposedly, well-meaning believers. Please understand, many Christians I’ve encountered and known have tried to live showing love, giving truth with love, which is why those experiences stand out like a sore thumb. Raised in the Catholic church, I came to know the Lord when I was quite young after my mom, a devout Catholic, began attending bible studies at a nearby church. Led by the pastor’s wife, my mom and several of her friends began a new life of faith in Christ. Their quest for understanding God’s Word propelled them to continue studying, long after the study ended. They continued to attend their church home and their faith continued to grow. My church home – a Catholic church. Nearby was a strict fundamental church, where my best friend and her family attended. Visiting the church as a nine year old with my friend, I was promptly told by a somewhat agitated middle-aged woman that if you were Catholic, you were going to hell. Really? Not sure I can count the number of times my salvation was questioned simply because I attended a Christian denomination outside their own. Fortunately, my friend’s mother addressed the issue with the staff. She spoke the truth in love and it greatly impacted me.
As an adult, when asked about how I learned my daughter had Down syndrome, I’ve watched a number of well-meaning believers gasp with horror that my husband and I made the choice to confirm her diagnosis, before she was born. There’d been a number of indicators showing she might have Down syndrome. We were told by the genetics doctor that if we found out conclusively, further testing and observation could be done to determine if she had certain, sometimes life-threatening medical conditions common to infants with Down’s. We were advised that by knowing for sure, we’d be best able to provide whatever care she might need in utero, during and immediately after her birth. It would also help to determine the hospital we chose for her birth. Given the circumstances, we wanted to do anything to be able to help our daughter, to give her whatever care she needed. Wouldn’t any parent? Faced with a situation far outside of our comfort zone, but not God’s, with circumstances we’d never before been aware of, we prayed and made the choice we knew was best for our daughter.
Negative reactions to this choice from believers have both surprised and wounded me. The idea we’d ever consider what we believed unthinkable is more than hurtful. Yet I know those people were acting out of their own understanding. That’s just it. It’s their understanding, not God’s. Sometimes in our walk of faith, God asks us to go to a place far outside of our comfort zone. Places that don’t make any sense. Places where you’re forced to desperately seek God – for his guidance, his wisdom, for your next breath. This was a time of intense pain. Pain that was only intensified by “well-meaning” people questioning motives.
I understand we all come into situations with our own life experiences and at different places in our walk of faith, which is why I can say, those people weren’t necessarily intending to pour salt into wounds. They were simply speaking out of their understanding, albeit rashly.
Darts in the Public Arena
A few weeks ago, there was considerable uproar over a book that hadn’t even been released yet. Numerous personal attacks were made on the author – Rob Bell. My intention here isn’t to debate its’ contents. Rather, I’d like to speak to the outpouring of hateful personal attacks made against Pastor Bell online and seemingly, all over the place. Most of them from “well-meaning,” devout people of faith – Christians. Attacks made for all the world to see. People outside of the church, rolling their eyes once again left to ask, is this how they treat one of their own? Who’d want to be a part of that? Would you? Can’t say I would.
Our Calling: Speaking Truth in Love
My intention is to call out to believers to think carefully before speaking, writing, tweeting, blogging, etc. We’re not called to attack others. God says they’ll know we are Christians by our love. Debating issues of faith is healthy and even commanded. I’m suggesting rather than attacking a person, in this case a fellow believer, we keep our arguments to the issues at hand, making sure we understand the entirety of the matter before opening our mouths. We’re commanded to go directly to one another to resolve issues personally. Praying up in advance to have the wisdom to address those issues. With open ears to hear each other, that we might truly be listening with God’s wisdom and grace. Speaking truth in love. How is attacking an individual ever speaking the truth in love? It’s not.
Everybody has a story and there is always a back-story. Making the choice to actually listen to people, to know them, we’d be offered much more insight into how better to show them the love of Christ and best present His truth, whether ministering outside the walls of church or to fellow believers. Our snap judgements do a world of harm, not only to those in the Church, but to those thirsting for the living water of hope that is Christ. In our efforts to present truth, people will be more willing to listen if they can trust our hearts, knowing if they enter the fold, they won’t simply become targets.