Sharing the Truth Gracefully

When I hear the phrase “little white lie” I focus in on the last word: lie. Because at its root a little white lie is still a lie. Some folks say that these types of lies are necessary in order to protect people, keep social order, prevent major conflict, etc. But at the end of the day, I come back to this simple question, “How is being dishonest with someone I’m supposed to love an illustration of that love?” Think about that one for a second. And think about the consequences if the person finds out we have lied to them. Lying, even little white lies, is not the right direction. After all:

For, “THE ONE WHO DESIRES LIFE, TO LOVE AND SEE GOOD DAYS, MUST KEEP HIS TONGUE FROM EVIL AND HIS LIPS FROM SPEAKING DECEIT. HE MUST TURN AWAY FROM EVIL AND DO GOOD; HE MUST SEEK PEACE AND PURSUE IT. FOR THE EYES OF THE LORD ARE TOWARD THE RIGHTEOUS, AND HIS EARS ATTEND TO THEIR PRAYER, BUT THE FACE OF THE LORD IS AGAINST THOSE WHO DO EVIL.” – 1 Peter 3:10-12, NASB

and

Therefore, laying aside falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one another. – Ephesians 4:25, NASB

Peter and Paul didn’t give us any exceptions. We must keep our lips from deceit. We must speak truth with our neighbors. It’s really that simple. But then the problem comes up where the truth is painful. After all, truth can be deadly:

Then the one who brought the news replied, “Israel has fled before the Philistines and there has also been a great slaughter among the people, and your two sons also, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been taken.” When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell off the seat backward beside the gate, and his neck was broken and he died, for he was old and heavy. Thus he judged Israel forty years. – 1 Samuel 4:17-18, NASB

The truth was deadly for Eli. Because of the sin of Eli’s sons and because Eli did nothing to check their evilness, God had proclaimed through Samuel that all three would suffer punishment for their sins. Eli’s death was brought about by the news that not only had his sons been slain, but also the Ark of the Covenant had been seized in battle by the Philistines. Now one could say that Eli had it coming, but there is this command from Paul:

As a result, we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ, from whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love. – Ephesians 4:14-16, NASB

We are to speak the truth in love. Now that’s wide open to interpretation, but one thing that clearly rules out is speaking the truth to hurt. In other words, we don’t use the truth to wound others. The truth may still be painful, but we don’t intentionally reveal the truth to cause pain. That isn’t acceptable for someone who follows Christ. But it still doesn’t answer the question of how to share the truth when it is painful and in a way that is honoring God. The answer is actually found a little further down in Ephesians 4.

Let no unwholesome word proceed from your mouth, but only such a word as is good for edification according to the need of the moment, so that it will give grace to those who hear. Do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you. – Ephesians 4:29-32, NASB

We must seek to speak in a way that edifies the other person. We must do so kindly, with tender-heartedness, without bitterness or wrath or anger. We must do so without malice, and we must do so with grace. So what does all that mean? We’ve got to think about the other person. We’ve got to think about how to say the truth in a way that communicates all of it, without any misinterpretation, but in as gentle a fashion as possible. We must seek to do so in a way that makes the person better. Sometimes hearing the truth will hurt and cut to the heart. But not knowing the truth will hurt more later when the truth is discovered. In these situations we’ve got to be ready to comfort, to love gently, to be someone to lean on. After all, that is what we would want when given devestating news. And we’ve also got to think about our surrounding and circumstances. Perhaps it would be better if we had a a trusted person or two alongside. Someone the other person respects. And if it’s bad news, it probably should be told in private. These are the kinds of things that honor Ephesians 4:29-32. Those verses convey a thoughtful attitude, where we’ve carefully considered our path. It’s not about blurting out the news or being passe about it or hiding the details. It’s about considering who will receive it and how best to deliver it in a way that they can handle it.

And speaking of truth, this also is important with regards to the Gospel. That’s why bashing someone over the head with the message of the Cross is contrary to what we’re shown in Scripture. We must think about our audience. We must consider how best to share with them. And then we must speak the whole truth. Dr. John MacArthur points out that if we hide the details of the Gospel, the harder parts of it, we’re pulling a bait and switch. And he’s right, but that’s a devotional for another time. Whether we’re sharing the Gospel or some other factual truth, we must remember to present all of it and do so in a way that shows our love.

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