Love is how we speak truth, not how we avoid it.

By Beth Hyduke

Anyone who spends any time at all in the Bible will soon realize there is a continuous emphasis placed on actively loving one another (i.e.: Leviticus 19:18, John 15:12, Romans 13:8-10, Galatians 5:14, James 2:8, 1 John 4:21), even those who qualify as enemies (Matthew 5:44). First Corinthians 16:14 tells us to "do everything in love." But many people struggle with this all-encompassing directive especially when they find themselves facing the difficult task of confronting sin in a family member or co-worker. Inevitable questions arise like, "Is it even possible to lovingly rebuke someone?" and if it is, "Does lovingly rebuking sin in someone else mean that we cannot be direct and forthright with the person we are confronting?" As Christians, do we have to sugarcoat what we say to others in order to fulfill God's command to love them?

As followers of Christ, we live with Christ's example of love before us, and under His command to love others (i.e.: Luke 10:27, John 13:34, 1 John 4:7, Romans 13:8). Love for others is the defining motive and trademark that identifies us as Christ's disciples (John 13:35). Although the Bible commands, exhorts, and inspires us repeatedly to love, it never insinuates that love and truth are exclusionary — that if you love someone you cannot be honest with them, or that telling the truth honestly and directly is a contradiction of love. Love should never cause us to shortchange the truth. On the contrary, God holds us to the highest standard of truth-telling (Exodus 20:16, Zechariah 8:16, Proverbs 6:16-17, Ephesians 4:25, Revelations 21:8), a standard that encompasses not merely omitting falsehoods but involves bearing full witness to the truth. As a result, the Bible proposes that it is not only possible, but mandatory, that we pair truth-telling with loving others; that, as Ephesians 4:15 puts it, we "speak the truth in love."

Part of loving someone involves being honest with them, even when that honesty takes shape as necessary rebuke. Proverbs 27:5-6 says, "Better is open rebuke than love that is concealed. Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy..." In other words, the text teaches us that true friends who love us and have our best interest at heart will sometimes "wound" us by faithfully correcting or rebuking us when we stray. So-called friends who only flatter us, or even those who love us but keep silent when we do wrong out of a misguided desire not to offend us, do not have our best interests at heart. A true friend helps keep us straight, or as Proverbs 27:17 puts it, "As iron sharpens iron, so a friend sharpens a friend." Matthew Henry summarized it well when he said, "Plain and faithful rebukes are better, not only than secret hatred, but than love which compliments sin, to the hurt of the soul."

So what does this look like when it comes to rebuking sin in others? The Bible is full of instances in which someone is rightfully rebuked for their sin (i.e.: Mark 6:17-18, Luke 9:54-56, Galatians 2:11-14) and it always involves an honest assessment of the situation and the underlying motive of love for the sinner. Jesus is of course the greatest example of speaking the truth in love (Mark 10:17-22), but another good example is Nathan the prophet who boldly, truthfully, and lovingly confronted King David with his double sin of adultery and murder in 2 Samuel 12. There is no "sugarcoating" in Nathan's direct accusation of David: "You are the man!" But it is also clear that his underlying motive — God's own purpose in using Nathan to rebuke David — is restorative in nature. Likewise, the goal of Christian rebuke should never be retaliation, revenge, or self-vindication, but rather the sinner's best interest — to bring conviction, repentance, forgiveness, and a restored and right relationship with God and others.

As Christians, we are not simply to reprove, rebuke, and exhort; we are to do these things with "complete patience" and a heart for "teaching" (2 Timothy 4:2). By preparing our own heart in humility (Philippians 2:5-8) and with an eye for restoration (Matthew 18:15) rather than condemnation (Matthew 7:1-5), we can follow Christ's example and obey the biblical directive to compassionately and honestly speak the truth in love.

Image Credit: Scott Bergey; "Barn Board"; Creative Commons

TagsBiblical-Truth  |  Christian-Life  |  Personal-Relationships

comments powered by Disqus
Published on 8-7-14