A conference my church is hosting this weekend for 20s and 30s is called Speaking the Truth in Love, which is such a great theme for the day, age and generation that we live in.
But it has got me thinking about my own life, and whether I’m prepared to speak ‘the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth’ as the age-old sworn testimony demands.
If you’re anything like me, speaking the truth is actually challenging enough, let alone adding the ‘in love’ part. There’s a tendency within me – and I think I can say, us as a generation – to confuse ‘in love’ with a hesitancy towards challenge, confrontation, and worst of all, awkwardness.
We can put up as our model a frankly neutered Jesus – gentle, meek, mild, wouldn’t hurt a fly – never opposing anyone, and never confrontational regarding someone’s sin, lifestyle and misconceptions concerning God.
We could look at the woman caught up in adultery and feel as if to speak the truth in ‘love’ is to match Jesus’ statement of: “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you? … Neither do I condemn you” (John 8:10-11).
Yet we forget that Jesus never backs down from the truth. His love is such that he reveals to us that speaking God’s truth over a person is the most loving thing we can do. He models the fact that this truth may even demand something from them, or cause a reaction that doesn’t result in a deeper friendship in the moment.
To carry on with the example from John 8, Jesus finishes his conversation with the woman by saying: “Go, and from now on sin no more.” This proves that Jesus is unafraid to call a spade a spade when it comes to speaking of people’s sin as the means by which they’re unable to reach God – see the story of the Samaritan woman in John 4 as another example of this.
He actively confronts and opposes people where necessary – pretty much every Pharisaical conversation in the gospels – and even turns people away if they don’t grasp at the full extent of the truth – the rich young ruler perhaps? Jesus recognised that speaking the truth, and being convicted by it personally, is far more important than avoiding strain in a relationship.
To love, then, is to be prepared to speak the truth. To love is to desire the best for someone else, and so if we know that a situation is contrary to what scripture says, then the most loving thing we can do is to speak that truth. Even if it’s not what we want to say, or what they want to hear.
Of course, there’s the challenge of how to do that wisely and in a way that is non-judgemental since we stand as far short of God’s standard as anyone we’re speaking to. Yet there’s still the call of Christ over our lives to hold fast to the standard to which we were called.
As such, I suppose I’m wondering what it means in this day and age to be prepared to speak the truth first, and afterwards think about the ‘in love’ bit. What does it look like to speak the truth when it can be costly to us? When it puts an obstacle in a friendship? When it stands very much opposed to the culture we live in?
I can’t help but look at the level of debate within and outside the church concerning what the Bible says on sexual ethics and gender; whether there are such things as gender roles, hell, and God having a ‘wrath’; and wonder whether in all these things there might be a bigger conversation at play: what does it mean to submit everything to Christ?
What does it mean for us to be prepared to join him in the garden and say: “Not my will but your will,” even if that contains an inward wrenching and turmoil due to conflicting emotions and rationales akin to Jesus’ agony? What does it mean to take up my cross daily and follow him, dying to the old Nick in order to fully recognise the new man who lives in Christ?
God has a demand over my life. He demands that I follow Him absolutely and uncompromisingly. That if necessary, I would leave my family, wealth, and physical desires behind me for the sake of knowing Him.
Ultimately, it has to come down to a recognition of the glory, beauty and scandal of the gospel. Jesus died to take every ounce of sin, shame, mess and brokenness within me, in order to give me all the love, acceptance, assurance, blessing, empowerment, identity, joy, security, satisfaction, hope and help I could ever possibly need or desire as a child of God.
As such, following him as the truth is everything.
This was most hammered home to me when I was hanging out with a friend and realised that the Spirit and scriptures were prompting me to challenge him about some of his lifestyle choices. I hated that prompting, because to say: “You’re not walking fully in the truth here,” is not pleasant and could all too easily appear seriously unloving.
Yet the more I wrestled with it, the more I realised that Jesus was also challenging me with the question of what was of more importance: my own comfort, or my obedience to him. Or perhaps even harder, my love for him versus my perceived ‘love’ for my friend.
I know I made mistakes in how I handled that conversation, and I’m sure that as I go on, there will be many more times where I have to ask forgiveness from someone for not speaking the truth in a loving way.
But I’m glad that in that moment I spoke the truth first. I’d much prefer to have been obedient to Christ than run the risk of denying him, or repenting to him for not speaking what he’d have me say. It’s my hope that I’d be increasingly prepared to speak the truth first and allow the Spirit to mold me on my ‘love’ as I devote myself to that same truth.
The Connect Conference will be held at New Community Church, Sidcup, 18 – 20 November. You can still buy tickets here.