Out Of The Abundance Of The Heart
What does speaking the truth in love mean? And how do we go about judging the character of those who claim to do this, ourselves especially?
In Luke’s gospel account, we find Jesus at one point not only telling us to judge character, but also telling us how to go about it.
“For no good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit, for each tree is known by its own fruit. For figs are not gathered from thornbushes, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. The good person out of the good treasure of his heart produces good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure produces evil, for out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks.”
I would note that this comes right after the teaching about removing the log from our own eye so we can see clearly to remove a speck from our brother’s.
According to Jesus, our word choices reveal our character. I want you to consider this in connection with one of the Proverbs.
A soft answer turns away wrath,
but a harsh word stirs up anger.
Extra-biblical phrases come to mind as reinforcing this principle:
“A spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down.”
“You catch more flies with honey than you do with vinegar.”
What Jesus says is true about our words revealing our character; it certainly must be since Jesus is the truth. So what is revealed about our character when we choose harsh words where we could have offered a soft answer?
Is the same thing revealed then as when we try to remove the speck from our brother’s eye before removing the log from our own?
With Gentleness and Respect
Something the Apostle Peter writes, which has been on my mind a lot lately, comes to mind in this circumstance as well.
Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.
What does does the Apostle Peter mean when he says to “make a defense to anyone… with gentleness and respect”? And how do we know when we or others have succeeded or failed in this?
We live in a post-modern, post-truth, relativistic culture. Everything is supposedly subjective now. This makes it hard to insist that your words mean what you say they mean and nothing else. It also means people are not trained or accustomed to understanding what is being said as having an inherent meaning. On the contrary, people are accustomed to supposing things mean whatever they want them to mean.
For the Christian to operate in this vacuum of objectivity and critical thinking, of common sense and consideration, or to insist that truth is objective and universal and independent of your liking it – this is more than enough to invite scorn, no matter how gentle and respectful you are.
Quick To Hear, Slow To Speak, Slow To Anger
Feeling so out of place is frustrating. It is frustrating, encountering hostility when trying to bless others with the truth we Christians were commanded to share with the world.
Yet James gives wise counsel.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God. Therefore, put away all filthiness and rampant wickedness and receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.
But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the one who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.
If anyone thinks he is religious and does not bridle his tongue but deceives his heart, this person’s religion is worthless. Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.
When we become angry, even at injustice and evil, we must pause. Faith produces action, not just hasty words. Moreover, we Christians are called to bridle our tongues, and be quick to listen.
As my mother often reminded me in childhood,
Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise;
when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent.
Yet wisdom would have us listen and consider before speaking or acting.
Speaking The Truth In Love
The Apostle Paul touches on this in his letter to Ephesian believers. He paints a picture of Christ’s intentions for us, both individually and corporately.
He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.
What does it mean to speak the truth in love? And, again, how do we know we have succeeded or failed in doing it?
Throughout the Scriptures we are assured that the world hated Christ and will hate us too. How can we know we are succeeding in speaking the truth in love, then? Surely, we cannot rely on the world to tell us. We cannot depend on the emotions of those who love darkness and hate light.
Yet we have the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Spirit to know and define truth and love.