My previous post Speak Life discussed the meaning of speaking life, the importance of doing this as Christians and why I seek to do this with my writing. I also explained that when I say “speak life” I am not saying lie to someone or to affirm something that God says is sin or is otherwise harmful behaviour. Just as it is important to “Speak Life” it is also important to “Truth in Love.”
Love is often equated with blind affirmation, endorsement and celebration of a person’s behaviour in today’s culture. To do otherwise is to question someone else’s identity or “their truth” and is considered a grave cultural sin. This view has become so prominent it has seeped into the beliefs of many Christians, whole denominations, and even caused church splits. Depending on the situation, it can mean the end relationships, be grounds for job termination or get a person into serious legal trouble.
Therefore, it’s no surprise that many people, even those who reject the Bible, claim Jesus would accept of behaviour that the Bible condemns. When a person views love through the lens of blind affirmation and if “God is Love” it’s only natural that they would conclude that such behaviours are permissible. One example of this is a comment I saw recently on a pro-life Instagram post which argued that Jesus would be okay with abortion because he loved and accepted everybody.
While Jesus often reached out to people still enslaved by sin, he never affirmed them in it. He called them out of it. The story of the woman caught in adultery in John 8 is an example of this. It is in this story Jesus says a line that is famous: “He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her”.1
Many would suggest that this means we are not judging another’s behaviour. In reality, it means we are not to say someone is irredeemable. All are in need of redemption. Those who know the story are aware it doesn’t end with this line. Jesus goes back to scribbling in the dirt. Those that sought to stone the woman are convicted by Jesus’ words and leave. When He’s alone with the woman, he utters another line which should be equally famous as “he without sin”:
When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, “Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee?”
She said, “No man, Lord”. And Jesus said unto her, “Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more”.2
Jesus said “go and sin no more”. He didn’t affirm the woman in her adultery. He didn’t say you do, you boo or tell her to live her truth. He called her behaviour for what it was, sin and told her not to continue in it. Jesus loved her enough to be honest with her. He knew should she continue in it, her behaviour would catch up with her.
Some of Jesus’ other confrontations may not seem so loving, such is the case of his encounter with the pharisees in Matthew 23:333:
Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?
After all, name calling isn’t very loving. Surely this must be a mistake? The loving Jesus the world knows wouldn’t do such a thing. Yet there it is in scripture for all to see. Jesus refers to the pharisees as not just snakes, but vipers. So what is the explanation? If we read carefully, we can see why Jesus is so blunt. He’s doesn’t want the pharisees to go to hell. While it may seem harsh to us, Jesus was calling it as was in order to try to save them. He was speaking the truth in love.
Though I have often thought love and truth must go hand in hand, I didn’t think of this passage until I saw Robin D Bullock’s teaching on it. Robin has more insight on it than I do and puts things in such a clear manner that I recommend watching it.4 If you click the link, it will start at the point where Robin talks about speaking truth in love.
You can also check out this Elijah Fire episode featuring Matt Kunneman and Anthony Armstrong5 where they talk about the balance between being bold and loving, and speaking truth in love.
Any Christian worth their salt knows that the truth doesn’t always sound nice. It can hurt people deeply, but if you truly love someone, it is important to be truthful with them. As shown though Jesus, it doesn’t mean affirming someone in their sin. In fact, it suggests that despite what the world thinks lies aren’t love or kindness. Love isn’t always comfortable, it also isn’t a feeling, as illustrated in another famous Jesus quote:
But I tell you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you and persecute you . . . 6
It seems awkward, especially if we equate love with feeling affection toward someone, whether it is romantic or platonic. Chances are you will not feel warm fuzzies about someone who’s making you miserable. But Jesus is asking you to choose to love them, because love is a choice. It doesn’t mean we feel good about that person. Being kind to someone who hates you becomes possible when you ask Jesus for help.
So then, what is love? I think C. S. Lewis put it rather eloquently:
“Love is not an affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained.”7
The only thing I would add would be that a person’s ultimate good must be according to what God says is good.
So speak life, build people up with your words. Speak love in truth, because when reflect Jesus in how we use our words and how we love, the world gets a little more heavenly.
1 John 8:7 World English Bible
2 John 8: 10-11 World English Bible
3 Mathew 23:33 King James Version
6 Matthew 5:44 World English Bible