Speaking Truth With Love
In this election season, the airwaves drip with contempt. Candidates’ supporters call each other names and pretend to read other’s mind: “He’s just saying that because . . .” Anyone who supports the opposing candidate is deemed crazy, or worse (even in Christian circles and Christian media). When questioned about such meanness, people say, “I’m only speaking the truth” . . . as if speaking truth means we no longer need to love.
I’ll never stop being enthralled by how Jesus was contempt-free and instead genuinely loved his enemies (the Jewish leaders were who opposed him). No matter how stressful the situation, Jesus did what was best for the people around him (the core of love). Meanness did not erupt from Jesus because he had not stored up contempt within him.
Take, for example, Jesus’ arrest. When threatened with arrest, some people become so angry they lead car chases and shoot at the police. Indeed, the temple police and Roman soldiers came equipped with lanterns, torches and weapons to trap this itinerant preacher who had never wielded a sword.
Picture Jesus’ serenity as the chief priests who had taunted him and plotted to kill him now stand before him (Luke 22:52). Free of contempt or scorn, he doesn’t call them names or breathe threats. Can you imagine his calm facial expression?
He doesn’t sarcastically say, “I knew you’d show up eventually.” He shows no sign of agitation or turmoil. “A peace and calm which is beyond the world possess Him. . . .His extreme gentleness of manner is marvelous... full of dignity and measured reason which is more effective than hot wrath.”
Such serenity would not have been possible if Jesus had daily brooded over the chief priests’ self-important attitudes or dwelt on their death threats as he walked along or tried to go to sleep at night. Out of his focused, clean and compassionate love for all these people responsible for his torture and death, he said, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing” (Luke 23:34).
Jesus responded with love and serenity at these stressful moments because he trusted God and lived within the life of God (John 13.31; 15:9; 17:22, 23). This the life you and I are invited to. It involves a retraining the entire self so drenched in a culture of contempt so we can easily “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
Consider how Jesus not only addresses Judas, his betrayer, as “Friend” but also states the hard truth to Judas to “do what you came for" (Matthew 26:50). When Peter slices off the ear of the high priest’s slave, Jesus heals the poor slave in love but turns to Peter to present hard-to-swallow truth: “Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?" (Matthew 26:53-54).
Speaking the truth in love is one of the most difficult things to do. Most of us are better at speaking truth (often in pride or anger, perhaps saying: “I’m sorry. That’s what the Bible says” or “Somebody had to tell him!”) or we are skip the truth, lying out of sentimentality (“I don’t mind driving five hundred miles out of my way to bring you your lunch.”) Both may have good intentions, but truth-tellers end up speaking the truth with harshness and this contempt withers the soul. Sentimentalists can’t be trusted because they don’t mean what they say and can’t be depended upon to follow through.
A first step in learning to speak the truth in love is to step into the life of Jesus, stay there in certain moments, and admire his serenity. Imagine his face as he calls Judas, “Friend” and tenderly heals the ear of his enemy’s slave. He did not insult or demean those who would kill him. May we sit in the life of Jesus today and gain the compassionate, truthful heart of Jesus. (Stay tuned next month for “Was Jesus angry?”)
This is an excerpt from chapter 8 of Invitation to the Jesus Life. Each chapter takes you into a scene in the life of Jesus and helps you encounter him, explains what that quality of Jesus’ life would look like today and offers specific practices (disciplines) that help people receive that quality of Jesus into themselves.
Grace and peace,
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