Lesson 2 Speak the Whole Truth
"Do you want to know the truth?" We've heard that question before; sometimes we've said it. What usually follows is a negative comment. And, indeed, we've often identify truth telling with criticism. The theme of this message is that we are responsible to speak the whole truth, not just our negative perspective.
I received a letter once that began with a compliment. The author expressed his appreciation for my ministry and for some talk I had given. I liked that. I felt good about myself reading his words. He then went on to admonish me. He felt some phrase I had used might have come across as insensitive to others. As I thought about it, I agreed with him. Now, was I able to receive his admonition and benefit from it because he first used flattery to soften me up? That's one perspective. Another perspective of what he did is that he took time to speak the whole truth – the positive, along with the negative. Because he made the effort to do so, I was encouraged and enabled to receive correction at the same time.
When I have talked to some people about the necessity of thinking through how to speak encouragingly, they respond that taking such pains is too much pain to bother with! "I can't worry about how everyone will take my words. It's too much trouble. What matters is that the truth be spoken." I agree; the truth is to be spoken, and they have condemned themselves with their own words. For to speak the truth without speaking it in love is a failure to speak the whole truth. Furthermore, such an attitude reveals that the individual loves neither truth nor his brother in Christ, and that he is indifferent to the heart of Christ. Finally, he is only working against himself, making his "truth" harder to be received. These are strong words, but let me explain.
Consider the matter of loving truth. If I am really concerned for truth, I will be as eager to spread good news as bad news, encouraging words as deflating words. I will be as quick to spot what someone has gotten right as I do error. Otherwise, I am not a truth lover but a mere faultfinder.
Furthermore, I actually become guilty of suppressing truth. As the Executive Minister, if I tell a member of my staff only what he does wrong and not what he does right, I am not telling the whole story. I paint a portrait of him only from the vantage point of his faults (or what I consider faults). For example, it would be easy for me to evaluate my pastoral staff on administrative performance. How good are they at keeping expense records and with time management? Are they punctual? Do they keep me informed of their whereabouts? Now, I do think these are valuable performance qualities, but they do not tell the whole story of the pastoral staff's performance. These things say nothing about how effective they are at counseling a person about a complex personal problem; or about how well they come along side someone experiencing grief; or how well they make a child feel loved or how effectively they teach God's Word.
If I measure my pastoral staff according to how organize they are, I not only don't tell the whole story, but I place more value where it should not be. I'm not with the pastor who comes in late for a meeting because he got caught up being a good listener to someone who needed him. All I see is someone coming in late for a meeting yet again. I could brew over his offense. Why won't he respect his commitments? Why won't he respect me? Do you see what is happening? What I am really upset about is not that he fails to perform as he ought, but that his tardiness affects me. What I see and the measure by which I tend to judge is what affects me. Now, if I take him aside and admonish him for his problem of coming in late to meetings, I need to speak the whole truth – that, yes, he needs to work on being on time, and I'm glad to have a minister who loves his people.
Jack and Mary Miller made it a point that whenever they needed to admonish someone about a negative, they would also speak of a positive. This is not a mere matter of buttering up someone before tearing into them. It's simply a matter of being fully honest. It is also a helpful tool to keep me from going overboard with a negative perspective.
Again, what I am getting at here is examining our own hearts about our claim to love the truth. "If the truth be told," I am more motivated in my "truth telling" by what irks me rather than wanting the whole truth to be known. I certainly am not motivated by love for my brother or sister. I remember an experience that happened soon after taking my first term here at Tenth. I had experienced a kidney stone during the week and while giving the announcements the following Sunday before worship, I took time to thank those praying for me and made some comments about my ordeal. After the service, I stood at the church entrance greeting the hundreds of worshippers passing through the doors. An out of town couple who visited occasionally, stopped, shook my hand, and proceeded to tell me that they had come to hear the minister preach and not to hear my health report which took up needless time. But as they left, they let me know they were only speaking the truth out of love. Now, they may have been correct about my not needing to give a report, but they were not telling the truth about their motivation. What they were doing was getting their disgruntlement off their chests.
And that often is what we are doing when we "speak the truth" to someone else. When we feel compelled to admonish a brother, to correct a teacher publicly, to let a neighbor know the error of his ways, we are often compelled by irritation and by our own need to be heard. If I really want the truth to be known, I will take the time to consider how to make it known in such a way as to be received and have a positive effect. Galatians 6:1 says to restore a brother who is sinning in a "spirit of gentleness." The proverbs speak time and again of speaking cautiously. Chapter 15 refers to giving a "soft answer," having a "gentle tongue," "an apt answer,' "a word in season," "ponder[ing] how to answer." All these cases are making the point that merely blurting out words, even truthful words, is not enough. We must speak at the right time in the right way for the truth to be heard and made beneficial.
"But I need to speak out for the honor of Christ. I can't let heresy or bad witness go unchallenged." If I am truly motivated for the honor of Christ, then I will all the more make the effort to let the whole truth be known about this person who is a member of Christ's body. I will all the more desire to build him up into maturity in Christ Jesus. My obedience to truth will make me have a sincere brotherly love from a pure heart (cf. 1 Peter 1:22). Christ commanded that we love one another. And so we must be as ardent in pursuing love as we are in pursuing truth. Otherwise, we are ignoring the doctrinal truth that love is the mark of a Christian.
Finally, the Christian who does not make it his urgent business to speak the truth in love is only working against himself. The teacher tells the lazy student that his failure to study is only hurting himself. His efforts to get out of homework and to cut corners works against him when the tests come. It is the same for the Christian who will not take the time to prepare his listener to hear his truth telling. If he really cares about the truth, he will care that the truth is heard; and he will make the effort to do what is necessary for such a result. The reality behind saying that it is too much work to be concerned about how a fellow believer receives a truthful word is that the speaker is lazy.
Do you want change to occur? Do you want the heresy spoken not merely to be refuted, but the heretic actually changing what it believes? Do you want the sinner to be reformed? If you will take the time to speak the whole in love, you are more likely to attain your end. If the person you are speaking to sees in you a real lover of truth who loves him and wants the best for him, he is more likely to receive your correction with open ears, and more importantly, an open heart. I know that the work of conviction and even of hearing is that of the Holy Spirit, but all the more then we have a responsibility to speak in such a way that does not grieve the Spirit. We do not have the right to make the Spirit not only to have to convict the other person about his error, but to give that person the grace to overlook our unnecessary offensiveness.
Speak the truth, but speak the whole truth in the love of Christ Jesus.
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