Saturday, November 6, 2010

Speak The Truth In Love

Earlier this year, I had the following dream:

In the dream I was an observer. I watched as the Commander of the Lord’s army came to inspect His troops. He evaluated many things, then had a word with His leaders and left. There was a staff meeting afterward. The leaders discussed the only deficiency found by the Lord’s Commander – it was our conversation. We were giving away things to the enemy that they didn’t know, which was then used it against us. An order went out to reign in all conversations that weren’t beneficial or that were critical of others.

I wrote about the strategic implications of the dream previously. That message can be found here.

The dream left me confused and dismayed for a while. How could I have gotten things so wrong?

If I had to pick the things I wanted to see corrected in the church, I would have come up with a different list.

What about holiness?

What about prayer?

What about giving?

What about evangelism?

What about truth?

Didn’t any of these things matter to God?

How could the words we speak be of such great importance?

His ways are not our ways, nor are His thoughts our thoughts.

The apostle John said that he rejoiced when he found some of the brethren walking in the truth (2 John 1:4). Paul had words of correction for the churches of Corinth and Galatia. The epistles are a mixture of words affirming the positive and correcting the negative things found in the church. We don’t question whether the apostles had the authority to correct others.

Why not?
They were given their positions by God, being personally picked and discipled by Jesus. They were directed by the Holy Spirit how and where to build fellowships. They labored for years at great cost to themselves, suffering persecution and poverty for the sake of nurturing their fellowships. The revelation of truth they taught came directly from the Holy Spirit. And they developed personal relationships with the ones they instructed. Through all these things, the apostles earned the right to admonish the ones they saw in error. That’s the New Testament model for giving correction.

How many of us are following it today?

Correction in the modern church doesn’t resemble this model. Words of correction come from anyone on any subject. Nothing is off limits and no one needs to earn the right to speak a word of correction. We see ourselves as guardians of the truth; valiant soldiers of God wielding the sword against lies and deception. But something is terribly wrong here.

We often quote the phrase, “speak the truth in love”. Search your heart and you may realize that we seldom use it except when giving a word of correction. Often the only reason we use it is to show biblical grounds for correcting someone we think is in error. Something in our soul knows that correction done the wrong way is damaging, but something else in us loves correcting the wrong thinking of others. If we correct and throw in the required verse, it appears to justify our action.

Does it really?
A Facebook friend posted something to this effect after a recent heated disagreement: “This isn’t me talking, it’s the word of God. People should just read their bibles. There’s so much wrong teaching going on.”

This was posted by a believer who reads her bible. She was arguing with other believers who read the same bible. The argument was over different methods of healing. It’s typical of the kind of problem most of us deal with.

Many of our disagreements are over things of minor importance. Methods of healing may be important to some, but they’re not foundational to Christianity. It’s not worth losing a friend over nor is it worthy of heated debate. Yet we start blogs and groups for the purpose of debating and arguing trivial matters. Part of the problem is that we have things prioritized incorrectly. We yell what God whispers and whisper what He yells.

Another problem is pride.

There’s a need inside many of us to be publicly justified. Being right isn’t enough; we need to be right publicly. Give a man some knowledge and a gift and he’ll build an empire around them. One way for us to be seen as right is to prove our opponents wrong. Facebook, for example has become an ocean of self-appointed experts on religion; a watering hole for insecure souls in desperate need of public justification.

The believer who needs to correct employs diversions to keep a clear conscience. The most common is to cite scripture then claim the argument isn’t with them, but with God. As my friend did, we avoid taking personal responsibility for the damage by saying, “That’s not me, it’s the bible.”

This tactic leaves us thinking God is on our side. Unfortunately, our opponent usually has a handful of bible verses backing up their argument. All we’re doing is arguing our experiences and interpretations against theirs. We are responsible for the damage inflicted, though we pretend to be innocent. What the Lord pointed out in the dream was that our criticism of others gives the enemy information they don’t have. By correcting others in this way, we’re actually helping the enemy.

How then do we correct others?

In love
Speaking the truth in love is not sharing our understanding of the truth to a stranger, believing we are showing them love by telling them the truth. That’s how it looked to me before I had the dream.

Speaking the truth in love means that love is present in our heart before correction is given. Love must precede any correction of others. Like the apostles, having a heart of love qualifies us and insures that our words come from the right heart. You may have suffered persecution for the gospel. You may have given up all you possessed for the kingdom. But none of this earns you the right to correct another, unless you first demonstrate love toward them in a personal way.

If we love someone, we have their best interest in mind, always. If we love them we sacrifice for them; love does not seek its own. If we love others we’re willing to give up our pride and humble ourselves to win them as friends; love is not puffed up. If we love others we’ll take the time to build a relationship of trust before trying to correct them, even if it takes years; love suffers long.

If we meditate on what it is to love others, it may change how we do things. Pastors, apostles, prophets and all in church leadership may have a bit of soul searching to do, if we’re going to reign in speech that is damaging the flock of God.

How has this been worked out in my own life?

I’ve found myself overlooking a lot of conversations I would have commented on a year ago. I now realize I’m not the truth police. It isn’t my job to correct every weird opinion or erroneous statement someone makes. I see a lot of posts that seem to be a bit "off". Instead of reading and correcting, I ignore them. If I have no relationship with the one who wrote it, I usually let it go. If I want to help someone, I take a few weeks or months getting to know them before challenging or teaching them. That takes time and I'm a busy person. It's cut down on the time I would have wasted correcting someone who wouldn't hear me anyway.

There are exceptions. Some friends have read my posts for a while and learned enough about me to ask for advice on something. In most cases I had no idea that I was gaining trust with them until they sent me an e-mail. Sometimes we’re given the right to speak into a stranger's life by virtue of a position we have, but it’s always extended by the one seeking advice. Hard as this may be for some of us to swallow, our title doesn’t give us the right to correct someone we have no relationship with. It must always be earned.