Yes, it’s true. There are times when I read an article online and that’s the first word that comes to my mind. Maybe the people being described in the article are just making bad decisions. Maybe the author is clearly missing out on (or ignoring) a key fact that would totally change the message. To be clear, I’m not proud of this, and I really hope that others are kinder than me; however, that’s still what pops into my head sometimes.
I would like to be free from this vice, and to be more loving and considerate when I read other points of view. Many times, I’m able to see the other person’s perspective, but sometimes it just seems so incongruous with reality that I struggle to be empathetic. (Your prayers for me on this matter would be appreciated.) On the other hand, maybe you feel the same way about my articles! (If so, let’s talk.)
As I said, I’m not proud of this. Still, there’s a difference between thinking something, and saying it out loud. Imagine what would happen if I just blurted out what I was thinking, right after hearing something I didn’t agree with (maybe even to the speaker). Ouch!
To be clear, telling the truth is absolutely imperative, and it is often much more helpful to come right out and say something, rather than beating around the bush. However, there is a fine line between honesty and being insensitive…or downright rude. As I’ve heard that my great-grandmother would say, “Always tell the truth, but don’t always be telling it”.
Paul, in the book of Colossians, emphasizes the importance of both not lying, and of avoiding other vices in our speech:
But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices,
Colossians 3:8-9 NASB
There are certainly things around us that need to be corrected – whether in others or in our environment. If you’re riding in a car, and the driver is about to turn the wrong way onto a one-way street, you should probably say something. If your lab partner is about to mix the wrong two chemicals, step in. If you just locked your keys in the car…well, you probably wished your buddy had said something ahead of time, instead of laughing at you now.
Other things, though, don’t need to be said. If a friend is telling you a story, and uses the wrong word or wrong grammar – let it go. If a family member is sharing her feelings, don’t pick that time to point out that her earrings don’t match. Sometimes, silence is the best thing we can offer.
However, just getting rid of bad habits – learning to not be mean in what we say – is only half of the battle. Instead, we should use our speech for good. When we do choose to speak, we should choose to say something worthwhile.
Within the next chapter of Colossians, Paul gives us more advice about what to say, this time with some more positive elements that our speech should include, rather than a list of what to avoid:
Conduct yourselves with wisdom toward outsiders, making the most of the opportunity. Let your speech always be with grace, as though seasoned with salt, so that you will know how you should respond to each person.
Colossians 4:5-6 NASB
In this case, I imagine “grace” (giving to others something good that they didn’t earn) to include things like not picking apart the words that someone is using, and listening to what they are trying to share, instead. It may also include sparing others from harsh judgement, so that we can be a blessing and comfort in the moment. (Of course, there is a time and opportunity to guide someone towards decisions that will be better for them – to steer their life in a healthier direction. At other times, though, it’s better to just listen and to provide support. I suspect that most people that we care about won’t listen to good advice from us anyway, until they believe that our advice is worth listening to.)
Here, the importance of grace is put in context, too. It’s not just something we offer because God showed us ridiculous amounts of grace, first (although that would be enough). The grace we show to others is a fundamental part of using the opportunities that God gives us. God provides us chances to share truth with others, but if that truth isn’t mixed with grace, it’s probably not going to be very effective.
Full disclosure: My 15-year-old suggested the title of this article, and the general content, so I can’t take credit for the idea. The minister at our church has also delivered some solid messages on the balance of grace and truth. Our lives must manifest this important balance, but I won’t suggest that this is an easy line to walk.
Regardless of the source, though, let us – including me! – each remember that the truth is not a cudgel. It’s not a tool to help us look superior to others, at their expense. The truth – spoken with grace – is a means to help others find their purpose, their God, and their Savior. May we use it for that goal, today.