Kids are pretty honest. I’ve had them tell me that I’m overweight, for instance. That’s true, but is typically not brought up – at least in my presence – by other adults. Kids will tell you what they think about you, about themselves, and sometimes about their family (sometimes to the great embarrassment of others). Kids don’t mean to be offensive; they are just speaking their mind, without the social filters that are taught later on in life.
Even as adults, though, a driving force in some circles seems to be the desire to not offend others. To be clear, I believe that it is fully appropriate to show respect to others, in order to give them a peek at what the love of God looks like. This verse from Colossians describes the importance of grace in conversations with others.
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 4:6 NASB
Furthermore, there is an element where the freedom that is found in following Jesus must sometimes be suspended. There are cases where Christians need to choose to limit what they do, in order to achieve the better goal of salvation in others. That takes some serious humility and love for other people, but demonstrates real understanding of the good news about salvation through Jesus.
To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak; I have become all things to all men, so that I may by all means save some. I do all things for the sake of the gospel, so that I may become a fellow partaker of it.
1 Corinthians 9:22-23 NASB
However, the truth – even when spoken in love – will sometimes offend those who have positioned themselves against the truth (or against being loving). When someone doesn’t know the truth, and is acting in honest ignorance, even loving education and guidance must be timed appropriately (rather than spewed out indiscriminately). On the other hand, when someone knows the truth, but is actively fighting against it, words spoken in truth (even those balanced with love and grace) might still sting a little.
Jesus encountered this, after pointing out major gaps in the legalism of the Pharisees (as a whole, notwithstanding those from that group who sought to follow Him). He spoke the truth to them, and – because of His nature – He loved them. However, the following still resulted from his statement:
Then the disciples came to him and asked, “Do you realize you offended the Pharisees by what you just said?”
Jesus replied, “Every plant not planted by my heavenly Father will be uprooted, so ignore them. They are blind guides leading the blind, and if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a ditch.”
Matthew 15:12-14 NLT
Following in Jesus’ footsteps, it seems that there is a time and a place for Christians to step up and speak the truth.
For instance, when church leadership veers away from the truth of Scripture, sometimes just quietly stepping away and attending church elsewhere isn’t enough. You may be called upon to work to restore the health of the Body of Christ. The answer is not always the same for everyone; however, it may be better to correct (or even remove) a leader who teaches false doctrine, rather than only remaining silent. In not taking action, we may very well leave – or even encourage – someone to keep propagating these skewed messages to others who don’t know any better.
The following verses seem to contradict the idea of being passive when others are fracturing the Body of Christ:
If people are causing divisions among you, give a first and second warning. After that, have nothing more to do with them. For people like that have turned away from the truth, and their own sins condemn them.
Titus 3:10-11 NLT
Elsewhere, individual members of the Body may need to be brought back on course. Every one of us makes mistakes, but when words, actions, or influence drive others away from the salvation and life that Jesus offers, leaving the situation alone is likely to lead to worse – not better – results. (Notice how separating an unrepentant offender from a community demonstrates consequences of wrong actions, while also helping to preserve the integrity of the congregation.)
“If another believer sins against you, go privately and point out the offense. If the other person listens and confesses it, you have won that person back. But if you are unsuccessful, take one or two others with you and go back again, so that everything you say may be confirmed by two or three witnesses. If the person still refuses to listen, take your case to the church. Then if he or she won’t accept the church’s decision, treat that person as a pagan or a corrupt tax collector.
Matthew 18:15-17 NLT
So, to those who are hurting and seeking help, don’t create more pain. Share the hope and help that Jesus offers with them. However, when necessary, if you encounter someone who is claiming to follow Jesus, but is directing others away from Jesus and His teachings, you might need to speak truth in love, even if that may be seen as offensive. May you – and I – be led by the Holy Spirit to know when the offense of the truth is more important than the comfort of silence.