We know it’s wrong to yell “fire!” in a crowded theater (at least, we should know that). What about when there is actually a fire, though, and those that we care about need to get out? Maybe a fire is pretty uncommon, but our friends and family deal with challenging situations where loved ones need to hear some hard truths, in order to make a positive change in their lives (or avoid preventable disasters).
I think that some people think of the teachings of Jesus as always positive and always loving. It is true that everything He spoke was out of love, but sometimes love required that He say some fairly pointed truths. For instance, while reading the Bible during our post-dinner devotions recently, we were in Matthew chapter 23 (Matthew 23:13-39), where Jesus pronounces woe on “teachers of the law and Pharisees” multiple times and in different ways. He refers to them as “hypocrites”, “a child of hell”, “blind guides”, “blind fools”, “blind men”, “snakes”, and a “brood of vipers”.
Did Jesus say these things out of malice? I certainly don’t think so, but how do we reconcile God’s love with hard truth? Perhaps we have equated love with making people feel good about themselves, or believing that grace means that we must always be “nice” to people.
We can – and should – study 1 Corinthians 13 to learn more about what love is, but when you do, I don’t think that you’ll find any indication that love requires us to suppress the truth when someone else needs to hear it. We should warn children (and some adults) to not touch a hot stove, and there are times when – out of love – we must point out sin and false beliefs in other peoples’ lives, so that they (and others) can be saved from its consequences. There is also a place for church discipline, including removing those from the church whose teachings are drawing people away from the truth, if the error of their ways has been shown to them and they remain unrepentant.
Paul, in his letter to the church at Galatia, gives us another example:
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you to live in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel— which is really no gospel at all. Evidently some people are throwing you into confusion and are trying to pervert the gospel of Christ.
Galatians 1:6-7 NIV
Paul is pretty blunt, here! Can you imagine how most Americans would react if we presented something to them in this way? Their feelings might be hurt, and many would become defensive.
However, Proverbs 13:1 reminds us that listening to instruction (or even “rebuke”, I think) makes us better. Paul knows that the Galatians don’t need to simply feel good about themselves, especially when they are following the wrong teachers and going on a path that will lead them away from the grace of God. Paul knows that the Galatians need the truth, presented clearly and in a manner that can help them get back on track.
A few verses after the passage from Galatians quoted above, verse 10 reminds us that even when we speak the truth in love, to help other people find a better life in the person and teaching of Jesus Christ, our hearers might still not approve. As human beings, we generally don’t like to hear that we are wrong, especially once we’ve committed to an idea, told other people about it, and started embracing that idea in our lifestyle decisions.
Paul isn’t here to make people just feel good about their choices, though, especially when those decisions were wrong (and harmful to both individuals and the Body of Christ). He is obeying God’s instructions, even if this means that some people won’t like what he tells them.
This is one thing that I appreciate about our church: an emphasis on the truth of the Bible is core to our teachings. When it comes to preaching, the elders can validate what is being said (against the Bible), and when it comes to teaching, individual Christians are expected to provide their own “fact-checking”. I don’t mean that the pastor or I never accidentally mis-speak, or accidentally leave a word out when reading from the Bible, but if he or I teach anything that is incompatible with the Word of God, it is incumbent upon the hearers to check into that, and bring it to our attention, or to others who can help resolve the inconsistency.
This isn’t about nitpicking or trying to tear someone down. Instead, correction should be born, 1) from our love for all who hear these messages (so that they can hear the truth), 2) out of our love for those who teach and preach (so that they can be as accurate as possible in the future, and avoid the curses of doing otherwise), and 3) because of our love for God (who wants all people to know the truth – see 1 Timothy 2:3-4).
May those be our reasons for any correction or hard truths that we have to share today.
From Sunday School lesson prepared for August 1, 2021
- The Lookout, August 1, 2021 © 2021 Christian Standard Media.
- Scripture taken from the Holy Bible, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
- The College Press Commentary, Galatians & Ephesians, by Kenneth L. Boles. College Press Publishing Company, © 1993, p.32-60.