By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
There’s truth and there’s love. We treat them like they can’t co-exist, but they can, should, and must. The reality is truth without love exists, and it’s tearing our country apart. But love? Love can’t exist without truth because if you really love someone, you’ll be honest with them when you need to be. But because of your love, you’ll know the time, place, and moment they will be most receptive and your words will be like honey, not vinegar.
The truth shouldn’t hurt. I know there are a lot of things being discussed online and in offices right now, and I have a lot to say about them. I WANT to say a lot of things, but the truth is I haven’t done enough research.
Speaking the truth requires a lot of research — research by getting to know people, understanding the experiences that are impacted by the truth, and putting yourself in their shoes. While I may not know exactly what to say yet, I do know that Jesus was a great example of how to live in the tension of love and truth. The reality is they cannot exist, one without the other.
We have no right to speak truth if we do not love.
At the end of the day, every truth that Jesus spoke or showed was driven by love, and while it might have hurt in a moment of confusion or misunderstanding, the ultimate goal was always healing. If we’re spewing our truth at the cost of love or compassion, that’s not the Jesus way and I don’t want any part of that.
It’s heartbreaking to see the way Evangelical Christianity is being dragged through the mud as something entirely abusive, repulsive, and hateful because at its core, the goal is to spread the gospel. We’ve turned a terrible blind eye to the tragic ways we’ve attempted to spread the good news, and we can’t deny it anymore. Look to Scripture.
It doesn’t say to not be honest — it doesn’t say to not call out sin in another. In fact, it says the opposite.
“Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” Galatians 6:1
Notice some keywords there — GENTLENESS, RESTORE — not shame, cast away, exclude.
When you rebuke another child of God without love or without a gentle, restorative spirit, you condemn your own body. You’re punching yourself and leaving bruises on your own skin.
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” Ephesians 4:15–16
Now, you may say “well yeah, but that’s a concept for believers — we should be calling people out of their sin so they can walk in light and become part of their body and that requires some rebuking.” Yes and no. I see where you’re coming from because I tend to be a natural truth-teller, but the catch is two-fold here.
1 — If you are talking about speaking truth/rebuking non-believers for their sin so they can repent and join the fold of Christianity, then you’ve got the WWJD mentality backwards. He didn’t demand people turn from their sin before He took care of them. He stopped the men from stoning the woman, had a gentle and loving conversation with her, then after she received His grace, He told her to “go and sin no more” (see John 8). That is our example.
2 — We’re called to share the good news and make disciples of all nations. The good news is that Jesus loves us so much that He died for us so we can live forever in Heaven, but it starts with His love. His love is the very thing that compels us to repent from a sinful lifestyle and move closer to Him (all of us, that is, because we must remember we’re all sinners — everyday).
I’ll refer back to that verse at the beginning — how are we known that we are disciples making disciples? BY OUR LOVE. How do people see Jesus through us in our daily actions and how we interact with others (yes, even online)? BY OUR LOVE. Does that mean we can’t tell the truth? NO — in fact, our love demands that we tell the truth, but if you’re not truly loving then the truth is distorted and rejected.
Why do I write all of this? Our witness as collective Christians today is being trampled on— not because people love to hate us, but because our actions and words have been prioritizing truth in a societal context before we actually show our love for God’s people (yes, even the really annoying/vulgar/got it all wrong people). Thus, the truth has become worthless, demeaned, and tainted by our vitriolic responses to people’s sin. Rejection is inevitable.
How do we change course? I’m honestly not sure if I’ll ever see the tables turn in my lifetime, given the way things are going, but our best chance is to remember the example set by Jesus, to not exacerbate challenging and complicated situations and topics by throwing the baby out with the bath water, and truly seek to understand people, see how they live and think and believe, and love them where they are before we try to tell them the “truth”. At the end of the day, God is the only one who can transform hearts and minds — our job is to love and point people to God’s love.