Speak Truth Softly

February 17, 2016 — 1 Corinthians 8:1–6

Now concerning food offered to idols: we know that “all of us possess knowledge.” This “knowledge” puffs up, but love builds up. If anyone imagines that he knows something, he does not yet know as he ought to know. But if anyone loves God, he is known by God.
Therefore, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “an idol has no real existence,” and that “there is no God but one.” For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth — as indeed there are many “gods” and many “lords” — yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am a product of the society that I have grown up in. As much as I strive to understand and know the realities of the Bible, I am going to constantly fall short with my puny human brain. I often lack the humility that I need to address things thoughtfully, and allow my understanding to trump other’s musings. For that I am sorry; I want to grow.

Unfortunately I am not alone. Many American Christians put the cart before the horse in terms of the knowledge/love divide. We think that what we know to be true about something should end up driving the bus when it comes to our actions. One question that I often hear people ask is something to the effect of: how do I tell non-believers the truth of their sins in love? There will always be a range, but more often than not we like to err on the side of having stated the facts that are true, even if it ends up being harmful to someone’s feelings.

Believe me, I have heard the analogy that if someone is in a dangerous situation the most loving thing to do is to yell, and flail your arms, and do everything you can to drag them out of there. I absolutely agree. But just as you would pull the absent minded pedestrian out of the street to avoid getting hit by an oncoming car, you would not be quite as forceful with someone taking one too many helpings of cherry pie after dinner.

Its not to say that you think either of those situations are good for the person, but there is an appropriate level of action to take based on the level of harm that is involved.

I don’t want to be accused of not saying sin is serious. It was absolutely serious enough that the very God of the universe, took on flesh and became part of His creation in order to live an uninteresting life, die a humiliating death, and permanently unite other humans to Himself. It is through being united to God that we are saved from our sin. It is only by taking on the atoning life of Jesus that we are able to have a life that allows us to be one with God.

However, with all of that knowledge about how to be saved there is a level of love that is required to express it. Recently I heard a memorable quote on the radio saying that the strength of our words should match the strength of our relationship. When we lead with knowledge rather than with love, often the strength of our words are going to be much stronger than the strength of our relationship. Sure, you can pull a pedestrian out of the way of a speeding car no problem, but for you to be able to speak into the life of the chronic over-eater you need to be in close enough relationship that your correction doesn’t come across as an insult.

Paul makes it clear that our knowledge can puff us up to the point that we are no longer considering the needs of others as more important than ourselves. In the life of the believer the Spirit will make it clear how to speak truth in love to those who you are in relationship with. Our problem is that we have a hard time trusting that will ever happen, so we often take it into our own hands to educate as many people as possible. We are in effect yanking people away from the dessert table and demanding they eat more vegetables, because we totally care about their health, right? Or do we care more about what is true?

Our words matter. The fact that we put more emphasis on our knowledge of the facts betrays our lack of understanding that truth is a person. If we are really interested in saving the lost, we need to introduce them to that truth, not by telling them about Him, but rather being His real, true, actual body to them. Speaking the truth doesn’t always need to be bombastic, sometimes it is the subtle language of precious loving silence.