01 October 2011

Love, Pride, and Speaking Truth

We live in a world, and a Christian world, in which offending another is, in the realm of human relationship, the supreme vice. Confronted with the choice to actively speak what one believes to be true or passively let sleeping dogs lie in the name of love, we often choose the latter.

All we say must be done in love. That is non-negotiable. But even what that means has been hijacked in some ways by the world, softness being mistaken for love. When called for, neither Moses nor the prophets nor Jesus nor Paul nor Peter nor even the gentle-hearted John (see 1 John 2:4; 3:8, or the 'arrogance' of 4:6) refrained from non-subtle, non-manipulating, non-face-saving words of piercing truth, spoken in love yet doubtless perceived as harshness. And note that almost all of them were accused of arrogance, even Jesus. Were they unloving? No; it was their love itself that fueled such penetrating language.

May we examine ourselves? Asking if, at times, what we deem to be kindness on our part is cowardice? 'I don't want to be seen as offensive' can feel like 'I want the best for my brother.' Self-guarding is mistaken for love. It is in fact love of self. The devil smiles.

Luther is a massive breath of fresh air in these things. Such defibrillating clarity. In the letter to Pope Leo X that prefaces Luther's The Freedom of a Christian, Luther says:
Now I will admit to attacking false or unchristian teachings. I have not criticized the bad morals of my opponents but rather their ungodly doctrines. I am not going to repent of this! After all, I am only following the example of Christ, who did not hesitate to call his opponents such things as 'a brood of vipers'. . . . And think of the stinging criticism of the prophets! However, our ears have become more finely attuned to the empty praises of the endless lines of flatterers. As a result, we protest when any of our opinions meets with disapproval. . . .

Therefore, blessed Leo, when you read this letter and understand my intentions, I hope you see that I have never meant ill toward you personally. I have only the best wishes for you. I have no argument with any person with regard to morals. But I am unyielding when it comes to contending about the word of truth. In all other things, I will gladly yield, but I have neither the power nor the will to deny the word. If others view my motives differently, they either are not thinking straight or have failed to understand what I have said. (The Freedom of a Christian, p. 35)
Pride is frightfully pervasive, in my heart and yours. And this is a love-starved world. But let's be sure we understand what it means, truly, to renounce pride and love others.


RC Cunningham said...

Well said, that is a great and challenging reminder.
One other great thing to clarify in this issue is the difference between 'truth' and 'opinion'. In instances where the truth of the gospel is at stake, your words are obviously a great reminder. However, I know many men who proudly consider themselves 'truth-tellers'. Guys who say, 'this is just how I am', 'I say it like it is', I'm a 'truthful' guy. They carry this into their marriage and friendships and it's absolutely devastating. They start thinking that 'saying what they think' is the same as 'speaking truth' to someone else (and they leave love completely out of the equation). And thus, on a daily basis, when their wife asks how she looks, what they think about her dress, how they like the way she has re-arranged the house...they bark 'truth' back at her and let her know their disapproval...all the while justifying their demeaning words in the name of 'being truthful'. Again, this may seem totally off-topic, unfortunately though, I've known many men who have taken an exhortation to be 'truthful' when the truth of the gospel is at stake to mean force your 'opinion' on things that are not significant.

Dane Ortlund said...

RC, that is not 'off-topic,' that is a very good and wise comment. Thanks.

Brad said...


Recently, a few people left our church because they were tired of the accountability and truth that was being spoken into their lives. These people were new Christians, who had very tough backgrounds, and I just think they got overwhelmed and burdened by all of the changes they needed to make in their lives.

I realized that it is ok to not call out every sin you see in someone's life.

I would love to read your thoughts on when it is appropriate "to passively let sleeping dogs lie in the name of love."


Anonymous said...

This is something I have been thinking a lot about with regard to relationships with other believers who might fall into different camps of thought than myself. I think pride is a huge stumbling block in having good discussion, as well as a healthy understanding of love and truth.

I find your thoughts encouraging and a good starting point in better understanding "truth" and "love" and how they impact our conversations. Thanks!