no truth apart from love

The wise in heart are called discerning,
and gracious words promote instruction.

Gracious words are a honeycomb,
sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.

Proverbs 16:21,24

Some people seem to think that truth is telling it like it is, no holds barred. But truth in God’s world is always joined with love; you can’t separate them. Love is not love apart from truth; truth is not truth apart from love.

This should be an important baseline on how I judge my own speech and the speech of others. How well I receive a sermon, message or as it’s often called nowadays a conversation around and in God’s word. Is it imbued with grace and truth? If not, it will be lacking.

None of us has it altogether. And we might tend more either toward grace, or truth. People who are known to be blunt are often admired as “telling it like it is,” or “being real.” And others who can never say anything that might be displeasing to others will likely not be taken seriously, or will be seen as flatterers.

What we need is a combination of grace and truth. We speak truth, but we do so gently, with love. In fact we would want to consider and ponder how to make truth as attractive as possible, rather than quite the opposite. What will help us a long way in that direction is humility, the realization of how much we ourselves are in need of grace. That should help us put a curb on our harshness, and hopefully find in time that it no longer characterizes us.

When we understand our own great need for God’s mercy and grace, we won’t look down on others. But instead will want to help them with the help God gives us. In and through Jesus.

Jesus was not always “nice”

“Woe to you Pharisees, because you love the most important seats in the synagogues and respectful greetings in the marketplaces.

“Woe to you, because you are like unmarked graves, which people walk over without knowing it.”

One of the experts in the law answered him, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us also.”

Jesus replied, “And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.

“Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering.”

When Jesus went outside, the Pharisees and the teachers of the law began to oppose him fiercely and to besiege him with questions, waiting to catch him in something he might say.

Meanwhile, when a crowd of many thousands had gathered, so that they were trampling on one another, Jesus began to speak first to his disciples, saying: “Be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy. There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known. What you have said in the dark will be heard in the daylight, and what you have whispered in the ear in the inner rooms will be proclaimed from the roofs.

“I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him. Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

Luke 11:43-46, 52-54; 12:1-7

The entire passage of the above link, Luke 11:29-12:12 is worth a good slow read. Jesus’s sayings are not only hard, but at spots seemingly impossible (verses 47-51). We don’t necessarily understand, but maybe in the latter case we could surmise that given the light from the past that those of Jesus’s day had, they should have learned and done better. Jesus’s words are often blunt, not coated with the spiritual flourish we often spin in our words and explanations, or more like simply being largely mute on the subject, saying little or nothing.

Of course these hard sayings of Jesus have to be put in the context of the whole. Jesus was welcoming to everyone. At the same time, Jesus never spared anyone. Think of Peter and the other disciples. If you want someone nice who will bless everything you do, and thinks you are fine just the way you are, then don’t look to Jesus. As to how we’re created as humans in God’s image, each and everyone of us, that Jesus would fully affirm. It’s our sin that he won’t. And that’s for our good. Just like children, we shouldn’t suppose that whatever we think and do is somehow okay, or that self-actualization according to our whims or fancy is good.

We have to receive this for ourselves, and I think it also translates over to how we’re to try to help others. We do no one any good at all by simply accepting all they do as alright. It’s not like we should be critiquing those who don’t care. After all, Jesus said not to throw your pearls to pigs. But we do believe anyone can turn and choose to listen so that the light can shine in the darkness so that by God’s grace there can be change, indeed a changed life.

But we must emphasize this for ourselves. And be slow and light to ever put it on someone else. Anyone who is willing to receive such from the Lord or from one of his disciples is indeed truly blessed.

This is all for our good; we need it. We need to receive it for our own benefit, and as an example to others. That they too might learn to receive it for themselves. In and through Jesus.

avoiding gossip

The words of a gossip are like choice morsels;
    they go down to the inmost parts.

Proverbs 26

Gossiping is one of the themes covered in the book of Proverbs. It carries the idea of talking about others behind their back in disparaging ways, usually in a way that highlights their supposed character defects, or whatever perceived weaknesses they have. It often refers to something that has happened, or is going on. It ends up being a moral sickness for those who practice it, and for others who participate in that practice by merely listening. Listening and taking it in, as the passage quoted above indicates, is just as much to participate in it, as the actual gossiper, at least in how it affects the one who listens. By listening, one is affirming what the gossiper is doing.

It becomes more tricky when one just throws in some kind of slant about someone in the midst of what otherwise is normal talk. That is when one should be on guard in their heart not to be taken in, maybe ask a question, or say something which puts into question what is said, and perhaps exonerates the one who has been belittled.

To be a gossip means to have a moral sickness of heart. It is rampant in our society, it seems. Instead of talking about issues, we impugn the character of those we disagree with. And everyone more or less ends up doing that, so that it becomes a vicious cycle. And this affects those who don’t, so that they have to work at not doing the same, even while under their breath perhaps doing so.

We have to learn to hate this kind of practice, and a large part of that is to love the truth, and honesty. And graciousness of thought and speech is essential for this, as well. We should think the best of others, and when we see them fail, hope for better. We need the same grace ourselves from others.

Honesty and truth telling, and above all, being gracious in both thinking and seeking the best for others is essential. If we have a problem with someone, we should go to that person and talk to them, oftentimes clearing up a misunderstanding in the process. And when an offensive behavior persists, we should be slow to go to anyone else, of course depending on what the issue is, and what kind of help that person might need.

And we need to watch ourselves. Especially our hearts to avoid the damage which can be inflicted on others through our tongues. Instead we need to speak the truth in love and as it is in Jesus, and keep looking to Jesus and God’s good news in him, as we look at everything else. Seeing all through that, with the hope that brings for us all.

to tell the truth

To Tell the Truth was a popular American television show which featured three people all claiming to be a certain person, of course only one of them being that person. It was interesting how hard it was for the contestants along with the television audience to guess who the real ___ ___ was. Truth telling, as Scot McKnight points out in at least one of his books, is so very basic to following Christ, and is surely underrated. Not that we don’t think it’s important, but that we don’t think much about it, maybe because we rather take it for granted, and maybe also because we rationalize some of it away at times.

Somewhere recently I read that if something seems too good to be true, that’s because it is. In our society we’re meant to present ourselves in public, a good example of that, when one has a job interview. They are supposed to “sell themselves,” giving all the appearance of having it all together. Not that there can’t be positive job interviews in which one presents just why they might do well in the job they’re applying for. And then look at our political campaigns. What if there would be an election between candidates who were really honest and simply running as public servants? Maybe it would be quite boring to many, but it would have the potential of having substance, and the style would surely be much better, because these candidates could be real.

It’s interesting to me how impressed people might at least act toward me when they first meet me (“first impressions”), and later become disillusioned when they get to know the real me. Which is why I don’t care at all any more about first impressions I might make on others, except that I don’t want to be a stumbling block, but rather, a witness for the gospel. They want some ideal, but when they get to know the real Ted Gossard, they end up disillusioned, and rightfully so, because their image has been broken.

Again, thinking back to that piece (can’t recall it): If something is too good to be true, that’s because it is. What is ultimately needed is not for others to know the real me, and it would be better to spare anyone of that. I don’t even know the real me, entirely. Although truth telling remains paramount, and would include one being forthright about one’s weaknesses when that might be appropriate, along with their strengths, hopefully working on the former and thanking God for the gift of the latter. But what is really needed is a focus on the Truth, on Jesus himself. It is not about us, after all, but only about him. God made known in Jesus by the Spirit, the one Truth that is worth believing in entirely, and can change our lives forever.

people don’t change (but…)

A good person brings good things out of the good stored up in their heart, and an evil person brings evil things out of the evil stored up in their heart. For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of.

Luke 6:45

Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain is like a mini, condensed version of his Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7; link above is Luke 6:17-49, the Sermon on the Plain). In Jesus’ teaching, as well as the teaching of the rest of scripture, people are known for what they do and say. We can’t help but express what’s in our hearts. And that can be a scary thought if our hearts are full of what isn’t good, if we let our hearts be corrupted by the evil of sin.

Some people don’t understand this well, and somehow think that words don’t matter, and that people can change at the snap of a finger. That is neither true to scripture, nor to life. Our actions oftentimes begin with our words. We need grace as in kindness and generosity, and patience as in forebearance (putting up with each other at times) in love, along with truth telling. Truth telling (as Scot McKnight points out in his helpful book, The Heaven Promise: Engaging the Bible’s Truth About Life to Come) is something of central importance in the ethic of love in the kingdom of God, as taught by Jesus.

Of course we need the life-changing power of the gospel to begin the change in Jesus into likeness to him. And nothing less. Even though people do change themselves in others ways, and that can be for good. But the change in Jesus is the change that will continue beyond this life.

We are in a struggle in this life against the world, the flesh and the devil, one that will not let up in intensity, I don’t believe, even while hopefully in and through Jesus we are progressing together toward maturity in him. We can’t play with sin. Sin wants to have us, and to have its way in us, but instead through God’s grace in Jesus, we must learn to master it (Genesis 4; Romans 6). We are told to put to death the misdeeds of the body, since we are not “in the flesh, but in the Spirit” (Romans 8).

And we need discernment, which I find sadly lacking today. People, and sadly enough many of us Christians along with them can get all taken up with those who put on an air of greatness to get control. This happens in churches, and is happening right now in the political world in this year’s presidential campaign. There is a huge difference between a flawed candidate, and one who may actually be dangerous. We need discernement. And sometimes the people who purport to have the most discernment seem to have the very least. I think of some who “prophesy” and claim to be Spirit-filled. Beware or at least wary of such. Always go back to the word of scripture, and stay in that word, and keep testing what they say. The thought here does not deny the real gift of prophecy which is primarily for others’ (in the church) strengthening, encouragement and comfort (1 Corinthians 14).

Going back to Jesus’s Sermon on the Plain, notice that teaching on judging others precedes the teaching on a tree and its fruit (the hyperlink above). We need to be careful that we’re actively judging ourselves, before we can begin to think we have the ability to help anyone else, or even see well enough to do so. If we excuse our own sin, and whatever evil is in our heart, then we will surely excuse the sin of others, just as long as they meet some agenda we think needs met.

But back to square one. We must keep the focus on our own hearts, bringing our sin to God in confession for forgiveness and cleansing through Jesus, as well as forgiving each other, praying for, and perhaps at times sharing a concern we might have for the well being of a brother or sister in the Lord. We’re all in this together, and God doesn’t change us in isolation from each other, but changes us both in fellowship or communion with God and with the family of God, as hard at times as that may be. And our first and foremost requirement in that is to deal with the sin in ourselves, so that we might be filled more and more with God’s goodness with the fruit of the Spirit in and through Jesus.