Have you ever been hurt by someone who spoke truth in a harsh or condemning manner? Are there people you tend to avoid, knowing conversations with them will turn unpleasant?
We’ve probably all been wounded by individuals who claimed to help or heal. Most likely, many of us have inflicted similar wounds in others. Our words can condemn or inspire change. They can repel or point loved ones, friends, and colleagues to life. As Christ’s representatives, our call is to share the full gospel of Christ, which always reveals God’s love and grace for our hurting and often deceived world.
May we accurately reflect our whole Savior’s truth, love, and grace-filled heart with every word we do—and don’t—speak. To do so, we must prayerfully evaluate ways our delivery of truth can inflict harm and increase the barriers between others and Jesus.
Here are 4 ways truth can become destructive.
1. When It’s Spoken in Arrogance
I’ve discovered a saddening trend: The longer we’ve been engaged in church community and the more religious we’ve become, the more apt we are to demonstrate pharisaical attitudes. We too easily forget what our lives were once like and the battles we fought. We forget about the areas of doctrinal confusion we once held and how gently God walked beside us as He first transformed our thoughts, then our lives. What’s more, we tend to develop a hierarchal view of sin, deeming our struggles more benign than those others might face. In short, we begin to make much of ourselves—our efforts and our growth, and much too little of the cross, which is not merely our route to freedom but also the moral failings that necessitated such a cost.
This is, in part, why Christ invites us to honestly evaluate our hearts before initiating hard and potentially confrontational conversations. We can read His guidance regarding such discussions in Matthew 7, which began with a warning, stating, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2). In other words, we must show others the same love and grace we hope to receive. Then, in the following verses, He guides us into a process of self-evaluation.
“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?” He said in verse 3. “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” (Matthew 7:1-6).
In other words, He invites us to reflect on our sin and the times when we’ve behaved similarly or have been tempted to do so. We need to get to the place where we, like the apostle Paul, can say, “O wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? I thank God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!”
Until then, our vision will be distorted by pride, self-deception, an inflated view of our goodness and a decreased realization of our need for Christ.
A quick glance through Facebook demonstrates that our arrogance shows itself in other ways as well. We can act as if we alone know and understand truth and lack any propensity for error. Such lack of humility suggests we’ve made our intellect and reasoning skills, rather than Christ, our God. The spiritually mature, however, are able to express convictions with gentleness and respect, recognizing that, while Scripture is infallible, our comprehension of it is not.
2. When It’s Spoken in Ignorance
Have you ever had someone debate you on a position you never held, attempt to answer a question you never asked, or provide a solution for a problem you’ve never faced? Or perhaps you’ve been the one to completely misread a situation, forming false assumptions that led to arguments, hurt feelings, and increased relational barriers. Proverbs 18:13 says, “To answer before listening—that is folly and shame.”
Most of us have become adept at hiding our true feelings and concerns. For example, when we engage someone in spiritual conversations, they may initially focus on perceived contradictions or a more common apologetical-type argument. Some individuals may indeed find these issues—such as how a loving God can allow evil—a big stumbling block. Others, however, might have a more personal challenge to finding faith, such as, “Why did God allow me personally to be hurt by evil?” When we fail to recognize the individual’s unique struggle, not only will our words lack relevance, but they could add further pain, thereby further distancing the individual from Christ.
What’s more, whenever we tout answers to questions a person isn’t asking, we demonstrate that we don’t care enough about them as a person to listen for their concerns and perspectives. As a result, they’ll probably begin to feel like a “project.” Therefore, it’s important that we learn to slow down, to listen, and to prayerfully consider the most loving, truth-filled, and effective discussion. Remember, one word, aptly spoken, has much greater impact than a thousand “brilliant” and “eloquently delivered” statements a listener deems immaterial or callous.
3. When Our Words Lack Grace
This past year, we’ve probably all been grieved at how grace-less our world has become, and there are numerous reasons for this. First, our society has become increasingly disconnected. Many of the face-to-face interactions we once relied on have been replaced with text messages, emails, PMs, and discussions held over social media. This adds emotional distance between us and others, which in turn decreases our filters. As a result, we often type things to one another that we would never have the audacity to say in person.
Second, we live in an increasingly rushed culture where everything feels unstable and under attack. Subconsciously, many of us have become hyper-alert to any signs of potential danger, real or perceived. We’ve developed something of a defensive stance, one that fights back first and listens second. Many of us have experienced the ugly results of fear-based reactions. But God calls us to respond to one another with kindness, gentleness, and love. In fact, according to the Bible, words void of those godly traits most likely come from pride rather than Christ. For, as James 3:17 states, “ … the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere.”
Third, many of us feel our convictions at a soul-deep, gut reaction level, in part, because we often define ourselves by them. Therefore, when someone disagrees with a core belief, we may feel as if they’ve rejected us. This, again, triggers defensiveness that in turn causes us to respond in hostile and very graceless ways. To overcome this, we need to practice slowing down so that we have time to evaluate what we’re feeling and why. Only then can we seek God’s insight regarding the situation and His guidance as to the most grace-filled response.
4. When It’s Spoken in Condemnation
There’s a difference between saying, “That behavior is wrong,” and, “You are hopeless and not worth my time.” Granted, I presume most of us would vehemently deny ever having stated the latter, but the question is, what overall message are we conveying through our words, tone, actions, and body language? Are we inviting those living outside of truth to come close, to listen, and to experience transformation, or are we immediately creating barriers between us? Most importantly, do we recognize when the truth we speak becomes destructive?
When confronted with their abrasiveness, I’ve heard numerous people say, “Jesus always told sinners to ‘Go and sin no more.’” In other words, He didn’t condone, excuse, or ignore sin. I agree. But when I read through the New Testament, I notice He often began His conversations by inviting people to come close. In fact, that was the very reason He told them not to sin. He wanted an intimate relationship with them, one free from the separation of sin.
If we want to model after our life-giving Savior, we’ll need to honestly evaluate our motivation when sharing truth. Are we speaking out of fear? To prove a point or defend a stance? Or are we motivated by love? Do we truly want what’s best for the other person? And do we see not just their sinful behaviors but the wounded, deceived, and broken hearts from which those actions stem as well? If not, then perhaps God is calling someone else to speak truth into that person’s life; someone who can do so with love and grace.
This is an area I want to grow in, because I know how it feels when blasted with an arsenal of words. But I also know the soul-deep regret of speaking too quickly, too harshly, and without the necessary cushion of grace. One afternoon, I reviewed a situation in which I’d hurt someone I’d intended to help. As I prayerfully contemplated my words, God reminded me of how I normally interact with my daughter, whom I care deeply for. Because my goal is to help her thrive, I try to be super intentional with every interaction.
This means, the harder the conversation, the more careful I am with my presentation. I prayerfully prepare and then begin our discussion by affirming my love for her and commitment to the relationship. Then, as we’re talking, I watch her closely, staying alert to her body language so that, when needed, I can reassure her of my love. Many times this involves pausing to ask how she perceives the conversation. I’ve discovered how easily words can become jumbled in translation. When that occurs, I attempt to explain myself in a way she can understand both my message and my intent. Ultimately, I want her to know, without uncertainty, that I am for her, always, and will remain with her as she fails and grows. I’ve found, when she’s assured of my heart, she’s better able to hear—and benefit from—my words.
Unfortunately, the truth we speak may indeed cause others pain, but this should never be our intent. To the contrary. As followers of a redeeming, reconciling, and hope-giving Savior, our desire must always be to help and to heal and restore. As we mature in our faith, the contrast between good and evil, right and wrong, will become clearer. We’ll naturally feel grieved when we see others not living in truth. The inner angst we feel around sin and deception comes from Christ in us, but may we always remember, it was Christ’s kindness and promise of new life that drew us to repentance.
As Christ’s ambassadors, may our words always model the truth, love and grace of our life-giving Savior.
Photo Credit: © Getty Images/marietjieopp
Jennifer Slattery is a writer and speaker who hosts the Faith Over Fear podcast. She’s addressed women’s groups, Bible studies, and writers across the nation. She’s the author of Building a Family and numerous other titles and maintains a devotional blog at JenniferSlatteryLivesOutLoud.com.
As the founder of Wholly Loved Ministries, she’s passionate about helping women experience Christ’s freedom in all areas of their lives. Visit her online to learn more about her speaking or to book her for your next women’s event and sign up for her free quarterly newsletter HERE and make sure to connect with her on Facebook and Instagram.
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