West Allen Church of Christ
Speaking the Truth In Love
The apostle Paul exhorted the Ephesian Christians to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). In that context he was discussing spiritual growth. There can be no spiritual growth apart from the word, the truth. Paul told the elders of the Ephesian church And now I commend you to God and to the word of His grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified (Acts 20:32). While that passage refers to the growth of those who are already Christians, the same idea of speaking the truth in love can be found applied to those who are not Christians. When we preach the gospel to the lost, we must preach in love. Such is the example that Jesus Himself left for us. In Mark 6:34 we are told: When Jesus went ashore, He saw a large crowd, and He felt compassion for them because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and He began to teach them many things issue of this bulletin).
I think the Lordís people have done a fairly good job of making sure that we preach the truth. Iím not always so sure that we have done a good job of preaching that truth in love for the lost. I have heard way too many sermons, and read far too many articles in print, where people in other religions or in denominational churches are ridiculed or described with terms that are nothing other than rude, insulting, and mean. When someone says that you would have to be stupid to be a Calvinist, or how could anyone honestly believe in premillennialism,? or Roman Catholics donít know anything about the Bible, it causes me great concern. I am concerned about the attitude behind remarks (not to mention their accuracy).
This is not to deny that people who have not followed the truth are in spiritual danger. They are. But what I detest is the lack of love with which we sometimes view these people. Even more, I fear that there is a greater sin behind this lack of love: pride. There is always the temptation among those who have the truth to think that having the truth means they are better people than those who do not have the truth. We must avoid thinking such things. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23). The difference between the Christian and the non-Christian is not that the former is an inherently better person than the letter, but that the Christian has been forgiven of his sins by the blood of Christ, and the non-Christian has yet to experience this blessing. Salvation is the gift of God (Rom 3:24), a product of His grace (Eph 2:8). As such no Christian has the right to boast of himself as if being a Christian means he is inherently better, or more reasonable, than those who are not.
We must also understand that when it comes to spreading the gospel, we are just the messengers. We are not the judges of others. Our job is to tell other people what the Bible says, what God has said in His word. It is not our job to assume the role of mediators of Godís judgment. God will judge the world through Christ (Acts 17:31). As of yet, God has not asked us to join Him in that task.
One more thing: what should be our attitude toward those who choose not to accept the truth? What should be our view of those who prefer false teaching? Answer: we should be saddened at their decision, and mourn for what awaits them. That is how we will think of them if we truly love them, for if you love someone you certainly never wish any ill for them. There is no place for the glib, gleeful attitude that is eager to see another person suffer the wrath of God. It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:31), and we may not be happy about it for anyone.
(Eph 4:17f)? Yes, he did. But there is no indication in that passage that Paul meant that in a demeaning way, or that he was happy to say that about them. It was just the fact of the matter. The Gentiles did not know the truth and refused to learn it. But did not Paul also say (agreeing with the Greek poet Epimenides) that ĎCretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.í This testimony is true (Titus 1:12-13)? Yes, he did. But that is not where he left it. He went on to say that Titus therefore had a responsibility to teach them the truth (vv. 13f). Paul knew the character of the people with whom Titus had to deal. He was warning Titus, he was not insulting or belittling Cretans, and his instruction was for Titus to do what he could to reach these people with the truth.
Besides, just exactly do we think we could achieve by preaching in such a way that demeans and insults other people? Have you ever known that approach to work with the lost? Of course not. It may make some shallow Christians feel a little better about themselves to berate people in other religions, but it never does anything good for who are the objects of such unkind sentiments. In fact, I have known several people who once expressed interest in the gospel and the Lordís church until someone, either in the pulpit or in conversation, said something that conveyed the idea that anyone who does not agree with us is stupid. Then they lost all interest whatsoever. In some cases, such uncaring and unkind words drove people who were interested in the truth into the arms of other religions! I have also known Christians who became so turned off by the cruel remarks made about some lost souls (sometimes among their own families) that they decided that the church of Christ could not possibly be the one true church if that is the attitude it has toward outsiders. True, people ought to be open enough to listen to the truth. But when they will not, that gives us no cause to berate them or speaking unkindly of them. We must love them still, just as Jesus loved those who rejected the word He brought from God. If our attitude toward the lost is anything else, then maybe we are not the church of Christ after all.
It does no good to say that people ought to be interested in the truth enough to cut through a few poor examples of Christians in order to obtain the truth. That may be a nice ideal, but the fact is that people get their impression of Godís truth by how they see it working in us. And I do not blame them. If we show them by our attitude that we are unkind, cruel, and mean-spirited when it comes to people in other religions, then it is hard to fault them for not wanting to be part of us (Iím sure I would be the same way).
Let us be clear. There must never be any compromise with that which is false, nor should we begin to envy those who do not teach or practice the truth. Yet our stand for the truth in no way licenses us to be arrogant, proud, rude, or mean toward those who have not accepted Godís truth. Our attitude must ever be that we hope they will some day come to accept the truth, and we must in the mean time pray for them and set the example of Christ before them.