We live in a post-modern, post-Christian, post-truth world. Postmodernism rejects the notion of absolute truth. General assumptions of post-modernism are that truth is subjective, biased, and socially constructed. In 2016, Oxford Dictionaries’ word of the year was “post-truth” and is defined as “relating to or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief.” In a post truth world, even lies are considered acceptable as it is real and authentic to those who propagate it.
When Pilate heard Jesus speak of “truth”, he asked, “What is truth?” (John 18:38). Pilate went along with the idea that truth is relative. For him it was “truth” that Jesus was innocent, but for the crowd gathered it was “truth” that Jesus was guilty. Pilate went out to the mob and handed Jesus over for crucifixion. The Bible however is diametrically opposite to what our post truth culture believes in, and it makes an absolute claim, the claim that Truth is a Person. Jesus said in John 14:16, “I am the way and the truth and the life.”
The 9th commandment of the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20:19 says, “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” The context here is about not giving false testimony under oath but truth telling is boarder than that. While we all know that telling outright lies is wrong, there are many ways we are not truthful and end up hurting relationships.
- Gossip or slander - When we devalue people by putting them down or gossip about them or slander them, we ruin people’s reputation and we are not being truthful.
- Insinuation - When we give or withhold information and lead people intentionally to jump to wrong conclusions to serve ourselves, we are not being truthful.
- Embellishment or Exaggeration - When we embellish or exaggerate the truth generally motivated by self-interest, we are not being truthful.
- Flattery - When we flatter people rather than genuinely encourage or appreciate them because of an ulterior motive, we are not being truthful.
We not only need to speak the truth but we need to speak the truth with both grace and love in all our relationships to reflect our love for God and for others.Truth and Grace
Jesus came from the Father full of truth and grace and reflected both.
John 1:14 - The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.
Read John 8:1-11 – the story of Jesus dealing with the woman caught in adultery
This is an amazing story that juxtaposes what happens when truth and grace meet. Under Jewish law both parties in adultery face the same penalty of death (Lev 20:10). The Pharisees covered up the man’s identity and in doing so they were not truthful, and they broke the 9th Commandment of not bearing false witness in presenting this case. The Pharisees have no regard for the woman and are not operating in truth or grace towards her.
In contrast, you can see that Jesus’ responded with both truth and grace. He says: “Has no one condemned you? She said, “No one, Lord”. Notice how Jesus dealt with the woman’s sin. He showed her grace (“neither do I condemn you”), but He also pointed her towards truth (“now go and sin no more”). Jesus offers both truth and grace. Truth alone or grace alone is not the Gospel. Truth alone is too harsh to be heard; grace alone ignores the law.
Extremes leads to problems. If you are a grace person you are most concerned about being loved and if you are a truth person you are most concerned about being right. Truth without grace leads to rebellion. It is being legalistic like the Pharisees and there is no empathy, no understanding and one wants to move apart and away from the person who is confronting you. Grace refers to the undeserved kindness, favour and good will of God. Romans 2:4 tells us that the loving kindness and goodness of God towards us leads to repentance.
Ephesians 2:8-9 - 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.
The Bible in John 8:32 says that truth sets us free. However, truth alone does not lead to repentance. Often, the absence of condemnation from God is what empowers us to repent and motivates us to turn from our sins. So, truth frees and grace saves and we need to reflect both truth and grace in our relationships!Truth and Love
Love is essential when we speak truth. 1 Corinthians 13:6 tells us that love rejoices in the truth. Ephesians 4:15 asks us to speak the truth in love.
Ephesians 4:15 - 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
Read 2 Samuel 12:1-14 – the story of the prophet Nathan confronting David.
Nathan knew that if he rebuked David about his affair with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband Uzziah, it might cost him their friendship and possibly even his life. Nathan needed God’s wisdom and tact. Instead of going nose to nose with David, the prophet told a story to draw out the compassionate shepherd in the king and come to the realisation of what he himself had done. In Nathan’s message, David clearly heard God’s voice and repented.
This truth telling by Nathan and David responding to it in the right manner helped David to transform. Nathan showed tough love. David’s transformation occurred in this atmosphere of ‘tough love’, a genuine love and appreciation for the person was maintained but and a steadfast stance against the behaviours that were detrimental to the person. Nathan at the end of this confrontation still had his relationship with David intact and David was restored. This is what we want to see in our relationships too.
The ultimate goal of a person who dares to speak truth to someone in their world who needs it, is to usher them to a place within themselves to want to change. Speaking the truth in love addresses the way in which we speak. We are called to communicate in such a way that the manner of our speaking honors our Lord Jesus and edifies the whole body of Christ, the church. We need to remember, Truth without love destroys and love without truth deceives.
Practical Steps and Conclusion
Here are some practical steps to help us speak and receive the truth in love and grace.
- Listen before you speak - We lie, gossip, slander, insinuate and flatter with our tongues Sin is present in a multitude of words and so as James 1:19 says we must be quick to listen and be slow to speak.
- Check your motivations - Ask God to reveal the meditations of your heart (Psalm 19:14). Always speak with an attitude of love and in the best interest of the person we are speaking to, with the right motivation. Our aim is to be right with God.
- Speak with grace and love - Speak truth with grace, love and kindness that edifies and builds the other person up. Our words should pour love, joy, comfort, and clarity into the lives of the people around us.
- Pray before, after and during the conversation - Ask the Holy Spirit to help us to have the right words, tact and wisdom to show love and grace. If possible, pray with the person as well.
- Trust in God - Speaking and receiving the truth in love is difficult and may seem costly in the short run. It’s like an investment that pays long-range dividends and may require patience and humility on our part. We need to trust God to bring the fruit in due course.
Truth sets us free, and grace saves. Truth without love destroys and love without truth deceives. We need to speak truth with love and grace to demonstrate our love for God and love for others and have great relationships.Discussion Questions
1. What is the nature of truth – is it absolute or relative? Use the story of Pilate dealing with Jesus at his trial (John 18: 38) and discuss the implications of relative truth. Can you think of a contemporary context where truth is treated as relative in contrast to the Bible?
2. From John 8:1-11, compare and contrast the dealings of the Pharisees and Jesus with the woman caught in adultery with respect to demonstrating truth and grace.
a. Compare and contrast how the woman caught in adultery was impacted with the words and actions of the Pharisees versus Jesus?
b. Which of the words and actions, that of Pharisees or of Jesus produced the fruit of repentance in the woman and why?
3. Why must we speak the truth with grace?
a. What is your natural inclination – to be truthful or to show grace at the expense of truth?
b. Can you think of a time in your own life when you spoke truth with grace and one where you did not show grace in speaking the truth? What was the difference in outcomes between the two situations?
4. Reflect on whether prophet Nathan’s confrontation of David was a demonstration of speaking truth in love (2 Sam 12:1-14). What was the fruit of this confrontation?
5. Identify some practical steps you can take in your own life to speak the truth with grace and love. How will you apply these steps in a possible situation you likely face? Pray with someone into this situation to see transformation.