How many of you have ever ridden a teeter-totter? I suspect most of you have, or at least you have seen some children playing on one. There is nothing overly complicated about a teeter-totter. It is simply a board that rests on top of a fulcrum. It requires two people; one sitting on each end of the board. One goes up in the air as the other comes down, and then the one on the ground can push up with his feet and he will go up in the air as the other person comes down.
However, sometimes teeter-totters don't work that well. For example, if a 200 pound man and a 50 pound boy attempted to use a teeter-totter, the man would immediately sink to the ground and the boy would be stuck on the board several feet off the ground. Teeter-totters just don't work very well when one person weighs a lot more than the other. The problem is that balance is lacking.
Just like a teeter-totter, there are many things in life that don't work well unless they're balanced. For example, if your checkbook isn't balanced, you're bound to have a problem someday. If you don't balance the tires on your car, you'll have the problem of wearing your tires out quickly. There are other physical examples we could consider, but how about a spiritual one?
There must be a balance in the life of a Christian between truth and love. Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:15,16 of the necessity of "speaking the truth in love" if spiritual maturity and stability within the body of Christ are to be achieved. Imagine that the life of every disciple contains a spiritual teeter-totter on which one side sits truth and, on the other, sits love. Physical teeter-totters have problems when there is too much weight on one side, and the same is true of this spiritual teeter-totter. A Christian can get out of balance by failing to place enough weight or emphasis on the side of love. Such a one may be knowledgeable of the Scriptures and a strong defender of the truth, but, if genuine concern for the well-being of others is lacking, he is out of balance. On the other hand, a Christian can become off balance by failing to place enough weight or emphasis on the side of truth. Such a one may be gentle, compassionate, and caring in both speech and deeds, but if the truth of God's word is not being communicated, he is out of balance. Dear listeners, Paul understood the importance of both sides. The inspired apostle knew that followers of Christ can lose their balance spiritually if they are not careful. To simply speak spiritual truths is not sufficient; such must be done lovingly. Much damage can and has been done by those who seem to love the truth yet fail to communicate it in a loving manner. Of course, to simply show love to a person is also insufficient; such must be done in harmony with the truths of the Bible. Much damage can and has been done by those who seem to love people yet fail to communicate all of God's truths to them. In either of these cases, God is not pleased and His cause is hindered.
Do you desire to be spiritually balanced? Let us give some more attention to the phrase "speaking the truth in love" and determine how we can achieve this important balance between truth and love in our lives as Christians.
1."Speaking the truth in love" demands that we must love the truth.
It's been said: "Men must love the truth before they thoroughly believe it." That is very true. Despite all the evidence a person may be able to provide, it is difficult to convince someone of the truth about a particular issue if they simply don't want to believe it. Friends, ask yourself: "Do I really love the truth? Am I willing to take Solomon's advice in Proverbs 23:23?" Therein he said - "Buy the truth and do not sell it..." What does he mean by that? His point seems to be that we must desire the truth enough that we would be willing to forfeit anything to acquire it, and then, once in our possession, we would cherish it so much that we would never give it up. Do you view truth in that manner?
Jesus said in John 17:17, while praying to the heavenly Father - "Sanctify them by Your truth, Your word is truth." The Bible is truth. However, Jesus had more to say about this subject. "You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" (John 8:32). The Bible is God's word. If we love the truth, we will want to know the teachings of the Bible. We will desire to study God's word and grow from it. This will help us have the doctrinal stability that is talked about in Ephesians 4:13,14 - "Till we all come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to a perfect man, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ; that we should no longer be children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, in the cunning craftiness of deceitful plotting." If one today will study his Bible and diligently learn the truth, the result will be that he won't be easily deceived by false teachings of men! The Bible is to be our guide. It is truth and we must love it. No one can speak the truth in love without first loving the truth himself.
2."Speaking the truth in love" demands that we must speak the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.
Truth is not only violated by falsehood; it can be equally outraged by silence. Why is it that the United States Judicial System demands that witnesses swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth? Do they do it just to be redundant? No. They require such so there can be no loopholes!
"What do you mean by 'no loopholes,' Stephen?" Well, for example, I can tell someone the truth, but if I don't tell them the whole truth, then I can leave parts out and deceive them. I could preach from the pulpit that everyone is going to exist forever. I wouldn't be lying, but some might get the wrong idea. Just because we all will exist forever does not imply that we will all exist forever in heaven. Now, what I told you was the truth, but I didn't tell you the whole truth. I should've said that all those who faithfully obey the Lord and stand on their heads three times a day will go to heaven, right? No, that's not right either. That statement contained the whole truth, but it also included a false statement. Yes, all those who faithfully obey the Lord will be saved, but one does not have to stand on his head in order to go to heaven. We must speak the whole truth without including any lies or false statements.
I think J.B. Gambrell hit the nail on the head when he said: "Half-right is not right at all." It's not enough for me to just love the truth. It's not enough for me to just speak the truth. I must speak the entire truth and nothing else. That is what God wants us to do. That's what Paul did. Listen to what he said to the Ephesian elders - "I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house...Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God" (Acts 20:20,26,27). If anyone among those whom Paul taught perished eternally, it wouldn't be because the apostle failed to teach them the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth! Paul was not afraid to speak all of God's truths. What about you and I?
3."Speaking the truth in love" demands that we must speak the truth boldly yet lovingly.
Now, we're back to our teeter-totter illustration. Thus far, we've seen that we must love the truth and that we must speak all of it. But, now we see how this is accomplished--boldly, yet lovingly. Such is very difficult to do, that is, to balance speaking boldly with speaking lovingly. Some would say that such is impossible, but I don't believe so.
"Stephen, what do you mean we must speak the truth boldly?" Well, let me tell you what I don't mean first. Speaking the truth boldly does not mean in a harsh or overly aggressive manner. That's not it at all! We are not to be mean-spirited when we speak the truth to others. We must not be cynical or repulsive. We should tell them kindly, yet firmly, what the truth is, and we should tell them because we love them and their soul! The idea of boldness is simply being unafraid, even in the presence of danger.
The apostles always spoke the truth boldly! They were never afraid of what the results might be, even if their life was threatened. As we just noted from Acts 20, Paul didn't hide certain parts of the truth from his listeners. He didn't avoid talking about certain issues just because he thought it might offend them. He didn't water down the truth to avoid hurting feelings. We know this from the question he asked in Galatians 4:16 - "Have I therefore become your enemy because I tell you the truth?" Paul loved the truth and he laid it all out on the table for them to see. He spoke boldly and would not compromise. But, do we do this today? I'm afraid we often do not.
Many Christians know the truth today, but aren't willing to take a stand and boldly speak the truth! It seems that we don't want to hurt people's feelings. We don't want to offend anyone. We don't want to lose a friend. This sort of thinking is wrong! Listen carefully: when we know the truth and aren't bold enough to speak it to the lost and to those in error, then we aren't showing love. Did you catch that? Let me say it again: when we know the truth and aren't bold enough to speak it to the lost and to those in error, then we aren't showing love. How is this the case? Well, if I know someone who is lost spiritually, but they think they're saved, it would be pretty easy to just not say anything to them about their soul. Let them do what they want and believe what they want. But, essentially, what am I doing when I remain silent? I'm telling God that I know the truth, but I am either too cowardly or lacking in love to share the truth with them so they can respond to it. I'm either too cowardly to tell them because I don't want to chance becoming their enemy for speaking the truth, or I simply don't care if they die in error and go to hell. That's a terrible attitude, but sadly, it's a common one.
Many are quick to try to defend their silence by saying: "There's nothing wrong with taking the path of least resistance and striving not to offend anyone. After all, we're supposed to imitate Christ and just love and accept everyone, right?" Not exactly. Christ Himself loved mankind more than we can understand, and He was willing to show that love by dying a horribly painful death on a cross. But, how did Jesus speak? He spoke boldly! In Matthew 23, He labeled the scribes and Pharisees "murderers," and He asked them - "How can you escape the condemnation of hell?" (Matt. 23:33). Wow! Those are pretty strong words spoken by Jesus. No doubt he offended them, but still, would anyone deny that He spoke the truth with a proper attitude? He wanted them to repent. Jesus spoke the truth in love always, but He wasn't a softy!
We must get it through our heads that remaining silent to avoid conflict in doctrinal matters is not love! It's not God's way! Look at all the examples of men standing alone in the Bible, speaking the truth even when it cost them their lives! I think of John the baptizer when he told Herod - "It is not lawful for you to have her" (Matt. 14:4). Was John, at that moment, speaking the truth in love? Yes, but it cost him his life. Was he speaking the truth when he said - "O generation of vipers, who has warned you to flee from the wrath to come?" (Matt. 3:7,8)? Was that a kind thing to say, calling those people "vipers" ? Didn't he know he should speak the truth in love? Yes, he knew, and that is exactly what he was doing! He loved the souls of people so much that he was not afraid to tell them the truth regardless of how they might receive it or what they would think about it. Should we accuse John of being harsh and unloving? I think not. It was the same way in Acts 7 with Stephen. He was stoned to death for telling the Pharisees the truth! They didn't want to hear it! They didn't love the truth like he did! They rejected it.
Friends, the bottom line on this point is this: we are always speaking the truth in love if we speak the whole truth kindly; that is, we speak it in such a way as to show the individual that we care about them, even though what we are saying might offend them. I believe that such is the key to balancing the teeter-totter of truth and love. We must always love the souls of those who are in error, even if we cannot love their actions. This is God's way, and this is really the key to church discipline. We cannot tolerate error; we cannot compromise! What we must do is speak out against it with a proper attitude. That is what speaking the truth in love is all about. We should strive for peace, but we should never let peace take precedence over the truth! We cannot give in on certain doctrinal areas just to tickle people's ears and make them feel good. We should try to have the attitude that Christ truly has - "As many as I love, I rebuke and discipline..." (Rev. 3:19). Let us always put forth our best effort to speak the truth faithfully, yet kindly.
4."Speaking the truth in love" demands that we must practice the truth.
Not only must we love the truth enough to speak it boldly and lovingly, we must also be willing to practice the truth. The importance of this point should be obvious. If we are not personally willing to practice what we preach and live the life we are trying to teach others to live, why should we expect them to change (Rom. 2:21)? Common sense demands that we must practice truth, that is, we must ourselves live by the Bible. Additionally, we must guard our influence wisely, because it affects how others will receive the truth we speak.
Ultimately, practicing the truth includes living by the Golden Rule of doing unto others as we would have them do unto us (Matt. 7:12). If you were in error spiritually and not right with the Lord, wouldn't you want someone to care enough about your spirit to kindly show you the truth so you could be obedient to it? Of course you would. If you desire to fulfill the Golden Rule to the best of your ability, you will certainly labor to speak the truth in love always--to friends and enemies, to family and strangers, to the saved and to the lost. Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.