Love Tells the (Hard) Truth
Article by Tanner Swanson, Guest Contributor
Recently, I asked my friend a question without thinking much before I spoke. As only the closest of friends can, she responded, “I love you, but that was a stupid question.” We both laughed as she described the inconsistencies of what I had said.
Quickly the chuckles fizzled out. The nods stilled. I began to think about how the thoughtless things I say often rise because I am quick to speak and slow to hear (James 1:19). If I abided in James’s counsel, I probably wouldn’t have blurted out what I did. Though not in sin, I remembered that “when words are many, transgression is not lacking” (Proverbs 10:19). When speech hurries along, sin often tailgates.
As we talked about how Christians must mind what they say, we realized that another false idea had made its way into our conversation. This time, it laced the words of my friend: “I love you, but . . .” But what? What opposed her love for me? In that moment, the truth did. Were these to be seen in opposition to one another? If love didn’t move her to speak the truth, then what did?
How Love Speaks
Some can only imagine love and truth being thrust into the Colosseum together as adversaries. Love, the protagonist, awaits the wily beast that is truth to emerge from the pit. The wrought-iron gate cackles as it rises: truth steps into the light, a fearsome sight to behold. One will win out; they cannot both stand.
For the Christian, however, love does not war against truth — love reigns through truth. Simply look at the way that Jesus speaks to the rich young man in Mark 10. Falling to his knees, the man asked the Messiah the question poised on all religious lips: “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” (Mark 10:17). Jesus responded with a list, a portion of the Ten Commandments (Mark 10:19), to which the wealthy young man replied, “Teacher, all of these I have kept from my youth” (Mark 10:20).
Perhaps the man rose from the ground, eye to eye with Christ. And then,
Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Mark 10:21)
Jesus looked at him, and Jesus loved him. He did not say, “I love you, but you still lack one thing.” As a result of his love for the man, Jesus told him the truth.
For Christ, love did not stand against truth; it mobilized the only truth in the universe capable of saving a lost sinner. Jesus is “the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through” him (John 14:6). The way of truth is life. And Christ shows us that love must speak the truth.
Still, the rich young man did not like what he heard. In fact, Jesus’s response “disheartened” him, causing him to go away “sorrowful” (Mark 10:22). Surely, this didn’t catch Jesus off guard. He must have expected that the man might hang his head. But Christ counted momentary discouragement in the man as nothing compared to the everlasting joy that he could have — if only he knew and loved God above all else (Philippians 3:8). And to get to that point, the rich young man needed to know the truth.
Sin covered this man’s eyes like cement does a city. Christ used the chisel of truth to scrape it away. His toolbox? Love.
Where to Start
We don’t know where the rich young man went after Christ spoke to him. Did he join the ranks of first-century believers? Did he step through heaven’s gates? Regardless, we do know where he certainly would have gone, had Christ valued conversational comfort over “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15): hell.
Apart from Christ, we are all rich young men and women. The fall parched us of love for God and the truth that flows from him (Romans 1:25). Even as believers, we can sometimes prefer a kind of “love” that has little to do with the truth. So how can we rightly exercise the command to speak the truth in love?
We must begin with ourselves. Jesus commands us first to address the sins that assail the person we face in the mirror each morning (Matthew 7:3–5). But of course, we cannot pump love-begotten truth into ourselves. Neither love nor truth originates from us. Both love and truth take root in God (1 John 4:7–8). Through the reading of Scripture and prayer, however, God saturates us with himself. He matures us in the expression of his communicable attributes. He equips us to address ourselves — and then others.
Where to Go
Two kinds of “others” fill the world: believers and unbelievers. A person’s relation to Jesus will tailor the way that we speak the truth in love. We do not change the truth — just its use. We are either compelling unbelievers to stand on the Rock of Ages or reminding believers how sweet it is for their feet to be planted upon it.
When we speak the truth in love to other believers, God uses our words as loving spurs. We encourage Christian brothers and sisters to “hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering” (Hebrews 10:23). Yes, we need to point out sin (Galatians 6:1). And a million times yes, we need to remind each other that God alone “satisfies the longing soul” (Psalm 107:9). Joy in him is the key to a life of obedience.
When we speak the truth in love to unbelievers, God uses our words as capsules that carry the good news to hearts and minds foreign to Christ. Be they strangers or neighbors, family members or lost friends, God commands us to tell the people we know, “I love you, and . . . I want to tell you the best news in the world.”
To be a follower of Christ is to be a fountain. Whether we sit across the table from a believer or an unbeliever, love that images Christ will shower others with gospel truth. Sometimes, people will bask. Sometimes, they will recoil. And yet, if we consider an eternity spent with God worth more than sparing ourselves “light momentary” discomfort (2 Corinthians 4:17), then in love we will speak the truth.