Last week we talked about the fact that speaking the truth in today’s culture can offend people. That’s something we were warned about in scripture — the world will hate us like they hated Jesus and preaching the cross is “foolishness to those who are perishing” (John 15:18-22; 1 Cor. 1:18).
But what about in the church? God’s intention is that there be peace and unity in His church, but we’ve all experienced times when that’s not the case. People in the church fight and bicker. They offend each other. They split church groups. And most would tell you that they’re speaking the truth and the other person is the one at fault.
We always have a responsibility to follow God faithfully and to speak about His truth. And we must always try to do that in a way that points people toward Him instead of pushing them away. However, we won’t always be able to present the gospel in a way that appeals to the world. Jesus preached truth perfectly and people still turned away (John 6:64-67). Within the church, though, we should be able to talk about the truth without hurting each other. So how do we do that?
You’re Not Here For You
Near the middle of his letter to the Ephesians, Paul addresses the question of how the people in God’s church should relate to one another. He talks about different roles Christ set up in the church (apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers) and why (“for the perfection of the saints, to the work of serving, to the building up of the body of Christ”). The goal in all this is to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.” We’re not to be immature Christians any more, easily swayed by new doctrines or tricky, wicked men (Eph. 4:11-14).
but speaking truth in love, we may grow up in all things into him, who is the head, Christ; from whom all the body, being fitted and knit together through that which every joint supplies, according to the working in measure of each individual part, makes the body increase to the building up of itself in love. (Eph. 4:15-16, WEB)
Our individual contributions to the church should benefit the whole body. We’re not in God’s church to make ourselves look good or prove we know better than other people. We’re here to speak the truth in love, to use our gifts as God intends, and to build up all the believers around us. That’s how we learn to talk about truth without hurting each other — by prioritizing the good of all God’s people and loving them as He loves us.
Build Up Others
If we back up a little in Ephesians, we see Paul introduces this section of the letter like this:
I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to walk worthily of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and humility, with patience, bearing with one another in love; being eager to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. (Eph. 4:1-3, WEB)
God called us to an individual relationship with Him, yes, but we’re also called to be part of a community. When we’re walking worthily of the calling God calls us with, our focus will be on loving others. We’ll be eager for unity and peace within the church.
make my joy full, by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind; doing nothing through rivalry or through conceit, but in humility, each counting others better than himself; each of you not just looking to his own things, but each of you also to the things of others. (Phil. 2:2-4, WEB)
When humility, unity, and love are truly our focus, then we won’t cause damage in the church. It’s rivalry, conceit, and selfishness that twist our conversations into things that tear other believers down instead of building them up. It might sound harsh, but if you’re not contributing to peace and unity in the church then you’re not living God’s way of life. That doesn’t mean you can’t disagree with someone, but you have to do so in a spirit of love and of seeking their good rather than your own ego or desires.
No Room For Acting Superior
Some people enjoy debates, and a healthy debate can be a good forum for hashing out different points of view. But sometimes what people call “debates” are really “strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, slander, whisperings, proud thoughts, riots” (2 Cor. 12:20, WEB). We need to be careful that in our zeal to pick a speck out of our brother’s eye we don’t clobber them with a beam in our own eye (Matt. 7:3-5). We’re to “sharpen” each other, not slit each other’s throats (Prov. 27:17).
Those who belong to Christ have crucified the flesh with its passions and lusts. If we live by the Spirit, let’s also walk by the Spirit. Let’s not become conceited, provoking one another, and envying one another. (Gal. 5:24-26, WEB)
There is no room in God’s way of life for attacking other believers. It is by our love for one another that people will recognize us as Christ’s disciples — not for how finely hammered our personal doctrines are, or how good we are at setting others straight, or if we’re superior to other believers (John 13:34-35).
Of course, there are times when correction within the church is necessary (1 Cor. 5:9-13; Gal. 2:11-14). When someone is flagrantly disobeying God and hurting self/others it must be addressed. In fact, covering it up or tolerating it is a sin that Paul chewed the Corinthians out for (1 Cor. 5:1-7). Still, even a rebuke of this sort must be done in a spirit of love. When we love as God loves, we will want to speak His truth because we share His desire to not to see anyone perish (2 Pet. 3:9).
Share God’s Goals
Speaking hard truths to other believers should never be done in a spirit of contention, strife, or envy. Nor should we get drawn into disputes or foolish questions about things that are unclear. We’re not to beat-up fellow believers just because their opinions disagree with us (Rom. 14:1-4). In fact, if someone is a factious, divisive person that’s the sort of thing the church needs to rebuke because it’s a sin (Tit. 3:8-11).
For where jealousy and selfish ambition are, there is confusion and every evil deed. But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceful, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace. (James 3:16-18, WEB)
Do you want to be wise and righteous? Then you need to spread peace. We don’t demonstrate wisdom and righteousness by being offensive to one another, but by being gentle, reasonable, merciful, and full of all God’s characteristics. We must learn to speak the truth in love.
God cares deeply about the state of our hearts and He’s watching to see how we choose to treat one another. Will we use His church as forum for strive and debate? Or will we share His goal for peace and unity in the body of Christ?
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