In the Persian Gulf War of 1991, seventeen percent of US servicemen and women killed were killed by what is known as ‘friendly fire’.1 Friendly fire is when someone is shot or bombed by their own side. That figure in itself is staggering. In part it is a problem of the modern war machine, where weapons are more effective in killing larger numbers of people. But it is also simply a breakdown in communication.
In this article I want to consider an area of damage in the body of Christ. An area where many brothers and sisters have fallen victim to friendly fire. This area is speaking the truth.
Heidelberg Catechism Question and Answer 112 speaks about God’s will for us in the ninth commandment. And as part of its answer we read: “I should love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it.”
Speaking the truth candidly:in our Reformed circles we are pretty good at it. Sometimes too good. “I just tell it like it is!”, “It doesn’t matter how I say it, as long as it is the truth.”, “They know I love them, why else would I come and tell them off?”
“Sticks and Stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” These words have been spoken many times, maybe you’ve said them. But do you believe them? I don’t. I’ve never had sticks and stones break my bones. The closest I have gotten is some cracked ribs from an unscheduled meeting with a mountain bike pedal. They hurt badly enough. But eventually, they healed. However, years down the track, I can still remember words that hurt when I heard them, and still smart a little when I recall them, even after reconciliation.
The Heidelberg Catechism is right and faithful to Scripture when it calls us to love the truth, speak it candidly, and openly acknowledge it. But how do we do this? In particular how do we go and speak the truth to our Brother and Sister?
The Catechism itself points us to 1 Corinthians 13 and Ephesians 4 as we consider how we can speak the truth in love. My aim in this article is to consider a number of questions in relation to not bearing false witness, by speaking the truth to one another.
Am I speaking the truth in love?
In Ephesians 4:15 we read: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it builds itself up in love”. So am I doing that? Do I have the right motives? Why am I speaking the truth to this person? This requires us to honestly examine our hearts and our motives. Am I doing it to score points? Is it payback for the way that they have treated me? Is love my motivation?
1 Corinthians 13:1 tells us: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.” If love isn’t your motivation, then you are simply making noise, and not the pleasant kind!
Sometimes we do need to speak the truth in love, and we want to, but we are hurt, we are angry. Honest self examination can help us to calm down, to wait, to pray, and then to go!
What sort of a relationship do I have with the person I am speaking to?
What is your relationship with your Brother and Sister? It is easy to say that we are all Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we should be able to simply speak the truth to each other. But who are they in relation to you?
Here we think of the idea that “I just tell the truth, and it doesn’t matter how I say it.” Paul has some timely words to Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:1-2: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger woman as sisters, in all purity.”
When I confront my children with truth about their behaviour that needs to be addressed, I do so in a different way than I would one of the founding fathers of our church here in Rangiora. In speaking to my children I speak to them as a Father, and I speak to them in a way that is appropriate to my relationship with them as a Father. When our daughters were two, it would be: “Obey your parents!” Now that they are teenagers, we spend more time explaining why their behaviour is wrong. But when I speak to an older member of the church, I should do so as I would speak to my Father, with respect, recognising who they are, even when I have difficult words to say.
But also remember who it is you are speaking to. You are speaking to a brother or sister that you are going to spend the rest of eternity with! “Therefore, put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbour, for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25).
How will it build the person up?
Do I need to speak the truth to my Brother or Sister? “Above all, love one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. (1 Peter 4:8). Is the matter that you wish to speak to them about something that can be overlooked? Now, there are some things that cannot be overlooked, and in that case we have the steps to follow of Matthew 18:15-20. But can it be covered in love? If so, then do so! And really do so! When you decide to overlook a matter that does not mean that you can bring it out whenever you like. You can’t be like Frodo or Gollum with the One Ring to Rule Them All, dwelling on it, playing it over in your mind, waiting to use it as a weapon in some future situation. You must let it go!If you cannot do that, then go and speak the truth, in love!
As you speak the truth in love, Paul gives a pivotal qualification to our speech in Ephesians 4:29: “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
This means we need to think before we speak. Engage our brain before opening our mouths, considering the words that we are about to speak. All of our words. Every… single… one… of… them. So as we speak the truth to a Brother and Sister, we need to ask ourselves, how will this build the person up?
Stop and think for a moment. Think of times that people have said something to you that smarted, that hurt. I’m sure that you can come up with some wounds that still remain, many years down the track. Where you have been broken down, crushed, rather than built up.
Does that mean we cannot bring a word of correction? That we can only say nice things to each other? NO! Of course not! Scripture is clear that we are to challenge and rebuke, as well as encourage each other!
Love drives us!
Speaking the truth in love means that our motive again is the welfare of our brother and sister. This is vital for us to see! We want to build them up! The commandment to not bear false witness is a commandment that is in the second table of the law, where we are called to “love our neighbour as ourselves.” If we love our neighbour we will want to go and speak the truth to them, to help them grow, and yes, sometimes that means saying some tough home truths! Do you love your Brother and Sister? Does it pain you to see them take the path that they are taking? Or can you help them along that path by encouraging them?
Part of this is being willing to walk the road with them. As the song goes: “His welfare is of my concern, No burden is he to bear, We’ll get there, For I know, He would not encumber me.
He ain’t heavy, he’s my brother.” Are you willing to walk that road with them?2
“We love, because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) As we consider how we can keep the ninth commandment in speaking the truth to each other, in love, we can only do so because of the love that has first been shown to us: The Love of our heavenly Father that has been shown to us through our Saviour Jesus Christ. It is only because of his love that we can speak in love to others!
So what now? I’d encourage you after reading this article to spend some time prayerfully considering how you speak the truth to others. Is there someone that you need to go and approach, to ask for forgiveness for the way that you have spoken to them? Is there something that you need cover in love? Is there a truth that needs to be spoken to a brother and sister, but you are avoiding doing so, that you need to show love, by going and speaking the truth plainly to them? Plainly, yes, but plainly in love?
“Faithful are the wounds of a friend” (Proverbs 27:6a)
1 “Friendly Fire.” Air Force Magazine, n.d. Accessed November 27, 2020. https://www.airforcemag.com/article/1291friendly/.
2 “The Hollies – He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother Lyrics | Genius Lyrics.” Accessed February 3, 2021. https://genius.com/The-hollies-he-aint-heavy-hes-my-brother-lyrics.
Mr Albert Couperus is the minister of the Reformed Church in Rangiora.
Photo by Brett Jordan on Unsplash