Why is it so hard to speak the truth in love? It surely has to do with the fact that everyone tends to perceive truth and love differently. Unless we have a standard for determining what is true and what is loving, we will struggle to understand each other’s motives. Of course, we are also chicken! We’re not just chicken-afraid, we’re also subject to social pecking orders like a flock of hens.
The easiest people to speak the truth in love to are our good friends. We share common interests and values, so we tend to agree about what is true. We also know the level of love that we have for each other. We can assume that any frank words are spoken in love even if they still make us flinch. When they are too harsh, there is plenty of forgiveness held in reserve in the friendship.
King David and his Commander-in-Chief, Joab, had a longstanding relationship. If they were not exactly friends, they knew each other well. But they were not peers; there was a pecking order. David was Joab’s boss.
Joab had the courage to speak the truth in love to King David about a very delicate matter. The king’s son Absalom had been killed and David, like any normal father, was distraught. But David was more than a father, he ruled a nation that had already suffered from the tension of rivalries. Absalom was a problem; he had attempted to steal the throne. Many of David’s loyal followers were relieved that Absalom was dead. David’s public grief insulted their loyalty. Joab had to confront his monarch with the truth.
Joab came into the house to the king and said, “Today you have covered with shame the faces of all your servants, who today have saved your life and the lives of your sons and daughters, the lives of your wives, and the lives of your concubines, by loving those who hate you, and by hating those who love you. For you have shown today that princes and servants are nothing to you; for I know this day that if Absalom were alive and all of us were dead today, then you would be pleased. Now therefore arise, go out and speak kindly to your servants, for I swear by the Lord, if you do not go out, surely not a man will pass the night with you, and this will be worse for you than all the evil that has come upon you from your youth until now.” (2 Sam. 19:5-7)
Now Joab was impulsive and battle-hardened, speaking frankly to the king might have been easier for him than for us. We often hesitate with people who are above us in the pecking order: employers, church leaders, and authority figures. We fear they will misunderstand our motives, think that we are critical, rebellious, or trying to undermine their position. If we are in authority, it is probably easier to say something. However, there still might be reluctance. “Will he or she respond negatively: reject me, argue, tell others that I am negative, think me unreasonable, harsh, or disagreeable?”
If you’re chicken, like me, here are some suggestions to help us all speak the truth in love:
- Assess the situation carefully to make sure you understand the whole truth. Pray that you will see things from God’s perspective; He sets the standard for truth.
- Reflect on your relationship with the other person. Delivering a difficult truth to someone is like driving a heavy vehicle over a bridge. Is the bridge strong enough? Most relationships need some reinforcing with kind words and affirmation before and after a brief delivery of a hard truth. Be careful about timing too.
- Check your heart. Do you really love the person as God loves them? It helps to remember that love is more than liking someone. The most loving thing is always to point individuals to greater spiritual maturity in Christ or to help groups accomplish God’s kingdom purposes. Joab’s interrupted David’s mourning because Joab knew that national morale and unity were at stake. It might help to express your love and your high motive clearly.
Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ (Eph. 4:15)
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