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The Balance of Truth and Grace

18th March, 2005 - Article Copyrighted Debbie Porter

"Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ."
~ Ephesians 4:15 NIV ~

One thing I've said time and time again is that I don't say things I don't mean. If encouragement is to be of any benefit at all, then it has to be sincere and truthful. Otherwise it's just flattery and has very little value. So if I've ever had an encouraging word for you, then take hold of it and believe that it's true! I meant every bit of it!

But the flipside of that is that I may actually hesitate to say anything at all if the truth isn't quite so encouraging or pleasant. Part of this is out of a desire to not hurt anyone; but I have to admit that it also has a lot to do with self-preservation. The old saying about not "shooting the messenger" is an old saying because it can, and often does, happen. Unless you have very tough skin, being a truth giver can, more than occasionally, rebound back onto you.

There was a time, some years ago, where I found myself being prompted time and time again to be honest about some things that, for right or wrong, were on my heart. Unfortunately, speaking the truth in love can be a risky business when it isn't received in the same way, and is instead interpreted as being simply "trouble making".

I must be very honest here and say that no-one came out and ever said anything like that, however their actions seemed to support it. Little by little, as Steve and I shared our concerns, we were "cut off".

So much for the old "truth telling" ideal!

Not having the hide of a rhino, it's little wonder that I went back to doing what I felt most comfortable with – just truthfully encouraging, rather than truthfully exhorting. Before long we made our "home" in a new church and I had no desire to take any risks again. After all, no pain, no loss.

Ah, but unfortunately there's also no gain when the truth is avoided.

Still, I happily avoided for quite a long time – until I realized recently that I had gradually become less inclined to skirt around the truth, particularly when I knew that to do so would be unbeneficial or even detrimental.

I can see now that I had been loosening up for a while before I actually recognized it, but it wasn't until a recent meeting with our pastor, Grant, that I was struck by just how far I'd moved from being purely a giver of grace, to once again also being a teller of truth.

Taking my courage in both hands, I brought up a concern that I'd had regarding a certain aspect of the music ministry of our church. As the meeting was about the Music Team, and because I was the Music Team Leader, I knew that I had the right to voice this particular concern. Even so, it was a potentially sensitive area and I was aware, even as I broached the subject, that I was taking a risk.

Grant's response? Total agreement.

The relief was enormous. I'd done it! I'd shared something that wasn't just a "feel good" thing, and survived to talk about it. Truth had been told with love, and received the same way. Phew!

So with that out of the way, I prepared to leave – my mission was complete. As I stood to go, Grant casually asked for my opinion regarding a recent meeting we'd had. Even now, I don't know whether I was simply buoyed up with the euphoria of my recent moment of truth, or whether I was too tired to try and avoid the issue. Either way, once again I was honest – and it wasn't necessarily what this dear man expected to hear.

A few minutes later I was driving home with a "you should have quit while you were ahead" mantra running through my mind. Although I didn't regret sharing what I honestly felt, I did feel some concern that I may have taken a few steps down that old path to alienation.

As it turned out, nothing could have been further from the truth. Later that same day Grant sent me an e-mail asking for a little clarification as to what exactly I’d meant. I took a day or so to really think things through before writing back, but when I did, Grant thanked me for my input and honesty. Not only that, but he actually took hold of some of my comments and the next meeting reflected his willingness to listen and act.

Although the Apostle Paul was referring to the uncompromised proclamation of the Gospel when he wrote about speaking the truth in love, the same thing is just as true for us in our every day dealings with those around us. There's no denying that telling the truth, even in love, can be a risky business – but to avoid it at all costs ... that's disastrous.

Something to Think About ...

Do you always avoid telling the truth if you think that it may hurt someone's feelings or possibly rebound back onto your relationship with them?

Or ... do you tell the truth, no matter what – after all, it's for their own good?

At a guess, I'd say that you probably fall somewhere in between those two extremes – but it's most likely that you lean more toward one than the other, veering toward either the "encouragement only" or "truth at all costs" points of view.

As with most things, we need to be balanced and we need to do some checks before sharing our "wisdom" with the world. First of all, we need to be sure that we are actually speaking truth, or at least a well-founded opinion – and not just spouting off about something we don't like. We also need to make sure that the recipient of our truth-giving is able to cope with what we say and will most likely benefit and grow from it. We need to check our motives for needing to say what we want to say, and make sure that we are doing it for the greater good and not just to satisfy our own ego. Last of all, we need to make sure that we focus on the positive things first, and then fill every other word with love and grace.

Even when we do all that, there are no guarantees that it will always turn out the way we hope – but done with love, it will usually be a blessing in the end ... for all concerned.

Father God ...

Give me wisdom every day;
On my mouth, please place a guard,
So when I speak a word of truth
It won't be cruel or hard.

Instead I pray that I will know
When it’s the time and place
For speaking out the truth in love,
With gentle waves of grace.

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