We live in a sugar-coated society (church!) of people who want to have their ears tickled, rather than hearing, and dealing with their lives – and their sin – in light of the Truth of Scripture. Unfortunately, this seems to include everything from friendships to pastoral teaching and counseling.
Ephesians 4:15 tells us that we are to “speak the truth in love.” And, 1 Corinthians 13:4 reminds us that “love is kind.” So, how do we, as believers, address issues and sinful habits in a loving manner without being perceived as “unkind”?
I think, maybe, the answer lies in our perception of what it is to be “unkind.” We forget that truth and love are not (and cannot be) mutually exclusive. Frank Turk (aka Centuri0n), of PyroManiacs put it this way: “The Bible is full of loving statements, gentle rebukes, and frankly-stark insults against those who are frankly intransigent and wrong. Love is good. But it’s not just one flavor. Expand your palate and taste and see the goodness of the Lord no matter which flavor you think you like best right now.”
In today’s world of ticklish ears, meaningless flattery, and psychological, feelings-oriented, sugar-coated “truth” (if, in this mangled form, you can even call it that anymore!), “being nice” has become the standard of our “Christianity”. Words like confrontation, holiness, doctrine, obedience, and righteousness have become taboo because they are perceived as “mean,” “intolerant,” “legalistic,” “unloving,” “unkind”…and of course, “un-Christian”.
James 4:8 tells us “Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.” Believing that is all it takes, we have made emotionalism, experience, and pop-Christian clichés the litmus test of the “authenticity” of our “relationship” with God. But, in doing so, we have all but ignored the second part of this verse – “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” We cannot draw near to a holy, righteous God without first cleansing ourselves of sin.
As a church, and, for whatever reason it seems to be especially so for women, the pursuit of, and desire for true holiness is mistakenly viewed as arrogance, self-righteousness, and Pharisaical legalism. We don’t see holiness for what it really is, nor do we desire it as we should, because we don’t truly see our sin for what it really is.
Church, Sunday School, Bible Studies, Accountability Groups – and the list goes on – have turned into gossipy, group therapy, husband-bashing sessions. This should bother us, but it doesn’t. And, if you in some way inflict emotional pain on another person because you dare to disagree with, point out, or confront blatantly sinful behavior…Watch out! You will almost certainly be accused of being unkind.
But, we must remember that real love is kind. By the biblical definition of both, real love has to be kind, or it isn’t real love. But, it is different than just “being nice” (which, by the way, used to mean “foolish, stupid, senseless, silly, ignorant,” or literally, “not-knowing” – Online Etymology Dictionary – and, has actually gone through some evolutionary gymnastics to reach the meaning we currently associate with it today). It is more than simply not disagreeing with someone, or trying to avoid painful or uncomfortable situations.
From a purely physical standpoint, cleaning a wound, or resetting a broken bone can inflict pain. But, though painful, and sometimes severely, it would be unkind, cruel even, to allow that wound to fester, or that broken bone to heal incorrectly. In the attempt to avoid causing momentary pain, allowing those things to go unaddressed would cause far more harm.
The same application can be drawn from the discipline and correction of our children. Though it may not be momentarily pleasant (for either party!), it is necessary…and it is kind. In Hebrews 12:5-11 we are told that the Lord disciplines the one He loves, and that, while it may seem painful and unpleasant in the moment, it is intended for our ultimate good.
So it is with the sin in the lives of our friends – our brothers and sisters in Christ. No, I am not suggesting you point out every single flaw you might see. Nor am I suggesting that we become harsh or cold towards those who are hurting, or confused. But, habitual patterns of sin must be addressed. And, the Truth must be spoken, in love, and spoken clearly. But, as that has become an unusual practice in many churches or ministries, it can be virtually unrecognizable. As friends, when we speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15, 25), and humbly address an area of sin in our friend’s life (Matthew 7:4-6), it may be painful. It may be unpleasant. But it is not unkind.