When I was in Bible college I had a required course called homiletics. The purpose of the class was to teach us how to prepare and deliver sermons. Each semester every student in class had to preach to the class in different formats.
For example, we had to prepare a message for a radio broadcast and present it sitting at a desk off to the side as if we were in a radio station. There were other types of messages we had to research and bring before everyone – biographical, topical, exposition of a long passage and others.
After our professor had taught us the material on a specific type of sermon each of us had to bring that type of message. The teacher would distribute evaluation forms to the rest of us and he would sit in the back with an evaluation form.
As each person spoke we “graded” him in different categories concerning his effectiveness, strengths and weaknesses. There was a space provided beside each area (introduction, body, conclusion, big idea, illustrations) to write observations. The most important evaluation was that of our professor as that determined our grade for that presentation. After each person spoke the teacher collected all of the evaluation forms from the class and gave them to him.
I have always been an introvert and public speaking has never been easy for me. Though I have been speaking weekly for thirty-six years, it still isn’t easy for me. So, I treasured the comments that were written on those evaluations. In fact, I still have them.
Some of the remarks were complimentary – “You’re very sincere…you were well-prepared…God spoke to my heart during your message”. Some of the remarks were critical and corrective – “You don’t make good eye contact…deal with the text more…watch the idioms you use to make your point”.
One day I made a list of all of the negative things in which I struggled and categorized them. There were twelve of them. I wrote them in the front of one of my Bibles from which I preach and review them occasionally. It helps to keep me on track (at least a little bit).
Gordon MacDonald said, “You learn more from one rebuke than from 1000 affirmations”. I am a better speaker because of the truthfulness of my classmates concerning my weaknesses.
It’s easier to do right than to say what is right. Love is not passive concerning the truth, but active and this includes speaking up in difficult situations. Love is always truthful and says what is true. The Bible says that genuine love “rejoiceth in the truth” (I Corinthians 13:6).
John McCormick said, “Silence isn’t always golden, sometimes it is yellow”. Fear keeps us from speaking out when we need to sometimes. One of my mentors, J.R. Faulkner, advised concerning when to speak to someone about a personal issue, “If you want to talk to them, you don’t need to do so, but if you don’t want to, you probably need to”. I think that’s wise.
The primary qualifier for what we say is truth, but it is not the only qualifier. Those that do that are bullies, inconsiderate, and leave a wake of hurting and wounded people behind them. However, the foundation of all of our words is to be truth.
The Bible says that we ought to be “…speaking the truth in love…” (Ephesians 4:15). It isn’t truth or love that determines what we say and how we say it, but both.
God gave a description of a godly, virtuous woman and noted that when she spoke that it was “…with wisdom; and in her tongue is the law of kindness”. (Proverbs 31:26). The word “law” has the idea of that which governs. Her words were governed not only by truth, but by kindness – and God commended her for that.
The Lord Jesus was known for speaking “gracious words” (Luke 4:22). Though He was truth incarnate, He was not harsh and rude – ever. He was full of “grace and truth” (John 1:14, 17). If we would be Christlike then this is true of us as well.
Three questions will save us a ton of unnecessary conflict when we speak: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? (Some would include “Is it helpful?”) When you love someone all of these compose a filter for your words. You can speak the truth and not be loving. Some things may be true, but are not necessary to say. And if it is necessary the words need to be given with kindness.
So love is important in our speech, but the foundation that supports it all is the veracity of our words. Speaking truth establishes our relationships, but lies will destroy them.
The Bible states, “The lip of truth shall be established for ever: but a lying tongue is but for a moment”. (Proverbs 12:19) Trust is the glue to a relationship. Without trust a relationship will never grow and will at some point unravel.
Here’s one of the most important verses on communication in all of the Bible – “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another”. (Ephesians 4:25) The moral imperative of speaking truth is enough to do so, but here we are given another motivation. The fact that “we are members one of another” keeps us from lying; we are related to each other and our love for each other prevents us from doing so.
A husband and wife must trust each other implicitly. Where there is doubt about one’s words, there will be a hesitancy to give yourself fully to that person. The result is a nagging doubt about other areas where the person may not be fully honest.
Trust is like a bank account where you make deposits. Over time each deposit of honesty and speaking the truth builds the trust account and it begins to bear interest. However, the difference is that the interest isn’t financial, but relational. Relationships grow stronger and deeper through our being truth tellers.
Parents and children must trust each other. When there is a lack of trust, communication will never be meaningful and rich. If parents have made promises they have not kept (trips, special events, vacations) then the child will begin to withdraw his spirit from them. If children lie to their parents then there is a question mark in the back of the parents’ minds as to whether or not they are being truthful all the time.
I once counseled someone that had stolen some items from family members and asked them to make a list of every person they had wronged and to write down the amount of money that was involved. Then I advised them to privately meet with each person and confess the sin, seek forgiveness, and purpose to pay them back fully as soon as possible.
To encourage them to do so I said, “This will be the hardest thing you have ever done, but if you fail to do so the next time something is missing the first name that is going to come to mind that took it is your name – unless you humble yourself, repent and make restitution”.
Sin makes us dishonest, deceptive and guilty. As a result we begin to cover our tracks from fear of being discovered.
When David had committed adultery he was miserable to the point where it affected his mood and his health – “When I kept silence, my bones waxed old through my roaring all the day long. For day and night thy hand was heavy upon me: my moisture is turned into the drought of summer. Selah.” (Psalm 32:3-4)
David needed a friend to speak truth to him during this time. He needed to be confronted and not coddled. David had such a friend; his name was Nathan. Interestingly, the son born to David before Solomon (the result of his adultery with Bathsheba) was named Nathan (I Chronicles 3:5). Though Nathan was a prophet to the nation, he was a personal friend to King David.
The name Nathan means “gift of God”. Nathan was truly a gift to David. He didn’t ignore the sin of David, but because he loved him he went and warned him about it (II Samuel 12:1-7). If you have a friend like this, they are a precious gift of God.
Telling the truth is an essential part of close relationships. Your closest friends will tell you things, even painful, that others will not tell you, but that you need to be told.
“Open rebuke is better than secret love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend; but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful”. (Proverbs 27:5-6)
A genuine friend tells you the truth, not to hurt you but to help you, because they love you. The most intimate relationship, marriage, must have two people that are honest with each other if they would have a close relationship. In fact, over time an absence of truth will be the destruction of any relationship.
Initially, those that tell the truth are not welcomed; their appreciation for being corrected will come later – “He that rebuketh a man afterwards shall find more favour than he that flattereth with the tongue”. (Proverbs 28:23) Note the word “afterwards”; the realization of their kindness is delayed until after the pain of the confrontation goes away and they begin to think correctly.
Early in my parenting I would deal with our children sincerely, but either be too severe or sometimes didn’t communicate well with them. Paula would at some point talk to me and tell me (1) I was too tough on the matter or (2) the kids didn’t understand what I had talked to them about.
My initial response to this was to argue with her (and sometimes I did). “Paula, it’s a serious matter with serious consequences if they do not deal with it and they needed to know that and hear some strong words” or “What do you mean they don’t understand? That’s the primary part of my job – communicating. I know how to communicate! I couldn’t have made it any simpler or clearer”.
Well, the Bible is true. “Afterwards” when I had thought about it I saw where she was correct and appreciated her helping me to keep from being a jerk as a dad. These talks didn’t hurt our relationship; they cemented it and made us stronger and improved our family.
Jesus said, “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten…” (Revelation 3:19) Rebuke, when it is true and for our benefit, is an evidence of love.
Here’s yet another verse from the Bible with the same teaching – “Let the righteous smite me; it shall be a kindness: and let him reprove me; it shall be an excellent oil, which shall not break my head: for yet my prayer also shall be in their calamities.” (Psalm 141:5)
I love Charles Spurgeon’s comments on this verse – “Oil breaks no heads, and rebuke does no man any harm; rather, as oil refreshes and perfumes, so does reproof when fitly taken sweeten and renew the heart. My friend must love me well if he will tell me of my faults”.
Today determine to be a gracious and kind speaker of the truth; and when confronted (especially by your spouse or family members) about something that needs to improve or change in your life, don’t defend yourself, but listen. “Afterward”, you’ll be glad you did and you’ll realize that was an incredible act of love on their behalf.
Someone said, “The truth will set you free, but first it must make you miserable”.