There’s been a situation running through my mind for a little while, where I tried very gently and carefully to express concerns over something to a friend, without saying that they were wrong, but just hinting that in my experience it would be worth being discerning and prayerful.
No harm in that, right? Perhaps this has been in the back of my mind as I realise that people can at times take this as a personal affront, an insult, a criticism of their ability to discern, but it is a very Biblical practice to speak the Truth in Love.
I feel reassured because this evening some things came to my mind about the passage in Scripture where Jesus Christ reveals to His disciples that He must go to the Cross, to die as a sacrifice to enable us to have a way back to God through forgiveness. Now, if you look at this conversation between Jesus and Peter in Matthew 16, you might find that Jesus’ response to Peter, who after all is a concerned follower and friend, isn’t he? seems a bit harsh. Let’s take a look:
“21From that time on Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests, and scribes, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. 22Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Far be it from You, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to You!” 23But Jesus turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me. For you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”
‘Ouch!’ Does that come across as harsh? Wasn’t Peter simply trying to protect Jesus from suffering? Why would Jesus give Peter such a harsh rebuke? Wouldn’t you be cut to the core if as a follower of Jesus he connected you with Satan? I can’t imagine how Peter would have felt.
If you don’t know much about the Messiah, then maybe this incident and rebuke seems a bit unkind. But the Truth of the matter, the situation that Jesus Christ could fully discern was that His purpose was to come to live and die as a sacrifice for our sins so that whoever believes in Him will not perish, but in Him have everlasting life, because Christ would be resurrected and have power to give us that forgiveness and new life. So in this situation, if Christ didn’t fulfil what He came to do, then there would be absolutely no hope for you, me, Peter or anyone else. We would all be condemned before a righteous Holy God, and Jesus knowing this came as God in Flesh to give us that way out – The Only Way.
So, you see, Peter really wasn’t doing anyone a favour.
I feel encouraged by this, because in the Christian life, there are believers of different levels of maturity, knowledge of Scripture, different walks with The Lord, and varying levels of insight and discernment. We all have blind spots, and we all need to rely on God’s Word, as His Spirit leads us into all Truth, and as we learn to know and to heed the Voice of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, Who always leads us in paths of righteousness for His Name’s Sake.
We need each other too, as Scripture describes God’s people as His ‘Body’ all members of one living unit, with Christ at the Head. We can’t say we don’t need each other, as God speaks through us into each other’s lives regardless of age, stage or place in life.
Consider the apostle Paul and how he often wrote very critical letters to certain churches, while writing very encouraging letters to others. Paul loved them all in sincerity with the love of Christ, which is why he told them things straight, as they were…he didn’t try to ‘sugar coat’ his message to make things more palatable to his hearers, he didn’t try to avoid the issue in case they stopped liking him, he was steadfast in His relationship with Christ, and in Christ he was committed to speaking the Truth in Love, even if that came at great cost to him (and it did).
If you want to read one of Paul’s more encouraging letters to other believers, read ‘Philippians’. It is full of encouragement, love, hope, wisdom and a spiritual perspective. He is very pleased with how the Philippians are conducting themselves in Christ and their mutual love and faith brings much joy and encouragement.
In contrast, consider Paul’s words to the Galatians:
“O foolish Galatians, who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you? (Galatians 3: v1). https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Galatians+3&version=KJV
Think for a moment how you would feel if a friend, however much you respected them came to you and called you foolish and that you were erring from the truth. If we’re honest, we might be more than a little offended. We might let our pride rear its ugly head and think ‘who do they think they are? I know as much as they do, why do they think they’re right and I’m wrong?’ I’ve been on both sides of this as a younger Christian and as I’ve grown in faith, maturity, knowledge and application of Scripture. As a younger Christian I knew I was in way over my head, I was in a spiritual battle and I needed as much help as I could get. I respected those who were more mature in the faith, who had been ‘on the road’ as it were longer than I had, and I listened to them. At times, my pride reared its ugly head and I felt that they weren’t always right, but I was open to learning.
No matter how young or old we are, we should be open to learning, to listening, and as we are admonished in 1 Thessalonians 5v21 to ‘test all things and hold fast to what is good’.
It can be a really rewarding experience when we are able to do this together. I love it when genuine, close Christian friends can seek Truth together, can discuss issues and pray over them, seeking Truth as we seek God together, sharpening each other with the ‘sword of the Sprit which is the Word of God’. This is a very Scriptural practice and we should do it as often as possible and as prayerfully as possible. We should all be humble before God to know that He can speak to and through us whatever stage we are at. We should also be open to correction, and love the Truth so much that we can put our ‘egos’ aside to find it.
You might find, however, that not everyone sees things in this way. We may not agree with each other, but we can still discuss and prayerfully seek Truth together and test all things holding fast what is good. We may not arrive at the same understanding of scripture, but it is right to listen and to learn to seek to honour God.
Sometimes people depending on their personality as well as their maturity may take suggestions, corrections or instruction as a personal affront, a blow to their pride, and they may not realise that there is a place for mature, discerning and prayerful Christians who exercise themselves daily in seeking God’s wisdom in scripture, as a regular practice of their lives and one which bears ‘fruit’ of the Holy Spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control – to actually speak into their lives.
This kind of response can lead one to harbour personal offences, hurts, and to even choose to break fellowship with other believers. I’ve been on this path for a while but I know that God has a lot to teach me, and I know I need to be humble and wise to listen and learn whether that is from ‘younger’ or ‘older’ people, or even the lessons I will inevitably learn from interacting with a world that does not even believe in Him. If I am humble and listen for the Voice of my Shepherd then I will learn more in any situation as He leads me on in Truth. However, I recognise that people who are ‘older’, wiser and more mature in the faith, perhaps those like Paul, who I can see living out the Truth, deserve attention and an attentive ear. I will still test all things and hold fast that which is good, because God Alone truly is my Teacher, however, He also has a place for the ‘Body’ to learn and grow together, as ‘iron sharpens iron’ so one person sharpens another.
The ‘takeaway’ from all of this is that if you are a more mature Christian, and are seeking to speak the Truth in Love, know and be reminded that this is a very Biblical practice and a very loving thing to do if done right and with the right motives. Who would want another brother or sister to walk into harm spiritually? There is a place for instruction, admonition, correction, but we should seek to do it gently, respectfully and with love, knowing that we may not necessarily be right.
However, the fact that some people are very easily offended, and their prides are pricked should not deter us from speaking Truth in Love because it is not all about them, just as it was not all about Peter. Jesus Christ knew and saw the bigger picture, and in light of that His Words were (and always will be) on point. It was for Peter’s own good that he was rebuked, as well as for the good of us all, because God Is Good and came to save us. But I have no doubt it wouldn’t have felt quite like that for Peter at the time.
You can only do what you are called to do, and leave the rest to God. Remain humble and keep seeking Truth. But know that the Truth will offend some people, even fellow believers, perhaps because they already know what they want to believe, or because misplaced pride has got the better of them. God calls us to walk in love and to speak the Truth in Love, so we need to be guided by Him and not the whims and fancies of those around us. If they choose not to listen then we can pray for them and for ourselves to be brought into all Truth. But be encouraged if you find yourself in such a situation, and look to the examples set before you in Scripture. Keep yourselves pure, in the love of God and exercise yourself daily in righteousness, being humble to learn and to know that you too may need instruction, reproof, correction and learn to receive that in humility and prayerfully.
If you are feeling a bit like Peter, then be encouraged. It is a wonderful thing to be told the Truth even if in the short term it cuts us to the quick. The Truth, the Word of God is like a double edged sword, dividing even to soul and spirit, joints and marrow. Inevitably that is going to hurt at times. However, be encouraged and reminded that it is the Truth that sets you free, so take heart, lay down your pride, never respond in anger or bitterness, and receive this wonderful Truth – it will change your life from the inside out. Isn’t that a gift to be well received? Think about the character of the one who shares the Truth with you, or seeks to do so – does their words line up with their conduct? Are they Christlike? If so maybe it is for your benefit that they say what they say. If not, well you are still free to test all things and hold fast that which is good.
Be blessed. And speak Truth in Love. x