The Attitude When Confronting Others
Speaking the Truth in Love
Author: Pastor Allen Chi
When facing conflict, most people usually escape or attack. However, the Bible teaches us to be peace messengers who work hard to resolve conflicts, pursue harmony, and maintain unity. The most important way of pursuing harmony is “speaking the truth in love.”
We encounter all kinds of conflicts in our lives. Most of the time, when facing other people’s questions, we could use a tolerant attitude and not go after them. However, we can’t help but confront others if we are in the following situations:
1. If the other people’s transgression has humiliated the name of God.
2. If what happened has already destroyed the relationship between you and the other People.
3. If the other people’s transgression will hurt others.
4. If the other people’s transgression will sink them.
When God moves you to advise others to leave their transgression, we must also “speak the truth in love” to help others change.
What is “speaking the truth in love”?
The teaching from the Bible, Ephesians 4:15: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” “Speaking the truth” could be translated to telling other people what the truth is and what the teaching of the Bible is. According to the context of Ephesians 4:15, we could find two contrasts to help us understand the meaning of “speaking the truth” more deeply.
The first contrast: contrast between truth and heresy
Paul told the churches of Galatia what the truth of the Bible is so they could leave the allure of the heresies that had confused them. Therefore, Paul questioned the churches of Galatia, “Have I then become your enemy by telling you the truth?” (Galatians 4:16).
In the book of Ephesians, Paul had the same meaning. He first used a metaphor in which the body and the head are coordinated to illustrate the importance of speaking the truth. Just like a healthy adult, whose hands and feet follow the directions from the head. His hands and feet are well coordinated so he can do all kinds of movements flexibly — for example, when playing basketball, passing the ball, even jumping up to slam dunk, and other beautiful moves. But if the neck is injured, the hands and the feet cannot be connected to the head, so the hands and the feet will be paralyzed, which will cause great trouble. Paul used this metaphor to explain that the head of the church is Christ, and the hands and the feet are us. If we connect closely with Christ, clearly understand that Christ is the Son of God, and obey Christ’s commands in everything, our spiritual life will grow, and our church will be flexible and strong.
However, if heresies come in to destroy our connection with Christ, the deception and plotting of the heresies will cause danger and turn the believers into double-minded people, like reeds that are tossed to and fro and carried about by the wind. This will be troublesome! Therefore, Paul encouraged the believers to “speak the truth in love” to fight against the temptation of heresies, and warned and urged them to stay away from the heresies and to stay away from double-mindedness towards Christ. The purpose is to encourage the believers to obey Christ with all their hearts. So, only speaking the truth in love could prevent heresies and ensure our relationship with Christ.
The second contrast: contrast between truth and lies and sins
“Speaking the truth” is translated to “speaking honestly” in the Chinese Union Version because Paul included another meaning when using the metaphor of head and body, which is the next verse, Ephesians 4:16: “From whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.” This is also a metaphor using the body, but it emphasizes more the coordination and cooperation of each organ. Because every limb of a person must be truly connected and cannot be dislocated, the lack of any organ will affect the growth of the body. Each organ must cooperate, connect, and help each other according to its duties, so that the body can grow up to be healthy. In the same way, there should be no disconnection and dislocation between the church brothers and sisters in order to connect the whole body properly and help each other. If there are lies, bitterness, and anger among the members, they will cause disconnection and dislocation. This will be troublesome.
“Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” (Ephesians 4:25) “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.” (Ephesians 4:31). Therefore, speaking the truth is getting rid of lies, so that there will be trust and connection among members. Speaking the truth is also needed to dissolve bitterness and resentment between people, and to find love again, so that the members can truly cooperate and coordinate with each other.
This responds to the truth of the unity of church mentioned in chapter 1 to chapter 4 of Ephesians: Jesus Christ has demolished the wall of separation on the cross, and has made Jews and Gentiles become a new body in Christ, which is the church. Since we are called to be members of the body of Christ, we should do our best to keep the heart of unity given by the Holy Spirit. Just as Paul taught in prison, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. “(Ephesians 4:1-3)
Therefore, speaking the truth is to avoid heresies, and speaking honestly is to put away lies and sins. When we do this, it expresses that we are willing to obey Christ completely, are not double-minded, do not hurt brothers and sisters, do not destroy unity, value the benefit of the body over our own benefit, and obey Christ, the head, in everything.
From this point of view, it is important to speak the truth and avoid heresies, and it is equally important to speak honestly and keep unity. Therefore, we can reflect on our own to see which one we do better and which one we need to improve on in terms of speaking the truth and avoiding heresies, and speaking honestly and keeping unity. If someone says that we are doing well in speaking the truth and being honest, why are there so many conflicts between people? What is the problem? How can we improve it?
The problem is that we usually ignore “in love” when speaking the truth. “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (Ephesians 4:15) Paul also used a metaphor of a child growing up into an adult to explain the importance of “in love.” As a child grows up, he needs a lot of loving exhortation, reminders, advice, and warnings to stay away from the dangers of heresies, learn the interpersonal principles to deal with advances and retreats, and learn how to cooperate with other members, resolve conflicts, reach consensus, coordinate properly, and keep unity. If the church creates an atmosphere of unity and love, the gospel will be spread automatically.
Why should we speak the truth in love if we should be honest people and tell the truth without beating around the bush? Isn’t it loving others if we speak directly after praying? As Proverbs says: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love.” (Proverbs 27:5) It sounds reasonable, but there are two misunderstandings, one of integrity, and the other of people’s feelings.
The first misunderstanding: a misunderstanding of integrity
The connotation of integrity is “correct, righteous, and just.” Therefore, an upright person not only speaks honestly and transparently and treats others in a fair and just manner, but also knows God’s laws, thinks of them day and night, and fears God’s holiness every day. The most important thing is that an upright person will humbly, honestly, and transparently admit that he cannot meet the requirements of the law and admit that he needs the grace of repentance every day. Therefore, an upright person is also a humble person, a person soaked in grace, a person who preaches grace, and a person who treats the people who fell because of sin with full love, because he admits his weakness honestly and transparently.
Therefore, when a truly honest person admonishes others’ offenses, he will certainly redeem others with humility and love. Just as when he bandages other people’s wounds, he will certainly apply medicine carefully and gently treat the wounds. He will be full of grace and love to those who make mistakes and will treat them in accordance with the principles of Galatians 6:1: “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.”
If you speak the truth but not in love, it is not integrity, but just a manifestation of pride, self-righteousness, and lack of love. Therefore, we should not think that we can have no love as long as we speak the truth. This is a misunderstanding of the integrity in the Bible.
The second misunderstanding: a misunderstanding of people’s feelings
How do people usually react when they hear blame?
When I was in high school, I was oversensitive to my father’s reproach, immediately turning into a hedgehog covered with prickles and arguing with him, which made him angry and made our relationship very tense. When learning how to cook fish when I was in high school, I fried the fish first, then made the sauce. My father asked me to pour out some sauce because he thought I had put too much soy sauce. But I insisted that I was correct and refused to do that, which made my father so angry he knocked over the sauce from my hand. I hid in my room and cried hard, feeling very wronged. Looking back now, in fact, my father’s reproach was not wrong. The real problem was me, because I wanted to get my father’s praise so much and hoped he could praise me for being able to cook fish well as a high schooler. I hoped he could trust me and sit there waiting for a bite of the fish I had cooked. This was my reasonable desire. However, when my desire could not be achieved, I still insisted on it. Therefore, my desire became a “reasonable but excessive desire,” which controlled my reaction. My persistence in being reluctant to give in made my father angry. At that time, the desire to my father’s praise became an idol that controlled my heart, so that I forgot God’s teaching of honoring my parents and respecting my father’s authority, which was my offense when I was young.
When I was a pastor in my forties, an elder reproached me for an offense. At that time, I thought I was in big trouble, and I felt very uneasy and scared because I immediately thought of the problems that I might encounter in the future. At the same time, I expanded the problem in my heart and wanted to hide or leave as soon as possible. In fact, what the elder said at the time was not wrong. I just hoped that he could help me to correct myself, not despise me, and that he would pray for me. The elder was definitely not wrong in speaking the truth. I was very grateful to him for having the courage to correct and advise me. It is just that he did not know that ordinary people (including pastors) may fall into disastrous negative emotions when hearing reproach.
From then on, when I want to persuade others, I remind myself that other people may have negative feelings in their hearts and I should help them to face the problems, not let them fall into panic. When studying Bible counseling, I learned that Paul Tripp pointed out in his book “How People Change” that most people may react as follows when encountering reproach:
1. Deny, escape, and even take evasive actions such as divorce, resignation, etc.
Some people cannot accept that they have made mistakes, and often think that it would be great if none of these things happened. The more they think like this, the less they dare to face it. They either behave like an ostrich burying its head under the sand or want to grease the soles of their feet and walk away.
2. Exaggerate, expand, and turn it to a catastrophe
3. Become thorny and oversensitive
4. Be self-righteous and criticize others
5. Counterattack, seek revenge, and antagonize others
The Chinese who immigrate to the United States usually do things seriously, try not to get into trouble, remain cautious, even have high demands on themselves, and care about their reputation. Therefore, when criticized by others, they usually cannot accept it and wonder why they are criticized when being so serious and responsible. They may feel it is unfair, and often turn around to blame, counterattack, and seek revenge on others, and even become the others’ enemy.
Which of the emotional reactions mentioned above are you likely to respond with when being corrected by someone?
Therefore, it is normal for ordinary people to have these negative reactions. We should experience the negative reactions of others when they are persuaded. In fact, they may be willing to admit mistakes and change, but our attitude as persuaders is very important. Persuaders should have great love and love from God when persuading other people to repent. And we must always remember that the purpose of persuasion is to redeem and build others and make them better people, not to destroy, humiliate, and make them perish.
However, what exactly must be done to express love? Is there any practical approach for reference? There are six approaches that we can try to use:
1) Listen carefully:
Listen carefully to what the other person is saying, listen patiently, and never interrupt the other person rashly. “If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame.” (Proverbs 18:13)
It is very important for the persuader to listen carefully. This shows that you value his ideas, and you admit that you do not have all the answers. This kind of patience and love will make him feel your respect, make him easily put down his defense, and help further communication.
Listening requires deliberate learning because it is not our nature. Therefore, James reminded us, “Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.” (James 1:19) Once, when I was having a conversation with my youngest son, he suddenly became very angry and said that I was not listening, which I did not admit. However, when he asked me to repeat what he had said, I could only say 50 percent! There were several important points of what he said that I did not hear. I was really sorry.
When you are persuading others, do you point out other people’s problems urgently and interrupt them, or listen to their explanations with respect?
2) Stand on an equal position, not a higher one:.
When you want to point out other people’s mistakes, don’t feel superior to them as if you are perfect and they are worse than you. On the contrary, we must think that under the cross everyone is equal and a sinner, and we all need the Lord Jesus now and in the future. When persuading other people, we can find an appropriate time to tell them honestly that we also made mistakes and failed. Although the mistakes are not the same, it is more important to tell them how we experienced God’s forgiveness, and how we walked out of our mistakes and became a testimony of being changed by the Lord. When seeing your humble attitude and listening to your previous weakness, other people can more easily let go of the pride in their hearts and the hostile attitude to accept your advice.
Do we let other people feel our humble attitude of “sinners help sinners”?
3) Do not hold prejudices, have generous judgment on people, and believe in the best of others:
When you persuade a person to change, your attitude usually has more influence than what you say. If the other person notices that you have a prejudice against him or are trying to find his fault, he may not want to talk to you more and may even refuse your correction. It is just as Paul reminded Timothy in 1 Timothy 5:21: “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality.”
On the contrary, you should have kindness in your heart, see the efforts, goodwill, and merits of others because of God’s love, and face others with love and listen to their defense, no matter positive or negative, even when you are persuading. You should always be willing to leniently believe in the best of others, choose to listen to the positive explanation, not to doubt other people’s motives, and not to find their faults unceasingly but to listen to their explanations. At that time, other people will feel your kindness, communicate with you continuously, and even be willing to examine their problems from your perspective.
Some persuaders fall into the trap of arguing for right and wrong and forget to treat other people with love. No matter how hard other people explain, they refuse to believe the explanation and still want to find other people’s faults, which eventually causes the relationship to break. Therefore, in Colossians, Paul reminded us particularly that we must remember to wear our work clothes when persuading others. What are the work clothes? “Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.” (Colossians 3:12) “Put on” (RSV) the work clothes of Christ so we can work with the Lord to help people change.
Do you often show kindness to people and avoid being prejudging?
4) Help other people to examine the desires in their hearts:
James 4:1-4 lets us see that there are all kinds of desires in people’s hearts, some of which are reasonable, and some of which are reasonable but excessive. If these reasonable but excessive desires control our hearts, they will become idols in our hearts, and make us not obey God’s commands but rebel against them.
We may not be able to know what other people want, and we should not guess what desires other people have in their hearts. We would usually guess wrong, because they may have different desires competing at the same time for the throne in their hearts. We will definitely offend other people if we guess their motives.
Therefore, it is best to use some methods to guide other people to discover the “reasonable but excessive desires” in their hearts on their own and to admit the sins caused by these desires on their own. This is the Holy Spirit’s work to convict people, and we are just the vessels used by the Holy Spirit. How should we work with the Holy Spirit to guide other people to examine the desires in their hearts?
We can read the Bible with other people, study James 4:1-12, and discuss what the battle of desires in our hearts is. Or we can invite them to listen to recordings of sermons on the ACCCN’s website, listen to the message of “Knowing the Passions of Fighting,” and then discuss together. After that, we can humbly describe how we discovered our inner idols, how these idols caused conflicts between us and others, and how God helped us to change.
It is a living testimony of speaking the truth in love when you do not guess other people’s motives, lead them to search the Scriptures and examine their own hearts, pray to rely on the Holy Spirit to light and guide them, and then humbly bear witness about the Lord. It is the great work of the Holy Spirit if other people come to the Lord, because of your humility and love, to examine themselves, see their own problems, and repent and confess their sins to the Lord, because the Lord himself promised this: “I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.” (Philippians 1:6)
Helping people to change is always the great work of the Holy Spirit, the Helper. We are just the vessels in God’s hands and must rely on the work of the Holy Spirit to make people change. It is very important to make plans and get prepared before we talk to other people about their offenses, including collecting the materials we need and writing down the questions we want to talk about. We should define the range of the questions in advance so we will not go off the topic.
It is best to write down the opening remarks first because they will set the attitude and direction of the counselling. If you do not write down the opening remarks first, you may look at the other person and say, “Well. How could you be so muddled that you did such a thing? How do you clean up now?” I remember once I wanted to help a fellow who had committed a moral sin. After he finally became willing to meet me, I followed the content I had prepared in advance and told him, “Thank you for being willing to meet me. I would like to praise your courage and tell you that God loves you and has a beautiful plan for you. The purpose of my conversation with you now is to help you become a better person. We all have moments of falling and failing. I am also a sinner, and I have a lot of experience of falling and failing. I would like to share my failures with you, and I also would like to tell you how God helped me to walk out of my mistakes and made me a more mature person. Before we start to share, I have another thing I would like to tell you — that is, I promise you that I will accompany you through this difficult period, will not despise you or leave you, will love you, help you, and accompany you in God’s love, and keep your secrets. This is my promise to you.”
After I started my conversation like this, it was easy for the other person to respond to my questions with a positive attitude. In fact, this kind of opening remarks also reminded me to put on Christ’s work clothes and remember the appropriate attitude and purposes of a persuader.
5) Predict other people’s reactions and prepare countermeasures:
If you persuade a person who easy gets angry, he may be angry at you. If you persuade a person who blames other people for everything, he may blame you. If you persuade a person who is pessimistic and negative, he may think your advice is useless. It is like sooner or later the sewage will be splashed on you by the cars passing by when you stand next to a roadside puddle.
Therefore, you can prepare countermeasures if you can predict other people’s reactions of your exhortation. Although this is time-consuming and labor-intensive, you can follow the teaching of the Bible to practice “speaking the truth in love.” You are willing to spend time on planning the content of the exhortation and the countermeasures to their reactions because you love them. For example, if you persuade an irritable person, you could use Proverbs 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath,” to remind yourself. When we have conversation with other people, the more we provide opportunities of communication and rational thinking, the less other people will stubbornly hold on to their positions. We can talk while praying in our hearts and place our hopes on God, because what we can do is very limited and we cannot force people to change; only God can inspect people’s hearts and bring repentance. The Scriptures teach us, “The Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26)
6) Make the gospel the center:
Usually, when we face people who have made mistakes, our natural reaction is to use “the law” to teach them, give them a sermon, and tell them what they did wrong and how to make up for it now. Such preaching often makes people defensive and unwilling to admit their faults, which makes things worse and worse.
However, the Lord Jesus taught us not to judge others by the law but to learn to bring the gospel to them. In other words, do not always think about what they should do or what they have not done. Instead, put the main focus on what God has done and what God wants to do for them through Christ.
Let us think about the conversation between the Lord Jesus and the Samaritan woman next to the well. The Lord Jesus did not accuse the woman of her depraved lifestyle. Instead, he spent most of the time talking with her about living water, eternal life, and true worship. He used the return of the Messiah (John 4:7-26) to make this woman find hope in his gospel. The way the Lord Jesus leads sinners to repent always brings them the good news of God’s forgiveness.
Let us first pray for ourselves before we persuade others, whether our spouses, our children, our colleagues, or our brothers and sisters. We should pray that the Lord’s gospel will take root in our hearts and that we will tell the sinners the gospel — that God loves them and has died for them on the cross and about the grace of God’s forgiveness of sin.
When persuading others to leave their offenses, we need to speak the truth. However, we should also obey the Lord’s commands and speak the truth in love, because only by speaking the truth in love can other people feel God’s love.
When God gives you the grace of responding to conflicts in unusual and effective ways, other people will notice and wonder why you do this. You can use this opportunity to let them experience God’s grace with you and tell them that it is God who works in you and makes you do things you cannot do on your own. When you share in this way, you will help those in conflicts to temporarily turn away from the disappointing situations and start to listen the gospel of Christ, which will glorify the name of God.
When we do our best to express our love and honestly persuade others, all God wants is that we speak the truth in love and convey the truth faithfully. After that, the Holy Spirit will take over from us. What you say will be put in God’s timetable and be made into God’s work of changing people.
Author: Pastor Allen Chi