October 21, 2020

The Most Loving Thing?


Building Bridges, Liz Jardine

“The most loving thing anyone can do is tell the truth.”

– John MacArthur (and a host of others)

* * *

It has been an evangelical mantra that I have both said and heard for many years. The sentence may arise in a conversation about evangelism or dealing with someone struggling with sin or the subject of preaching and teaching about spiritual matters. “The most loving thing anyone can do is tell the truth.”

This sentiment is often spoken in defense of someone who has boldly stated an opinion about sin and its consequences. “Telling the truth” means, in this context, saying something that may be difficult for the recipient to hear, but which is for his or her own good. “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6). “Telling the truth” is code language for exercising tough verbal love, saying the hard but necessary word of warning, exhortation, or rebuke. It describes a sort of intervention — as one author put it, “Caring enough to confront.”

How can it be loving to say nothing when someone is engaged in destructive thinking or behavior? Aren’t we called to warn others about sin and God’s judgment? If you were about to run off a cliff and I stood by and kept quiet, would that be the loving thing to do?

Those who recommend that “telling the truth” is the most loving thing people can do for one another sometimes appeal to Ephesians 4:15“But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ….”

All kinds of messages, articles, even books have been written about what “speaking the truth in love” looks like. Most of them, however, miss the fact that Ephesians 4 is not addressing our personal relationships and dealings. It is describing how the Church grows by more fully understanding the Gospel and avoiding false gospels that deceive us and keep us immature and unstable in the faith. The passage says that God gave gifted ministers to the Body of Christ to help us have a more mature and grounded faith in Christ. The Word they speak in love enables us to stand strong, united, and growing.

Furthermore, the text does not say it is always loving to speak the truth. It says that, when truth is spoken, it should be done in love. We should not contemplate speaking truth outside the context of love. This suggests to me that truth can, indeed, be spoken without love, and that, therefore, simply “telling the truth” in and of itself is not and cannot be the most loving thing anyone can do.

There are certainly occasions when not speaking the truth (i.e. saying something someone needs to hear for his or her own good) is an unloving sin of omission. Maybe 5-10% of the time. (That’s completely unscientific folks, just my intuition). In my experience, there are relatively few occasions when we absolutely have to say something in order to demonstrate real love. Far, far fewer than most of us think.

If you ask me what “the most loving thing anyone can do” is, therefore, my answer would not be “telling the truth.”

My answer would be: The most loving thing anyone can do is to listen.

To listen.

To learn the truth about the other person rather than tell the truth you think that person needs.

Close your mouth — except to ask questions that will help you understand your neighbor better. Or to encourage her that you really just want to hear what she has to say. Or to affirm that she can feel perfectly safe talking to you.

Open your ears and really listen.

And don’t respond right away to what you hear. Keep that mouth closed. Think about what you are hearing. Learn to appreciate your neighbor’s perspective. Imagine what it’s like to be this other person before you. What life looks like through her eyes. What it feels like to face what she is facing. Listen to how she puts things together in her mind. Consider why she might think that way. Watch body language. Hear the tone of voice. Observe her eyes. Don’t assume you know what she’s thinking and don’t form conclusions.

Make this encounter about her, not about you. Resist the urge to make it about you and what you think, what your opinions are, what you’ve experienced, what you believe, what you count as good and right and true and what you consider wrong and sinful and dangerous.

Give your neighbor your complete attention. Listen. Listen well. Listen deeply. Listen as a learner. Listen and take note of every single thing you can appreciate and affirm.

Do this 95% of the time as you interact with people around you.

Maybe you can build strong enough bridges to bear the weight of telling the truth the other 5% of the time.

* * *

Header Art: Jardine Studio


  1. +100

    “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.” James 1:19-20

  2. Yes, listen. And listen well with an empathetic heart.

    And then tell them the truth about what lies ahead for them…and for you. Speak about our inevitable death (because of sin)…and speak to them about what Christ has done for them. That they may no longer fear the judgement that awaits after the dying process is finished.

    Hard to do? Hell yeah, it’s hard to do. People just don’t want to hear it. there are people here that don’t want to hear it. But it’s one tough job that needs to be done, after we’ve listened. And more than likely, you won’t be thanked for it.

    Now that is love.

    • I dunno about that. While i’m all for spreading the gospel like any other Christian I can’t imagine after someone spilled out their guts about an issue responding well to be pounded with Jesus. I know when people do that to me it makes me feel like they weren’t even listening at all but were just waiting for me to finish just to hand me some Christianese answer to any issue I might be having. It can be used as a cop out so one doesn’t have to actually love another person and I don’t feel that is actually a loving action. From my experience the people who dance the issue away by just pointing to Jesus and tap-dancing out of the conversation are the people I don’t feel safe talking to when I need help.

      I feel that meeting a person’s immediate earthly needs of whatever issue they came to talk to you about by listening, and then perhaps trying help the situation if one can, would be more loving than smacking a hurting person in the face with a Bible verse or even the gospel when they finish speaking.

      It really would depend on the situation of course. It just seems to me that waiting for a different opportunity to talk with someone about Christ would be more loving than going into it right after they came to you for help. Which might of course be what you meant making this post entirely pointless.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        > I can’t imagine after someone spilled out their guts about an issue
        > responding well to be pounded with Jesus.

        +1 +1

        The most loving thing to do when dealing with someone who is hurting is to shut the &@^&@ up.

        Don’t be the fix-it-guy. There is a time for addressing behavior and beliefs, in the moment is not that time.

        > they weren’t even listening at all but were just waiting for me to finish

        If the whole time they are talking you are optimizing your argument – then you were not listening, you were plotting.

        > It can be used as a cop out so one doesn’t have to actually love another person

        And both personally and in a larger scope it can be used as an excuse not to have to deal with [or learn] the details of the event/issue. Because Jesus-is-the-answer, ok, are we done here? The proper amount of Jesus has been applied. They should all be relieved that I arrived, for I am the Jesus Applicator! [it often looks like a very very sad super-hero complex]

        > a different opportunity to talk with someone about Christ

        Yes, perhaps when they ask.

        • The most loving thing to do when dealing with someone who is hurting is to shut the &@^&@ up.

          …. Agreed!!

      • Hunny, took the words right out of my mouth!

        That sort of “Uh huh, uh huh, oh poor baby — now about Jesus…” conversation is one of the reasons people can’t stand Evangelicals. They’re like salesmen, or those irritating Greenpeace guys who stand outside the Trader Joe’s…

        I can add this one to “reasons I’m not an Evangelical anymore” list.

        • Careful there…..you said something bad about Greenpeace. That might get you in hot water on this site.

    • Steve,
      Consider a lot less “telling” and a lot more “showing.”

      How about this for a change…We show them beauty. For beauty will lead them to truth.

      What we normally end up doing is hitting them over the head with a “sledgehammer of truth” and then expect them in their dazed and confused state to recognize and embrace truth.

      While our intents may be noble and our goal may be correct, our method is out of order.
      Different methods – different result – without compromising the goal.

      • “Faith comes by hearing”

        Oh…I know…you don’t want to ”offend’ anyone.

        • Steve, you are missing the point badly. Read 1Thessalonians 2 and you will see the necessary context for speaking truth. If I do not speak truth in the context of laying down my life for the other person I will not be speaking Christ. A big part of laying down my life for others is listening to them much, much more than I talk. Faith does not come by hearing alone. Faith comes by hearing from a person who not only names Christ but also gives Christ through humble service — the greatest aspect of which is listening and caring. The Word is personal, not just “true.”

          • Let me put it even more strongly. True words never saved anyone. Only the True Word saves. And he does not come in words alone, but in the fullness of love.

          • CM,
            I’ll beat Steve to his predicted response –

            All that “laying down your life for others stuff” sure sounds likes works based theology to me.

          • CM, you hit on one of the things people miss when they ‘lay down their life’. To many (most?) a literal understanding of ‘taking a bullet’ is what it means. I have stated that this is relatively easy, almost a gut instinct. I tend to understand it as setting aside my plans, goals, aspirations or time for the good of another.

          • The Word is transmitted in words…and sacrament.

            Oh…wait a minute…I just went back and reread Matthew 28 (Jesus’ marching orders to His church)…you’re right…it says”go…and listen.”

          • This paragraph is getting blown up and put where I have to see it often…. reminds me of the “greatest preparation for preaching” that Eugene Peterson’s prof. (name escapes me) did twice a week: WALK thru his parishoner’s neighborhood and listen to them for HOURS….. imagine that. TRUTH is personal, transmitted by and thru the personal JESUS…. wow… I hear Johnny Cash…/!!

        • Sure, “Faith comes by hearing”, but perhaps there is a time to hear that is not the same time as the person needs to be heard. It’s not necessarily about being inoffensive, but more like a combination of basic human decency and realizing that the Gospel might have more resonance with someone after they have received genuine, grace-filled love from you.

    • Unless you are “telling them” that hey, breakfast is on me…. Or maybe, hey, I love you just the same…I think you missed the point of the post, Steve. That,s my take, at least.

      • I think you are missing the point.

        The point is what they really need, for the long term.

        That’s why Jesus (remember him?) turned them away when they came after him for another free meal. He knew what they really needed for the long haul. Not deeds…or food…but a Savior.

        • OK, let me waste some more bandwidth: The fly in the ointment here is “What they REALLY need is…” why just humor them (for now) and give them that free meal, ride, help with homework, power tool, help with drywall…….. and then work in the savior thing MUCH MUCH later….. ?? Or now, really, if you’ve got a track record of being a loving person with them already. I don’t think we’ve come anywhere close to feeding the 5000 yet, so we’ve got a ways to go, don’t you think ??

        • Clay Crouch says

          Steve, maybe you could share one or two stories from your own life that illustrates what you are trying to get across – not just hypotheticals, but real life instances. Because to be honest, I’m having trouble tracking with you on this.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Remind me to stay far far away from you when I’m really hurting.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

        December 12, 2013 at 9:55 am

        Remind me to stay far far away from you when I’m really hurting.

        Biig time.

      • James the Mad says

        “Remind me to stay far far away from you when I’m really hurting.

        My thinking exactly!

  3. It seems that the most cutting, hurtful remarks are usually prefaced with the words, “Now I’m telling this to you in love.” It’s a sop to the conscience to now dig all you want, and go through the person like a tornado. “It’s for your own good.” Another catch phrase, which excuses the most atrocious evil. There are control freaks to say those phrases all the time.

    But you’re right, the most loving thing you can do is listen. That’s the hardest thing to do when all I want to do is charge in like a raging bull. But it makes all the difference.

  4. This is AWESOME!!

    I was just listening to a conversation about this yesterday, in the context of complete strangers feeling free to disparage and “correct” people they do not know…..especially through social media. John Q. Celebrity says something or another, and 10,000 people who do not know him from Adam’s housecat dump all over him AND EXPECT HIM TO LISTEN TO THEM!!! This, of course, is usually rough and derogatory “advise” that these ten-thousand would never have the guts to say to John’s face…..and they call it “truth”.

    It is just as bad in person or in the context of a group of “Christians” helping a brother or sister by pointing out their flaws and sins……a classic case of motes in others’ eyes and planks in our own!

    I know this saying is as old as the hills and twice as dusty, but it is still valid…”People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care”. We do not have the right to speak what we earnestly believe to be the truth until we first LOVE and listen.

    • Chris Auten says

      Pattie, your post reminds me of the book of Job. Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar visited Job after his tragedy and sat for seven days in silence. God did not start rebuking them until after they started talking and speaking their “truths”……

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        No, until they started “And then tell them the truth about what lies ahead for them…and for you. Speak about our inevitable death (because of sin)…and speak to them about what Christ has done for them. That they may no longer fear the judgement that awaits after the dying process is finished.”

  5. From memory…..there was a book more than a few years ago called “Chrysalis” by Jameson. The theme was on Christian growth. Obviously it used the analogy of butterfly stages. Despite what one thinks of the analogy or Christianity as having stages it did back up the message with fact. All that to say, Jameson referenced that many Christian congregations are not based on growth, but in fact keep many in more immature stages, because there comes a time of questioning of faith( perhaps it could be the beginning of a wilderness experience or dark night or pupa in Jameson’s analogy) and that angst has a conflicting aspect. Since the more immature stages are about conforming, the conflicted are actually progressively not listened to( hence his pupa analogy….still attached to the group, but sort of in a shell). I believe Jameson wrote the book for us Christians to open up to the realities of growing up, some of those realities not understood. I believe listening is a part of this. Even those who have developed wings, as it were, that is they may not be in church every Sunday, are possibly mature, or maybe not, but how will one discern without listening.

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > the realities of growing up, some of those realities not understood.
      > I believe listening is a part of this.

      Absolutely. I look back at my younger self – both physically and religiously – and grimace at how deaf I was. And how often I would fall into fix-it mode [which is probably a personality default/fault of mine] when I was being asked to care – not to solve.

      I have been so fortunate to have encountered people, both individually and through literature, who led me from the night-club of my own mind with its raging heavy-metal band, across the street, towards the park where the orchestra was playing.

      >a wilderness experience or dark night

      I wonder how often the wilderness experience or dark night is not so much an experience – but a culmination. Doubts, fears, and darkness going so long unspoken and unmet, that in the end they just burst the vessel into which they are stored. If they could have been expressed, felt, and asked – if the bursting of the vessel, and all which that entails, could have been avoided. Despair is *not* UnChristian; God despaired when he looked upon the early world of man, Jesus wept before the agony he faced, Jesus despaired “unto death”[1]. In a world filled with so much darkness despair and grief *is* a profoundly Christian thing. You cannot love something or see beauty and not be laid open to despair.

      [1] It should be noted that I’ve never in my life heard a preacher use that verse as the premise for their sermon, it seems to get waltzed around. Pondering that verse, is for me, shattering. What does it mean for him to have said that?

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        God despaired when he looked upon the early world of man, Jesus wept before the agony he faced, Jesus despaired “unto death”[1]. In a world filled with so much darkness despair and grief *is* a profoundly Christian thing. You cannot love something or see beauty and not be laid open to despair.

        [1] It should be noted that I’ve never in my life heard a preacher use that verse as the premise for their sermon, it seems to get waltzed around. Pondering that verse, is for me, shattering. What does it mean for him to have said that?

        It meant that Jesus didn’t have the Happy Clappy Always Victorious Christian Life, that’s what it means.

        Didn’t He know to Name It and Claim It?
        Didn’t He know Five Fast Praise-the-LOORDs would fix anything?
        Didn’t He know to Give a Good Witness?
        Didn’t He know the proper verses of SCRIPTURE?

  6. An apt post. I will merely observe that when people say, “The most loving thing you can do is tell the truth,” it is usually to defend behavior that, inexplicably!, does not seem to so loving to its target.

    There may be a place for “speaking the truth,” but it had better be a response to what the other person has really said, and not a pre-rehearsed speech you trot out to solve all problems. You should also have been listening long enough that you won’t have to say, “You know I love you, but …”

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      > You know I love you, but …

      I still think about it the way my kindergarten teacher explained it: there are “red words”, like a stop light. If what you are about to say requires you to use them you should stop and carefully consider if you should keep talking. That list includes:

      – but [which implies that what you previously said was not actually true, it was just preface]
      – just [which implies that what follows is not important, although somehow you still feed compelled to make a point of it: “it was just a kiss”, “it is just this once”, “it is just a word”, or “it is just a trifle which Sauron fancies”].
      – only [much like “just”, it makes a point of exclusively setting something apart, when if it was actually set apart why is that not obvious already? “it is only this once”, “it was only a kiss”, “I only took a couple of items”, “it is only music”].

      When you hear those words – pause. When you say those words – question yourself.

  7. Gotta post and dash. But my quick response to the question “What is the most loving thing…” is “love”. And tha is complicated. Sometimes (rarely) that is throwing out the peal of wisdom. But more often it is something else, and I’d say listening is prominent in that list. “Truth” without the context and fabric of concretely caring for another is more “blah, blah, blah….”.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      No “Truth(TM)” without the context and fabric of concretely caring for another is a Beatdown. With the bonus of scoring Spiritual Brownie Points over the backslider/sinner.

  8. “Speaking the truth” assumes you know what the ?&$^ is really going on in a person’s life. A good example of “Speaking the truth”, two good friends are both accountants and experienced in accounting principles. One friend is doing something unethical, the other friend understands the problem and confronts him about the ethics of what he is doing.

    A bad example of “Speaking the truth”, a person with a functioning family tries to “speak the truth” to someone with a family who has significant mental/emotional/functional problems. The person with the functional family has no clue on what is going on in the other family, they should only listen.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Or the pastor who married at 18 “speaking the truth” to the single Christian.

    • Excellent illustration. Not that people from different backgrounds have nothing to say to each other, but mark the differences first. Learn, and inwardly digest.

  9. It’s interesting how people take things differently. I’ve never considered the above quote to mean that I have to give my two cents in every situation. Rather I’ve thought it was a reaction to being told that preaching against certain behaviors and beliefs is unloving. The extreme of this is for someone to say that it is unloving to say there is salvation in no one else but Jesus Christ. But this is the truth, and the unloving thing would be to affirm that someone apart from Christ or who has even denied Christ is still right with God.

    • Why is this person apart from Christ? What do you know about him? Have you any idea what God has been doing in his life? What hurts has he experienced? What fears does he have? What is his past spiritual background? When he expresses his opinion about faith in Jesus, do you simply take that at face value and respond with your dogma (however true) or do you give him a chance to talk, to explain, to reveal what’s below the surface of his statements? Do you give him space to question or give him the impression that’s not allowed? Do you look for things you can affirm and appreciate in him, or does his stated unbelief simply put him in a category from which you think he must be delivered?

      There’s always more to it, Jon.

      • Mike I guess I wasn’t clear in my main point. My main point was that I’ve usually thought of this quote in terms of a preaching situation, not a dialogue. There are those who say it is unloving for preachers to preach against certain sins or to proclaim that salvation is only through Jesus Christ. While it can certainly be done in an unloving way, I’ll stand by my conviction that the unloving thing would be to not preach these things at all.
        In a one on one situation certainly we need to listen, to take the person’s concerns and experiences seriously, and be sensitive as to what we should say or not say. But if that person declares unbelief in Jesus Christ that does put him in a category from which he needs to be delivered. That doesn’t mean I’m going to hammer him with Jesus or that I can’t appreciate and affirm things about him, but I will pray that he comes to faith in Jesus Christ and do my best to help and not hinder.

        • Jon, I appreciate what you’re saying. I would add that, even in preaching, it will become clear whether the preacher is a good listener and whether his or her truth-telling grows out of experience listening to people or not. Much truth-speaking from the pulpit does not. Many of us, unfortunately, focus on defending doctrine, giving accurate definitions about sin and its consequences, and calling people to repentance. But too often it does not grow out of a life of spending time with people as a neighbor and a learner. Preachers who do not visit, practice pastoral care, and (as I say in the post) spend a much greater percentage of their time listening than they do talking will not and cannot preach with genuine love.

          • Headless Unicorn Guy says

            Much truth-speaking from the pulpit does not. Many of us, unfortunately, focus on defending doctrine, giving accurate definitions about sin and its consequences, and calling people to repentance.

            Just like a Communist Party Commissar haranguing the Masses.

  10. I love the emphasis on listening. To listen deeply and attentively is in itself a statement that goes directly the significance and value of the person to whom you are listening. It is possibly the most loving truth that can be spoken. And like so much of the economy of God’s Kingdom, it operates under the opposite. We speak love by listening.

    When it comes time to speak hard truth, I remember a quote from a motivational speaker named Jim Rohn. When discussing effective communication, he once said something like, “I don’t mind if a preacher condemns me to hell, as long as he is weeping as he does it.”

    This, of course, speaks to the place from which we speak. Do we imagine ourselves to be higher than others that we can pronounce and command, or are we with them and alongside, sharing in their pain and confusion? Again, what we don’t say says much.

  11. Our job is to listen.

    But much MORE than that, our job is to speak of Christ.

    That is what people really need, whether they want Him or not.

    It’s a tough job. Many just don’t have the stomach for it.

    • “Many just don’t have the stomach for it.”

      Myself included, much of the time.

    • I’m not so sure “Speaking of Christ” means giving someone the ol “Do you know where you were to go if you were to die tomorrow” talk.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        Especially when you factor in Wretched Urgency and “If You Don’t and He Dies Unsaved, God Will Hold YOU Accountable!” on the guy doing the speaking. Bad Craziness.

      • And IF that’s what it means to “speak of Christ” to them, then,,,,ummm, yeah, I don’t have the stomach for that. Done my time (years) in churches that required that…. ew..yukk.

    • Probably shouldn’t go there but……

      Some observations about this (steve’s) post:

      1) “Our job is to speak of Christ….” this was (still is ???) the campus crusade (now CRU) approach: that person next to you HAD to hear your Jesus message and HAD to hear it NOW. Baloney (probably). Why limit the Spirit to just that ?? Maybe that’s the need, very probably, it is not.

      2)We live in a land (unlike the muslim world, or most of it) where most people have already heard all kinds of Jeeeezussss-words. Some on target, some very much NOT. There is no dearth of Jesus-words, for most. Most of this audience has since tuned out these words, because they have rarely seen the WORD made flesh, the Jesus words fleshed out. As Fr. Ernesto alluded to, many have not heard the gospel in a package that addressed their particular needs and questions. BTW: a narrow “5 spiritual absolutes” doesn’t really give a rat’s behind about this kind of contextualization.

      3) Without caring for the WHOLE person (even their whining for a “free meal”), the audience tends to assume (falsely) that this whole Jeeezus thing is a load of hooooouey. Surely if GOD were really that awesome, the message wouldn’t be like THAT, would it ????

      4) No give and take to the “give them a bushel of truth” approach. This is more like a spiritual drive-by. IF the audience had a question, how would I know, and am I listening at a level that is more than me just loading more doctrine bullets into my leather bound 9mm. ?

      Of all the themes here @ IM, my vote for “more cowbell” goes out for this whole theme, and the other (related) theme is shepherds/pastors who don’t really shepherd/pastor.
      MORE COWBELL, Chap. Mike, good work, sir.

    • Hi STEVE

      maybe listening to them IS conveying the message of ‘Who Christ Is’, if you think about the difference between someone up above you talking down to you, and someone coming along side of you to help share your burden . . .

      Our Lord came among us and felt compassion for those who were troubled . . . He spent time with people in conversation with them . . .
      so, perhaps sitting with someone and listening to them is not so very far removed from the way Our Lord was with people when He was among us

  12. When I hear something prefaced with ‘telling the truth in love’ I usually think of Job’s friends. That’s what they were doing but unfortunately they didn’t have all the ‘truth’. And quite often what is said in the name of ‘love’ usually isn’t said very lovingly (the person who made the quote under the picture came to mind even before I got to the author).

  13. David Cornwell says

    Over time I’ve noticed that people who end up being my closest friends are those I’ve taken time to listen to. Relationships are developed through listening and caring. People are hesitant to share with someone who hasn’t demonstrated a capacity to listen without pronouncing judgement. With some people this takes time. It’s happened over and over again in my life.

    One such person I met in church twenty-three years ago. We talked often. Today he is one of my dearest friends. Now he lives many miles away, but we talk by phone often, and we have an open invitation to visit his home, with room and food provided. There is much more to the story, and it could have ended much differently.

    Consider the other person. Listen carefully. Be slow to speak. Judge not, lest you face the judgement. This is very serious business.

  14. Bill Metzger says

    Everyone makes great points in this discussion. Please allow my tiny mind to add one more. The Gospel-the spoken message of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus-must always be part of the equation. We must listen and be patient, but must always include this spoken message. Even a Muslim or a Jew or an atheist could “listen” and “do good things” for the hurting person, but only the Christian has the message of the Gospel-spoken COMPASSIONATELY and IN LOVE. The one unmistakable fruit of faith is the Gospel message in our hearts and on our lips. From one who has failed miserably in all points…mea culpa.

    • Bill, yes. But remember the proportions.

      And I do take slight exception to your statement: “The one unmistakable fruit of faith is the Gospel message in our hearts and on our lips.” Paul said the essence of the new life in Christ is “faith working through love” (Galatians 5:6). That love includes sharing the verbal announcement of Good News, but much more as well.

    • You are right, Bill.

      We want people to (by God’s grace) come to faith. That happens through the preached (spoken Word).

      • Hi Steve always appreciate your input. I don’t think that there’s anyone here that isn’t prepared to give a reason for the Hope we have. Perhaps just listening sometimes is a form of doing “this with gentleness and respect”. Peace Brother.

        • Thank you, JoelG.

          Sometimes I will just listen.

          But I always wish I had the guts to share Christ with them in some way.

          For what we all need…our greatest need… is Him.

  15. Asking questions was mentioned in the article. I think I would make it a stronger mention. Ask open-ended questions. Ask questions that do not simply elicit information, but also questions that can help the person better understand what they are saying or trying to communicate.

    One can ask questions like, “When you said ****, I was not sure if you meant **** or ****?” That type of question will show the person that you are listening, show them that you are trying to understand, but can also help a person clarify to themselves what it is that is troubling them.

    In other cases, Jesus often used the technique of responding to a question with a story. We have the Parable of the Good Samaritan because Jesus answered a question with a story. It was also a non-confrontative way to get the person asking the question to answer their own question. Jesus often used storytelling to communicate the Gospel, rather than using straight line logical preaching. He could and did preach. But, it was not his main mode of communicating Gospel truth.

    So, in a sense I agree with Steve. We need to communicate the Gospel. It is how we communicate the Gospel that is the issue for me. One does not have to use a straight line logical model to communicate the Gospel. One can use questions and stories. That method often sneaks up on a person and hits them before they know what is up. Look how often at the end of one of Jesus’ stories everyone was left flabbergasted by the truth that had “snuck up” on them and hit them like a baseball bat to the head. That was definitely communicating the truth, in love, and yet so often without direct confrontation.

    • Well said, Fr. Ernesto.

      Many times those who emphasize “speaking the truth” have a one-dimensional perception of what that means. We need more imagination. Above all, we need more love, which will sensitize us to the best way to speak when we should.

    • I agree with you wholeheartedly. But in the language of the Evangelical, “Communicating the Gospel” is almost always the Hard Sell, like it is on that person to do the converting and not the Holy Spirit.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        It’s become nothing more than a high-pressure pitch for Fire Insurance.

        “And if you sign up (and Say the Sinner’s Prayer) NOW, we’ll throw in a Free Complementary Rapture Boarding Pass!”

    • Often Jesus responded with a parable and sometimes He gave a straight answer. Jesus knew the heart of the listener and responded in a manner best suited to their needs and His own purpose. With practice we can improve how we listen and respond, but we’ll never get it perfect.

      I would add that some of the best–and most lovingly communicated–counsel I have received was from Evangelicals, but not always. Same goes for folks from other traditions. I find that no one tradition has a monopoly on “speaking the truth in love.”

    • Very well said Fr.Duck….. and if I’m reaching for words to give, the package you describe is , to me, beautiful, and thoughtful/graceful. And a lot of work (sometimes).

  16. Is dividing the body of Christ over rumors and bad theology “telling the truth”? (John MacArthur – Strange Fire)

  17. Bill Metzger says

    Agreed, Mike. Thanks.

  18. Good article Chaplain Mike. Just listening and being invested in someone else’s life no matter their situation or views “sais” much more than words. Long term relationships are key in showing God’s Love for them. In an age when almost everyone has heard the Truth of Jesus, simply listening and being there for them is the best “witness” we can have, I think. If there’s one thing I’ve learned reading IM its that showing the Love of Christ to people is more complex than “telling the truth” to people. Thanks Chaplain Mike.

  19. You have a lot of hypothetical situations mentioned in the comments here. Let’s look at a real situation instead. My friend has a position on a church board, among her other activities. Recently she felt she had to bring up the fact that recent schedule changes aimed at bringing more families into the contemporary service have made it difficult for other families to attend church together, followed by Sunday school. Her question was whether it is time to look at the changes and see what, if anything, can be done to help those who have been negatively affected by them. Sounds like a reasonable request to me. But she was met by an angry outburst from the head pastor, who seems to be uncomfortable with the idea that anyone would not want to go along with his grand plan for our church.

    Now all involved have been christians for a long time, so come to Jesus messages wouldn’t apply. We are already saved, thank you very much, and just trying to figure out how to live within our faith community. It seems to me, though I am sure that forgiveness all around would help, that this is an example of the opposite of what Chaplain Mike is talking about. If this pastor were willing to listen to this woman, who puts herself forward for others who are unwilling to even speak up, and truly listen respectfully to her, it could be healing for her, as well as the church as a whole.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says

      Sounds like a reasonable request to me. But she was met by an angry outburst from the head pastor, who seems to be uncomfortable with the idea that anyone would not want to go along with his grand plan for our church.

      Sounds like the Republique of Perfect Virtue beckoning to the head pastor from the other side of the “regrettable but necessary” Reign of Terror. Beware of the Perfect Omelette that always requires smashing Just One More Egg.

    • Man o man…have I seen this played out at our church, too. Former pastor – somewhat passive/aggressive…whenever someone came to him with an issue or problem would fire back with reasons and rationales and excuses. Whenever people shared their stories with me, I’d think, “If he would’ve just LISTENED to you!” And I hate to tell you this, Ann, but some of the issues raised were very similar to what your friend is going through, and after a few years our congregation was half of what it was at its peak.

    • Red alert Red alert!
      My opinion – leave before that place eats you. Egotistical pastors aren’t worth anyone’s time.

  20. Since the thrust of this post is “Listen,” I’d like to add we should also listen to the Holy Spirit, even as we listen to others. I think it’s only via the Holy Spirit that we’ll know if/when/what to say to a person as we listen to their stories.

    Case in point…I help run a food pantry out of our church’s basement. I do a LOT of listening as people come in to get a bag of groceries to hold them over for another week or two. And as I listen, I do a LOT of listening for the Spirit’s prompting to share something about Jesus. Trust me, there are people who DO need to know there’s a hope outside of the crap their dealing with, and they need to know that hope is Jesus Christ. I don’t often “speak”, and rarely with someone who hasn’t been in a few times and I’ve already listened to, but it happens.

  21. this post will linger with me, very thought provoking. One statement of Steve’s stays with me: that the WORD is transmitted by the the spoken word and thru sacrament. Well, since “sacrament” is not for the unbelievers, but believers, maybe in a sense we become Christ’s body, broken and then distributed to the masses.

    Not suggesting a substitute for the LORD’s supper (the highlight of my Sunday, always), but tryiny to look deeper into how, exactly, the WORD is transmitted. This seems to be a very foundational question.

  22. It’s interesting to contrast the conversation here and the conversation on Rod Dreher’s blog (here: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/dreher/how-to-talk-to-an-mtd-millennial/ ) about a similar topic.

    I think the letter writer on his site should read this post instead. Don’t be so eager to talk!

  23. Patrick Kyle says

    Context is everything. Theologians and Pastors addressing false doctrine and flagrant sin often rightly speak the truth in love in very blunt terms.

    Speaking personally, the majority of my suffering has been self inflicted. I have come to appreciate brutal honesty, and those who are tough enough to tell me the truth even if it hurts or is awkward. I often miss subtlety. I have noticed most of us do. I wish that some older wiser man had slapped me up side the head when I was in my mid twenties and thirties and told me the hard truths that this culture will not hear and the Church is afraid to utter in this age. Thank God for the one or two people who cut through my bulls#@t and were harsh enough to be heard.

  24. Two remarks:

    In my experience, those who invoke this kind of verse to justify their ‘plain talking’ are often extremely ungracious when it comes to being on the receiving end of any ‘truth’ about their own failings.

    In the context of evangelisation, I have this mental image of these ‘radical truth tellers’ crouching in their Christian trenches, lobbing grenades of truth out onto their unwitting victims, and letting ‘the Gospel do its work’. Generally the kind of person who cares a lot about souls, but not so much about people.

  25. It seems to me that this whole discussion has been rather one-sided. It ought not be a matter of speaking truth versus listening. A wise assistant pastor once told us that Christian believers are of two types — Truth people and Grace people. The Truth people need to learn more about Grace and the Grace people need to learn more about Truth. Both types need to be more like Jesus, who (according to John’s Christmas passage) was — note well — FULL OF GRACE AND TRUTH.

    “And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, (and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father,) full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)

    • I agree , but maybe one sided as a reaction (over reaction??) to those who prominently bang on the truth drum all day. maybe those folks are not the majority, maybe they just control a lot of bandwidth and gain a lot of attention. Maybe the church is just making a course correction.

      Interesting that the verse you site does not refer to Jesus SPEAKING the truth (though HE did that often , of course) but it points out that HE WAS the truth. Also that HE dwelt among us: that infers much , much more than standing at a distance and spouting doctrinal statements, however true. Or as Chap MIke put it: truth is personal.

  26. It appears to me that most folks I run into are more concerned with packaging than with the payload; hence the one-sided nature of this discussion. I would argue that the payload (truth) is way more essential. This is not to say that the package (graciously listening, empathy, compassion, etc.).

    And the good news is that the two are not mutually exclusive but symbiotic, “The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge…” (Proverbs 15.2, NIV).