We’re living in a world today where Christians largely fall to two extremes. The first: those who focus on loving others and accepting them for who they are so much that they lose the holiness and consideration of the truth that, as Christians, they should have. The second: those who focus so much on the truth and keeping themselves separate from the world that they become hypercritical of others and sacrifice their witness of love to a world in desperate need of it.
It’s a paradox–the paradox of love and truth. Neither extreme is correct, or what Christ intended. Both love and holiness are necessary to a Christian.
…One of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” – Matthew 22:35-40
“I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. I do not ask that you take them out of the world, but that you keep them from the evil one. They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world. Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” – John 17:14-17
Do you see the paradox here? Jesus’ two greatest commandments were to love God and love others. But in His prayer for the disciples on the night He was betrayed, He says the world will hate the disciples because they are not of the world, and asks the Father to sanctify them (make them holy) by truth. Obviously both are pretty important.
But how do we win a world to Christ with truth that sometimes hurts and love that sometimes is scared to say something hard?
First of all, we must realize there’s a balance. Extremes are dangerous, and sadly, we are often too quick to rush headlong into one side of an idea without considering the other. Those who focus completely on love forget that love that omits truth is not love at all, while those who get caught up in preaching the truth constantly can forget that no one will be won to Christ by arguments. We need to have love and truth in our witness to truly be a light to the world. But what does this look like?
A witness characterized by love realizes that Christ loved us while we were sinners. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” If we are to love like Christ did, we have to love those around us like He did–sacrificially, realizing that they are sinners in need of a savior, and doing all we can to point them to that savior, even when it’s not easy. Even when it’s “messy.” To do this, we need to spend more time listening than speaking, and show people we truly care. They need to be able to trust us and feel safe with us, and respect us enough to want to listen to what we say.
A witness characterized by truth realizes that the very foundation of trust in Christ is knowing and believing the truth that God is holy and just and we are sinners who have failed to meet the mark (Romans 3:23). During His ministry, Jesus said some pretty controversial things and a lot of people were upset with Him because of that. But that didn’t change the fact that they were true and needed to be said. If we are to share the truth like Christ did, we must be bold and speak out even when the world doesn’t want to hear. There’s a lot of stuff going on in the world today that is flat-out wrong, and we must trust God enough to speak up and “say things like they are.”
However, a witness characterized by love and truth realizes that a life well lived is often the best witness of all. A quote I read once that really stuck with me says, “Preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary use words.” A witness characterized by love and truth realizes that there are times to speak truth boldly, and times to be quiet. She realizes that actions speak louder than words, and will spend more time modeling the truth by her actions than speaking it with her words, that way when she does speak, her words will carry the weight of matching her actions. She realizes that loving someone means telling them the truth about themselves and God, but doing it in a gentle way, as instructed in 1 Peter 3:15-16:
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
A great failure of the church today that comes as a result of these two extremes is hypocrisy. Hypocrisy destroys the church’s witness to the world faster than anything else. If you preach love and mercy but condemn or mistreat sinners, making no attempt to listen to their stories and understand, the world will scorn you, and rightly so. If you accept everyone “as they are” and say that everyone should do what’s best for them, even though you have said you believe in Jesus (who said He’s the only way to heaven!), they will shake their heads at you and call you spineless or a “milksop.” And rightly so!
In a world where so many are going to the extremes, will you be the one to love people by listening to them, caring about them, serving them, praying for them, and sharing the truth with them? If you would be a good witness, make sure your life lines up with your words, and never forget where you came from. Look at each person as someone made in the image of God, loved enough by Him that He sent Jesus to die for them; as someone with an eternal soul headed for either heaven or hell. And then do your best to show love to them, speaking the truth in gentleness and respect when the time is right.
What do you think the balance between love and truth looks like? When have you had to walk the line in a situation with someone? How do you help yourself see each person as made in the image of God?