Seven Letters Seven Dangers: Speaking Truth

Dear Theophilus,

You have been so inquisitive.  Your questions demonstrate your great desire to learn more of the faith. However, allow me in this last letter to speak to you about one of the greatest dangers facing the church today. You have been so zealous and sincere in your pursuit of the truth that you may feel that this danger doesn’t touch you but indeed it does because it touches the church.  In fact, it has a grip on the church much like that of a vice.  What is more, no one is exempt from the temptation of which I am about to tell you. Now, if I know you at all, you are thinking, “Don’t leave me in suspense!  Tell me!”  And so I will.

Theophilus, you must speak the truth.  The Apostle Paul says this very thing in his great letter to the Ephesians.[1]  He wrote, “[Put] away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor.” The church struggles at this very point.  On the one hand, she speaks truth, yes, but she fails to speak it in love. Love becomes a masquerade for hate.  How often have I watched one part of the body inflated with pride speak condescendingly about another member of the body?  How often have I watched brothers use their knowledge in order to bludgeon other brothers who knew much less?  In such cases, I cannot understand the cruelty of love.  Yet, even these questions are met with shameless excuses by those who practice such things.  Theophilus, let this not be characteristic of you. Let your love be genuine.

But as much as this is a problem, there is something else that must take priority in this letter.  Dear brother, the church flounders at putting away falsehood.  How so?  Well, I am not saying that the church has become an out and out liar.  No, it is more insidious than that.  The church has become nice. Perhaps you don’t understand so let me offer a general explanation.  Imagine someone has invited you over to their house and served the worst dinner you have had in years.  The lady of the house asks sheepishly, “Well, how is it?”  What are you to do?  Many would opt to be nice and so say, “Oh, it’s very good.” Now, you see, brother, how niceness can go hand in hand with falsehood.

Or take another example.  As a Presbyterian, you know that I listen to student sermons.  It is part of a presbyter’s calling to recognize the gifts of preaching in other men and so license them to preach and receive a call in the church.  However, what if a gentle, respectable and likeable young man steps behind the sacred desk to open the Word and in so doing betrays his lack of giftedness?  What am I to do?  What shall I say?  Shall I be nice to him?  Shall I say to him as the dinner guest said to his hostess, “Oh, it was very good”?  If I agree to license to him to preach what will he do to the church later because of my unwillingness to speak the truth now?

What is more, dear Theophilus, what if the minister of the gospel chooses to be nice rather than preach the truth of God’s Word?  At best, he will always preach as if the temptation to sin is a threat to those outside and at worst he will never mention sin at all.  So, what is the remedy?  It is to speak the truth in love.  This requires maturity.  At the very least, it requires a willingness to obey the new commandment.[2]  And for some, it may be best to seal their lips and follow an older godly saint around until they learn something of his love for the brethren. But whatever we say, we must say that the remedy is not complicated.  It is not always easy.  It is not always comfortable.  But it is always right to speak the truth in love. 

En Christo,

J.S.

Jeffrey A. Stivason is the pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA. He holds a Ph.D. (Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia) in systematic theology and is an adjunct professor at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary and is an online instructor for Westminster Theological Seminary.  Jeff is the author of From Inscrutability to Concursus (P&R), he has contributed to The Jonathan Edwards Encyclopedia (Eerdmans) and is the Senior Editor for Place for Truth.


[1] Ephesians 4:25

[2] John 13:34-35