November 4, 2012

… but speaking the truth in love

Passage: Ruth 1:1-18, Psalm 146, Ephesians 4:1-16, Mark 10:17-.31

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Introduction is a British takeout service that prepares and delivers restaurant quality food.  This past June (2012) the company announced a service called ‘pretend you cooked’ that allows customers to pretend they have slaved away at a hot stove more convincingly by delivering the dirty pans alongside the food.  Now for an additional fee customers can request the pans used to cook the meal for added authenticity.  (And you don’t even have to clean pans—pick up is arranged as conveniently as delivery).

What does it mean to be truthful?  It may seem harmless to allow dinner guests to think you cooked a meal that had been ordered online; but what does such “acting” say about our understanding of truthfulness and regard for it.  As I read this story, at first, I wanted to note it as evidence that truthfulness is on the wane in society.  On further reflection I think this a misreading of our social situation.  It isn’t just that some commonly held standard for truthfulness is eroding.  The situation we face is that there is no commonly held standard for truthfulness.  Truth is said to be personal; what is true for you is different from your neighbour.


We have mistaken conviction for truth.  I recall a conversation I had some years ago with a young twenty-something female.  In the course of conversation she shared her convictions about a number of topics; convictions that contradicted each other.  I was about to inquire about the contradictory nature of these convictions when it dawned on me that she and I held very different views about the nature of truth.  For her, the fact that she had convictions about things was the important matter.  That these convictions had some inner consistency that held them together was unimportant.


When my five-year-old grandson tells me about things that have happened among his friends at school he sometimes punctuates these stories with the declaration, “for real Papa.”  I think this is designed to underline the actuality of his story; it speaks volumes about his growing sense of truthfulness—his apprehension of reality.  Parents have a challenging job raising their children in a world where the idea of truth is very fluid.


The fluid notion of truth is one of the characteristics of a mindset that has been labelled “post-modern.”  (When you hear the terms “modernity” and “post-modernity” they are generally used to speak of cultural and intellectual movements. Modernity is in full swing by the mid 1700’s and extends to about 1970; post-modernity is the period that has followed and is just underway.)   The fluidity of the idea of truth is impacting people in a number of ways and one of them is a sense of uncertainty that many feel about life.


Dr. Meg Jay is a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia.  Her book The Defining Decade calls a person’s twenties the defining decade of adulthood; her work makes the case that eighty percent of life’s most defining moments take place by about age 35.  In a recent interview she said that most twentysomethings (US) are “living with a staggering, unprecedented amount of uncertainty. Many have no idea what they will be doing, where they will be living, or who they will be with in two or 10 years. They don’t know when they’ll be happy or when they will be able to pay their bills. … Most simply, they don’t know whether their lives will work and they don’t know what to do.”


I would make this observation.  I don’t believe that we are living with an unprecedented amount of uccertainty as much as a loss of the idea that there is any certainty to be had.  There is no confidence that there is anything certain enough in which to root our lives; people, then, grasp at all kinds of things hoping to find certainty—things like relationships, career, good health, location, wealth, a plan for life.  These things—good in and of themselves—cannot deliver certainty.  Many people scramble from one to the other of these goods hoping for a grounding of life that ever remains elusive.


1.  “But speaking the truth in love”, wrote the Apostle Paul.  The context of this call is for Christians to grow up; to become grounded in the gospel.  “Speaking the truth in love” is, for Paul, the antidote to being “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine”.  In that great definition of love that Paul penned in his first letter to the Corinthians Paul said that love “rejoices in the truth”.  I invite you to reflect with me on truth and love; that in the gospel these two are inextricably linked.  Love apart from truth is no longer love; truth-less love is mere sentimentality.  Loveless truth, lived or spoken, undermines truth.

It is important to be clear about what “truth” and “love” Paul is speaking about.  Truth is the gospel; the good news of Jesus; the truth that is Jesus Christ.  Love is the self-giving self-forgetful love of God for humanity.

When Pilate asked Jesus, “What is truth”, he spoke of truth as many do—treating it as a problem to be solved.  This is truth used in the sense of reality; Pilate’s question is the same as asking, what is real. Mathematicians and philosophers take up the question of truth from very different perspectives; both treat truth as a problem to be solved.  In Christ, though, we are confronted by truth and our response to him defines us. In the gospel truth confronts us and solves us not the other way around.

What the believer finds in Jesus Christ is that certainty rests in him; faith is rooted in the one who is certain.  As the believer walks in company with the one who is truth she finds herself sustained to meet all the uncertainties of life.  It is important for believers to acquire a Christian mind; as we put down our roots of life in him we find ourselves grounded in the one who is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” wrote the Apostle.  It is important for Christians to study the gospel together.  To have the furniture of your mind arranged by the gospel forges a logic of life—gospel logic—that profoundly shapes how we think and live.

I believe that the greatest gift you can give your children as they face a world where truth is treated as fluid is grounding in the good news of Jesus Christ.  The truth of the gospel, for example, is how we know what love is, that is the love of God for humanity; because Jesus gave up his life for us.  The Apostle John said that this is how we know love; that God sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sin.  Does humanity generally think of love as a self-forgetful self-giving of oneself for another person?  Would we know truth about love apart from God’s self-disclosure in Jesus Christ?

2.  Speaking the truth in love. Let’s continue with this emphasis; on truth.  Paul writes this to the congregation in Ephesus and urges the people in it—all the people in it—to grow up, to get beyond a child’s understanding.  As long as a congregation has only a child’s understanding, says the apostle, it will always be “tossed to and fro, carried about with every wind of doctrine”. “Tossed to and fro, carried about with every wind of doctrine”: false teaching blows Christians off course, at the very least. It likely leaves them upset (spiritually and emotionally seasick) and may even find them drowning.

Doctrine, you see, is the articulation of truth. Where doctrine is dismissed someone is saying there is no such thing as truth. But Christians cannot say this. Where doctrine is unknown truth cannot be known and cannot be commended.  But Christians are eager to know the truth and commend the truth since we are born of the truth. Where teaching is out-and-out false people are put on a road that ends in swamp or desert, never on a road that ends in the kingdom of God.

The older testament is everywhere concerned with false prophets and the damage they do. The newer testament is everywhere concerned with false teachers and the damage they do.  We haven’t time to explore all the false teaching mentioned in the New Testament; consider a brief look at representative false teaching.

John identifies as false any teaching which denies the incarnation (God come in the flesh). To deny the incarnation is to deny the atonement; this is to deny that we have been given a saviour.

Peter identifies as false any teaching which denies that obedience to God is required of all Christians, with the result that licentiousness appears and the name of Jesus is disgraced.

Paul identifies as false that teaching which pretends that people have to earn or merit or deserve their standing with God as pardoned sinners. Sound doctrine, on the other hand, insists that we are justified by grace through faith on account of Christ; we are set right with God, rightly related to him, as we trust in faith his provision of mercy, fashioned for us and vouchsafed to us in his Son.

James identifies as false the teaching that we can be hearers of the Word of God without being doers of the selfsame Word.   To be an authentic hearer, says James, is always to be a doer, especially a doer on behalf of what James calls “the widow and the orphan”; that is, those people who are marginalized, vulnerable or defenceless.

False teaching isn’t just a New Testament church problem.  In the August (2012) issue of Mandate magazine—a publication of The United Church of Canada—a children’s program titled Earth’s Dream described how to put on a workshop on Gaia (Mother Earth) worship.  The article states that “Gaia is a Greek name for the living earth who was revered in ancient times as personal and divine”; the belief is that “the earth is alive and whole and that we are all part of her as she is part of us.”  Friends, this is pantheism being promoted in a church magazine.

The reason I point these things out to you, the reason I spend time exploring the theology of the gospel in preaching is so that we might develop a Christian mind; one benefit being that we recognize false teaching when we hear it.

3. Speaking the truth in love. There is another crucial point that needs our attention: while correct teaching, sound doctrine, truth is necessary, it is not enough. Necessary, always necessary, but of itself never sufficient. You see, it is possible to grasp the truth of God with one’s mind and yet have one’s heart far from God.

We say that a statement is true if it corresponds to fact (e.g. it is true that the sun is 92 million miles from the earth).  The word “truth” is also used in English to mean reality.  This is how John uses it in his gospel when Jesus says “I am the way, the truth, and the life”.  Pilate’s question about truth is a question about reality; what is truth, what is real.  The gospel says that the truth or reality in which the world exists is the love of God.  Sinful humanity denies God’s goodness, denies that God is love and have turned away from living in this love—the very purpose for our existence.

The good news of Jesus is that God is consumed with reaffirming His own love in the wake of sinners having denied it, and re-establishing our love for him and one another in the wake of sinners having turned away from it.

Many doubt, even scorn, the idea that God is love; find it incomprehensible to consider that the reality in which their life is unfolding is Jesus Christ who loves them so much he went to hell and back for us.  Yet this is the great news the church has to announce to the world.

The Apostle Paul said that love is kind.  Consider how kind God has been in drawing the believer to himself.  I did not experience God “jumping up and down on my head” to get my attention.  God woos me, invites me to consider; confident that he is leading me in right paths but never running rough shod over my will.  God doesn’t coerce a person to believe but ever calls and pursues.  He is patient and long-suffering.  When I have stumbled on the way his will is to restore never to throw overboard.  Clearly his restoration is always to his will and way but in kindness he takes into account my weak faith.

To commend the gospel of Jesus Christ with loveless speech is to contradict the gospel.  Rarely are we persuasive when abrasive. Love is the tone for speaking truth—kindly, patiently, humbly.  Still the truth must be spoken.

Speaking the truth in love, Paul affirms, is that which builds up the believer in faith for life and living.  Exploring the gospel together in an atmosphere of loving one another is that means by which believes are sustained to navigate the winds and storms that will come on life.

But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16from whom the whole body, joined and knitted together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.