In the previous post about false teachers, we noted that Pauls' defense of himself in 1 Thessalonians established a standard concerning how we should present the Gospel. Clearly, what we say is important, but how we say it important as well.
There are at least 4 ways people can communicate: They can be true, false, corrosive, and kind. Let me define the terms.
- True - true. That was easy enough.
- False - not true. Amazing insight, no?
- Corrosive - Language that destroys. This is sarcasm, insults, communicating in a way that drips like acid, destroying people, relationships, and any future possibilities of sharing the gospel.
- Kind - Speaking the truth in love. Kind speech is honest, but the offense will never come from the manner or poorly chosen words, but only through the truth
Let's be a little more clear about four ways we communicate.
1) We can say corrosive things that are false. This is also called slander. It’s not only mean, it’s not true.
When I was coaching, I would get vicious letters. I finally started giving them to my AD, who read them and let me know if there were legitimate complaints. As it turned out, these letters were both corrosive and false - not only were their criticism not true, but they dripped like acid on my self-confidence and our relationship.
2) We can say corrosive things that are true. Simon Cowell used to do this on American Idol all the time. One of his quotes: “If your lifeguard duties were as good as your singing, a lot of people would be drowning.” Now that was probably true, but...yikes. Once when I was in high school, a good friend with no filter said to me on our way to the beach, “You have the skinniest legs I've ever seen.” True? Perhaps. Corrosive? Absolutely. That was 30 years ago, and I remember it like it was yesterday.
Let’s try some real world examples of corrosive things we can say that relate more directly to our faith. First, some quotes from those who are not friendly to Christianity (I'm purposefully obscuring the speakers so as not to detract from the broader point. The quotes are real).
• "[John Gibson] is one of those people who think all religions but his are mistaken. You know, the way a lot of these religious nut bag terrorists think." – KO
• "I think flying planes into a building was a faith-based initiative. I think religion is a neurological disorder." - BM
• _So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible….than we should allow parents to knock their children's teeth out or lock them in a dungeon." – RD
If you are like me, you cringe a bit when you read those, and it does not incline you at all to listen to what they have to say. Those comments are corrosive; they are mean. They are trying to get attention, sell books and documentaries, and look good by making others look bad.
But this shoe can fit on the Christian foot too. Try these quotes (and I am purposefully obscuring the speakers so no one is distracted by the broader point):
• "If you're not a born-again Christian, you're a failure as a human being." -- JF
• "Many of those people involved with Adolph Hitler were Satanists, many of them were homosexuals -- the two things seem to go together." -- PR
• From a response to an invitation to the atheist's Reason Rally: ““The fool hath said in his heart, There is no God” Ps14:1 Here's lookin' at you…We accept your invitation & will picket your parade of fools. Love,WBC.”
Did these make you cringe too? Do we realize that no one is making more or better disciples of Christ with these kinds of statements?
In Ephesians 4:31, Paul wrote: “Let all slander and meanness…be put away from you.” Why? When we speak like that, the goal is not to really change people’s hearts. The goal is to shame them; to beat them; to make them look like fools; to impress our “followers”; to score points rather than save souls; to profit personally through money or reputation at the expense of others. People who are corrosive will embarrass themselves and embarrass the name of Christ.
There are two more ways we can communicate.
3) We can say kind things that are false. This is known as flattery. This is why so many untalented singers appear on American Idol. Their friends flattered them when they should have been truthful. There are kind things we can say as Christians that aren’t true. The doctrine of Universalism (the idea that everyone will end up in heaven) may be "kind" in the sense that we don't want people to be angry or feel bad, but it's not true. Same with the claim that "All roads lead to God."
4) We can say kind things that are true. This happens when your doctor gently tells you that your lifestyle needs to change. One time a friend of mine, after being on the receiving end of one of my very sarcastic jokes, said, “Anthony, your jokes are too sarcastic.” He said it kindly; it was true; it changed me.
Here is an example of a kind thing that is true, the Christian version. When talking with Nicodeumus, a teacher of the Jewish law, Jesus summarized the Gospel (John 3:16-17): “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.”
It is a presentation of the Gospel that is uncompromisingly true; it is hopeful; it is compelling; it is life-changing. In the very next chapter of John, we read of Jesus and the Samaritan woman, another kind and true conversation in a completely different context that not only changed her life but the entire village.
As we follow the ministry of the apostles in the book of Acts, we see (for example) Paul on Mars Hill with the Greek and Roman philosophers, and all his letters to the church. They are always uncompromisingly true, and never corrosive.
I so often hear comments - especially through social media - about people or situations that are just not helpful, and the speakers may think it’s nothing, but everything we do has a ripple effect of consequences. People follow spokespeople and imitate them…. And the Kingdom of God is either corroded or built up.
Corrosive and true at least puts you in the service of truth. But remember: “Be ready always to give answer for the hope that lies within you” is followed up IMMEDIATELY by, “Do this with gentleness and respect.” Proverbs recommends that our speech be “apples of gold in pitchers of silver.” Both the content and the presentation matter!
Kind but false comments at least have kindness, but kindness is not enough. Love is patient and love is kind, but refusing to be truthful is not a kindness. It is (in many cases) an act of cowardice or compromise.
Cowardice is not kindness.
Kindness and truthfulness is the biblical mandate for communication.