Christians fall into two categories. Of course, there are many more than two, but for the purposes of this letter I’m sticking with these two: There are those who want to stand for truth above all and there are those who want to have peace above all.
If you are in the latter group, this letter is not for you. I would have to write another letter for you that would challenge you to stand for truth when you’d rather let it slide because you so want peace with the person who is tromping all over truth. So this letter is for those in the first category.
First, I must say that I admire you for loving truth and sticking to it like glue. It takes courage to stand for what you believe is right and to defend it no matter the cost. But that may be the very problem as you try to communicate that truth. You have come to see the fight for truth as a war that must be won at all costs—a war that takes no prisoners.
Yet, I don’t see that attitude in Jesus, who was unarguably the world’s greatest truth-teller as he reveals in his prayer for us in John 17: “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth” (17) and “for their sake I consecrate myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth” (19). So obviously Jesus wanted us to know and stand for truth.
But in two chapters before (15:12-13), he said, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” So truth is obviously extremely important but it must be demonstrated by love. Jesus showed us by example that our words mean nothing compared to our sacrificial actions. When we sacrifice ourselves for others, they are much more likely to listen to and remember what we said.
Jesus also didn’t start debates with people over truth. Of course, he defended truth when he was challenged, and he did it in a way that was remarkable. It was so astounding that no one ever bothered to argue with him. They only muttered among themselves about how to get rid of him. (If that’s happening to you, let’s hope it’s for the same reason.)
Jesus even stated truth rather obliquely at times. Even those closest to him often didn’t get what he was talking about. It only became clear after he died for them. Then all the pieces fell into place, which brings me to the main truth Jesus cared about communicating—the truth that he was the Messiah, the Savior, the only way to God. And, yet, that is not the truth that I observe most truth-telling Christians feel passionate about. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I heard a Christian defending that all-important Truth.
Instead, I hear truth-telling Christians angrily engage others concerning issues of lifestyle preservation. They most want to defend their way of life. So they spend all their time attacking that which they see as a threat.
If you are in this camp, you may spend all your time railing against moral issues such as homosexuality and abortion. Or on the other end of the spectrum, perhaps you believe so fiercely in Christian feminism and taking care of the poor that you spend all your time criticizing the political-right. It’s also possible that in both cases your political convictions have become completely indistinguishable from your spiritual convictions. Therefore, anyone who does not hold the same political conviction is a heretic and needs to be corrected.
The problem with such truth-tellers is that they’ve forgotten the most important Truth. For those in the first camp, you must remember that our way of life is absolutely incomprehensible without knowing the source, Jesus Christ. And for those in the second camp, you must remember that all the good deeds in the world cannot save the world. Only Jesus Christ can.
Or maybe you’ve defined Christianity by a very narrow doctrinal position that sees other Christians as misinformed at best and evil at worst. The road to heaven becomes so narrow that you and those who think like you become the only judge of who gets in. So instead of extending God’s kingdom into the world, you are shrinking it to only those who agree with you.
Does that mean you can never stand for issues? Of course not. But if you are going to do so, you need to remember the following:
1) Snide remarks and put-downs not only don’t work but are ungodly. People are not going to listen to what you have to say unless they respect you as a person or feel loved by you. It doesn’t matter how persuasive your arguments are, they will fall on deaf ears without one or both of these.
2) Christian unity is more valuable than winning an argument. Just read Philippians 2 and 1 John 2 if you have any doubts about that. The world will be much more persuaded of the truth of Christ when Christians with entirely opposite points of view on lesser matters demonstrate love as they speak kindly and respectfully to each other—and agree to disagree.
3) Avoid opinionated rants on social media. I know this is a hard one. You feel passionately about something and want everyone to know it. But this almost never persuades. Instead, you are simply rallying others around you who think like you do and driving away those who don’t. So many Christians post as if everyone seeing it is a Christian. Even if you have only Christians as friends on social media, they most likely have at least some friends or family who aren’t. If they “like” or share your post, others are going to see it.
So how should you know what to post? One test is to think about someone you know who is not a Christian. Imagine what they will think of your post. Will it draw them to Christ, or because of the belligerent nature of it will it drive them away? If the former, go ahead and post it. If the latter, use incredible willpower to not post it. The other option is to post it as a question not a statement, inviting others to give their opinions and disagree with you. However, if you do that, you will have to lovingly and patiently give people their say and treat their responses as intelligent and worthy of being addressed.
4) Keep in mind that you may be wrong about what you feel passionate about at this moment. As a young Christian I felt very sure I was right about a doctrinal or a social issue that I have since changed my mind about. As I grew in Christ, he showed me the weak points in my arguments and faith and has caused me to repent and change. So, read what those are saying who disagree with you and ask God the Holy Spirit to give you a tender, listening heart so that you can admit when you’ve been wrong.
5) Finally, keep Christ fore and center. As we discussed earlier, this is the most important point. Every other issue pales next to knowing Christ and making him known. When Christ talked about truth, he was talking about himself. He addressed other issues, but in all of them he was pointing to himself. If we are going to be truth tellers, we must remember he’s what truth is all about.