Speak or Be Silent? What Does Love Demand?

Love is patient. Love is kind. But love is not always silent.

It can’t be, can it?

Love is patient – longsuffering – which means sometimes, love bites its tongue. But there comes a time in every relationship when love demands action. Almost always, part of taking action involves words – speaking the truth in love.

As Christians, it can be tough to recognize that moment – the moment for action – and it can be even tougher to embrace it. After all, our culture has conditioned us to keep silent. If we disagree, they accuse us of intolerance. If we object, they accuse us of hatred. According to the wisdom of our world, “Love means never speaking a harsh word.”

But that is not true. As we discussed in this blog entry last week, love rejoices in truth, which means that sometimes love demands that we speak.

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Of course, that DOES NOT give us a green light to confront every person who has sin in his life. (That would require a lot of confrontation . . . beginning with the person in the mirror!) So we have to have some discernment to know when it is time to intervene with words/actions.

Here are 3 questions to help you assess whether to speak or be silent.  These are taken from the book Lord, Change My Attitude (Before It’s Too Late) by James McDonald:

#1 – Is this a critical path? If I don’t intervene, will this decision/behavior produce a fallout with God? In other words, if my Christian brother has fallen prey to a major doctrinal error, I must say something to him. If a friend or loved one has embraced a sinful behavior or lifestyle that has tremendous ramifications on the direction of his/her life, I must speak out. If a person I care about is involved with a sin that can really hurt him or someone else, I must to speak!

If that path is not critical, I may need to give my friend space (and grace), and allow God to work on his/her heart.

#2 – Is the problem chronic? Is this a one-time mistake, or does it repeat itself habitually? We all make mistakes, and they do not all need to be corrected! No one needs a play-by-play commentary of their worst moments. But if a sin or behavior becomes habitual, even if it is not a “big one”, it needs to be addressed. Often, we do not recognize these “little habits” that take root in our life, but they can be destructive.

#3 – Does your proximity imply responsibility? Pay attention to this one. It is key. We all have people in our life who are so close that they have the right (i.e. responsibility) to speak to their actions. Others do not have that right. I am quick to correct my children, for instance, becauuse I am directly responsible for them. Though I am not as quick to correct, I feel a similar burden to have difficult discussions with people who are part of my Church. We help hold one another accountable.

Having said that, I do not go knock on my neighbor’s door and give him life advice. I do not lecture strangers on internet message boards. I do not send letters to random people and give instruction, even if I feel like I have insight. Before we speak, we must consider whether we are in a position to say what we want to say.

One final thought – speaking truth in love is not enough. Paul goes on to teach in the same passage (1 Corinthians 13) that HOW we handle these moments is very important. He reminds us that love does not dishonor others. It is not rude or ungracious. It is not self-seeking. It is kind, always.

So what about you? Do you have a suggestion for how to handle the intersection between truth and love?

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