Personal Reflections on the Balance of Love and Truth

The last few days I’ve been thinking about how Jesus lived out this thing we call “grace and truth” (John 1:14).  Here are some raw thoughts, as they come to mind about this command we are to follow:

  • I know that personally I lean more toward truth than love.  But with certain people, I can tend to be too loving and I fail to speak truth into their lives.  So, I’m not always loving.  But, I’m not always truthful either.  I’m striving, by the Spirit, for a proper balance.  I want to live in this tension according to the biblical standard, not the American Christian standard.
  • There is no good news of the gospel if there is no terribly bad news that I need to be saved.  We need to preach to people that Christ came to justify sinners.  Not justify sin.
  • Jonathan Edwards wrote, “The same eye that discerns the transcendent beauty of holiness, necessarily therein sees the exceeding odiousness of sin.”   In other words, the more we come to see and experience the glory and holiness of God, we will become more truthful about our own sin, because we can be truthful about God’s acceptance of us in Christ, that he is our righteousness.  And if we are honest about ourselves, the truth about us is pretty bad.  But Jesus, hallelujah, offers us very good news.
  • The Bible is the most brutally honest book ever written.  At the same time it is filled with more hope than any other book ever written.
  • True love for people doesn’t mean we make much of them so that they feel accommodated and well-liked.  It does mean that we make much of Jesus and point them to his majesty and splendor and the righteousness he offers.
  • Being too loving might look like this: overlooking sin, ignoring/speaking against a truth claim because you are offended by that truth, making sure everyone gets along while the elephant is in the room, not speaking up when someone has incorrectly interpreted Scripture, accommodating unrepentant sinful lifestyles among believers, ignoring key parts of the gospel, such as a pastor avoiding God’s wrath or anger, penalsubstitutionary atonement, hell, etc.  The joyful and loving aspect of these sermons is that they end with the glorious news that God’s anger and our sin have been removed because of Jesus’ person and work.
  • Being too truthful might look like this: continually raising your voice in debates, ignoring an argument because you don’t believe the person has credibility, harboring bitterness and resentment, not having the proper tone for a particular person/gender/audience, not taking into account a person’s intention or motive, never forgiving, never granting mercy and grace.
  • I think that the majority of Christians lean more toward love (particularly in America).  I think this is because Christians, at large, want to be liked, loved, and at peace with others and they do not want to create conflict in relationships or make people feel uncomfortable or convicted.
  • In any conversation or discussion about theology, practical living, relationships, and morals or ethics, either man or God will be offended.  It’s inevitable.  The biggest fear in my life is that I would do something to offend God — and I fail at that daily.
  • Some Christians think love always trumps truth.  Other Christians think truth always trumps love.  Instead, Paul wrote, “The aim of our charge is love, that issues from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1 Tim. 1:5).  John Piper has written, “Notice the order: ‘instruction’ [or ‘charge’ in the ESV] is the foundation and leads to ‘love’ through purity and faith. Or again consider the order in 1 Peter 1:22, ‘You have in obedience to the truth purified your souls for a sincere love of the brethren.’ Again, truth precedes and transforms the soul for the sake of love. Even in the spectacular revelation of 1 John 4:8 that ‘God is love,’ ‘God is‘ provides the foundation for ‘God is love.’”  Love is the overflow we experience from learning truth.  If you do not have truth, there will be no love.  If you do not have love, your truth is actually false.
  • Disagreeing with someone or saying, “You’re wrong,” is not always unloving, though it can be depending on the motive and intention of the heart.  I feel that in the Church in America, disagreements have been made to incorrectly seem as unloving acts.
  • Mark Driscoll has said, “Hard words produce soft people.  Soft words produce hard people.  I want you to be soft people.”  Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.”  Psalm 141:5a says, “Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head.”  The Bible seems to affirm this.  Your best friends are those who are able to lovingly wound your soul so that you might become more like Jesus.
  • Being rebuked is not considered a “loving” thing, nor does it have a positive connotation, in our relativist, post-Christian culture.  Though, we must do it so that the man of God may be competent and well-equipped (2 Tim. 3:15).  By God’s grace, I’m learning how to accept rebuke, reproof, and correction.
  • Jesus mocked the self-righteous “religious” people of his day, represented by the Pharisees (see, among others, Matthew 23 and Luke 11).  Jesus was frequently abrasive and harsh with these people who thought they didn’t need him.
  • Jesus extended compassion to those who understood their total depravity and need for God’s righteousness and not their own (e.g.Zacchaeus in Luke 19; the woman at the well in John 4; the adulterous woman in John 8; the one grateful leper in Luke 17).  Jesus was not abrasive and harsh with these people who knew they needed him.
  • Martin Luther said, “You can never be too gentle with the sheep, and never too harsh with the wolves.”  The sheep are all those who profess Christ and live a life of repentance.  The wolves are all those who live legalistic, self-righteous lives and profess their own righteousness before God while preaching the same to others (see Isa. 64:6 and Phil 3:1-11).
  • God frequently disciplines his sheep in harsh ways.  Hebrews 12:5-6 says, “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him.  For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.”  Sometimes this means cancer for your mom.  Sometimes this means a fatal car accident for your spouse.  Sometimes this means a tornado ripping through your town and destroying a neighborhood.  Sometimes this means losing your job or failing to find a new job.  People ask, “How can a loving God let (insert trial here) happen?”  The very short answer is: “Because he loves you and he wants you to grow through suffering.”  In the same way, parents discipline their children.  Spanking appeared as if it was the most unloving thing that my mother could have done to me.  As I cried and sat in my room and had to think about what I did, I knew that in the long run, it would turn out for my ultimate good.  I was rebuked and led to repentance.  God disciplines his children, very truthfully, but it is done with a Fatherly love.  It doesn’t always seem “nice” and appear “loving” to us, but that’s because God has a better plan and purpose and his highest pleasure is to glorify himself.  He does not operate according to our pleasures.  “Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases” (Ps. 115:3).  He makes much of himself, his glory, and his purpose, and in turn, it turns out for our good (Rom. 8:28).  In the same way, we reproof and correct our fellow believers, not as disciplinary parents, but as loving friends who may notice doctrinal errors, sinful patterns, self-righteous attitudes, relational problems, or other hindrances to living the abundant life that Jesus offered.
  • In addition to this, Charles Spurgeon wrote, “Our heavenly Father often draws us with the cords of love; but ah! how backward we are to run toward Him…But it is a love which takes no denial.  If we obey not the gentle drawings of His love, He will send affliction to drive us into closer intimacy with Himself.  Have us nearer He will.”
  • The gospel is not only about kind and loving words from Jesus toward sinners.   It is that.  But that’s not all it is.   C.S. Lewis said, “Love is something more splendid and stern than mere kindness.”  This gospel of love comes with hard demands of repentance and self-denial.  The gospel is about repentance.  Bonhoeffer says that grace without discipleship (i.e. repentance and self-denial) is cheap grace.  Cheap grace is grace that justifies sin and not the sinner.  It’s the attitude of Paul’s “questioner” in Romans 6:1-4.  This means we need to be honest with ourselves.  This means we need to be honest with others.  Christians both practice this and preach this.  In John 8 concerning the woman caught in adultery, Jesus spoke very gently and compassionately to her, because she didn’t believe herself to be self-righteous like the Pharisees.  Nevertheless, he gave her the hard command, “Go, and from now on sin no more” (v. 11).  There is grace and truth.  Forgiveness with the call to a lifestyle change.  That is not a command the American Church likes to heed.  Jesus told the disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:35).  This is a call to a different mindset, worldview, and lifestyle.  Most churches do not teach discipleship this way.  We love the comfort of our den in America, not the long, cold nights on the battlefield.  Two verses before that, Jesus called Peter “Satan” when Peter tried to stop Jesus from suffering and dying (v. 33).  Instead of glossing over Peter’s giving in to Satan’s temptation, Jesus confronts him nose-to-nose.  I’m sure Peter was a little freaked out at this because calling someone “Satan” certainly doesn’t appear loving.  But Peter repented, after many other falls, and became one of the early church fathers.  Finally, Jesus lovingly rebuked the disciples, sometimes avoiding their questions to get to the deeper matter: sin.  This happened on many occasions because of their pride, immaturity, and failure to understand his teachings.
  • Finally, let’s consider pastors.  Jesus is our Prophet, Priest, and King.  Pastors (“elders”) in the church reflect this.  Prophets shepherd the flock in that they teach sound doctrine, warn against false doctrine, call people to repentance both publicly and privately.  These pastors love doctrine, theology, apologetics, preaching, teaching, etc.  Priests shepherd the flock in that they comfort the hurting, give biblical counsel, and extend mercy and grace to those who are in need.  These pastors lead community groups, meet one-on-one with people, visit the sick in the hospital, etc.  Kings shepherd the flock in that they organize, select leaders, delegate, and create and oversee policies.  These pastors love administrative duties, job descriptions, performance reviews, handling finances, meetings, etc.  Some people may consider the prophets unloving because they point out sin and do it from the pulpit.  Some say the priests are not truthful enough because they give practical biblical wisdom over a cup of coffee.  Some argue that the kings are unloving because they focus too much on policies and finances instead of people.  Prophets want to protect the flock from error in belief and behavior.  Priests want to protect the flock from doubt and depression.  Kings want to protect the flock by making sure that the church is above reproach with finances, personnel, and policies.  Different pastors have different roles, and true pastors who follow Jesus, though not perfect, do what they do because they love God’s people.  It simply looks differently for different pastors in different roles.

That’s a lot.  Thanks for reading.  For more on this, and to hear from men who are older and wiser than I am, I would recommend this article by Piper as well as this conference message by Driscoll.


8 responses to “Personal Reflections on the Balance of Love and Truth”

  1. Haha I skimmed this and saw “overlooking sin” under the actions of being too loving and a red flag went up.

    Then I read slow. Saw the italics. And it made sense.

    I lean towards truth as well.


  2. Did any of the people toward whom Jesus was abrasive and harsh, end up becoming his followers?


  3. That’s a good question. The truth is that we cannot know because the Bible doesn’t say (at least I don’t think it does). History reveals though that there are people who have experienced the harsh mercy of God directly (that is, without human influence) and passively (that is, through sound rebuke from people) in order that they might truly follow Jesus. I’m sorry that I can’t think of any examples off the top of my head.

    Also, I want to ask if you are you placing blame on Jesus for his choice of communication with those who continually rejected him as their only hope for salvation?


  4. No, I was just curious as to what the outcome of those encounters was, according to the Bible.


  5. Ok. Yeah, honestly the Bible doesn’t say. Perhaps though, the greatest example of a life-change in the Bible because of some pretty stern reproof would be the Apostle Paul. God literally knocked him off his horse while he was on his way to kill some Christians in Damascus. Jesus appeared to Paul (“Saul” at the time) and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” (See Acts 9.)

    I can’t imagine that Paul felt very good about this experience. He was probably scared stiff. But when you have a personal encounter with the Lord of the universe, you believe and obey. That’s the amazing thing about God’s awesome, personal work in people’s lives because of the sacrifice of his Son and by the power of his Holy Spirit.


  6. Hmm. Being knocked off his horse sounds rough, but the words don’t necessarily seem harsh or abrasive to me. I guess it depends on the tone of voice you read into it, which, at this point, no one has any way of knowing what that was.


  7. True, Cheryl. Tone is open to interpretation–very much so.


  8. Irrespective of any religion which is just man made and humanly founded, one has to remember and always remember that what is sown is reaped and that the laws of nature are reflective and cannot be changed by us the earthly nature products – ashes to ashes and dust to dust. Truth shall always prevail and shall always overcome the lie. . . . . .


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