April 10, 2014

Hard Truth

Gary Thomas — 
photo: Jason Taellious, Creative Commons

photo: Jason Taellious, Creative Commons

 

“The truth is, you’re committing fraud.”

Melissa let the words go and then flinched, waiting for her husband’s response. Grant called his bookkeeping practices “creative tax policy” and wanted his wife’s approval. Melissa couldn’t give it.

Nor should she have.

Most of us were raised in a culture that views “friendship” as making people feel better about themselves and the choices they have made. “Loyalty” is defined as never judging, never questioning, never contradicting, always accepting, always even affirming and at least trying to agree.

That perspective of friendship completely undercuts everything a “sacred” marriage should be.

Jesus models true friendship with two stunning confrontations in Matthew 26 and one in John 4. The first time occurs after Judas has already approached the Pharisees and made a deal to betray Jesus. Jesus tells all the disciples that one of them will betray him. Judas has the gall to go up to Jesus and ask, “Surely not I, Rabbi?”

What nerve! He knows he’s the one. He just wants to do what he’s going to do without being censored for it. Jesus will have none of it. He doesn’t soften the blow. He doesn’t excuse Judas. He simply says, “Yes, it is you.”

Jesus looks Judas in the eye and tells him the truth, without one syllable’s worth of effort to make Judas feel “better,” excused, or even “understood.”

Later, Jesus tells the remaining disciples that they will all abandon him. Peter can’t believe he could do something like that and approaches Jesus individually. Jesus doesn’t say, “Don’t worry, Peter; I understand you’re under a lot of pressure.” He doesn’t say, “I’m hoping for the best from you.” Directly and succinctly, Jesus replies to Peter with, “Truly I say to you that this very night, before a rooster crows, you will deny Me three times.”

In other words, Peter, you won’t just scatter one time like the others will—you’ll personally and individually deny even knowing me three separate times.

In John 4, when the woman at the well tries to get off on some theological tangent, Jesus will have none of it. He simply looks at her and says, “The truth is, you have had five husbands, and the man whom you now have is not your husband.”

Jesus wasn’t into playing games; He let people walk away, but He didn’t let Himself shrink from speaking the truth. “Here’s the real issue; do you want to talk about that?”

Was Jesus not a friend? Do we think we understand friendship better than He does?

If we agree that Jesus is the model, then in family life, when someone is in sin or doing something unwise, the most loving thing we can do is to be direct and honest. 

The famous Ephesians 5:25 passage, telling husbands to become martyrs for their wives, goes on in v. 26 to say that Jesus loved the church by giving himself up for her to make her holy. Calling each other to holiness is therefore a key aspect of what it means to love. And that means occasionally letting others see the reality of what they are doing, especially if they are in deep denial.

This isn’t easy for me. I want people to feel accepted and understood, not condemned. But if the human condition is as Scripture describes it—that we “all stumble in many ways” (James 3:2)—then it follows there will be times when I have to listen to my friends tell me I am deceiving myself, and other times when I will have to tell them the same thing.

So, husbands, if your wife has been neglecting you and starts to feel convicted by a sermon: “Are my priorities in order?” and you respond with, “You’re perfect,” that might not be as loving as, “You know, when the pastor said women might be tempted to become moms first and wives second? I think you do struggle with that on occasion.”

If she feels convicted that she is focusing on the wrong things in life and you know that she does but you swallow your words when she asks your opinion, just know that you are serving yourself, not her, by lying. You have no right to pronounce pardon when the Holy Spirit wants to bring conviction.

When a husband is committing fraud (as in the opening analogy) or clearly flirting with another woman, a loving wife doesn’t pretend that everything is fine. She seeks to rescue him by lovingly, but firmly, stating the truth and helping her husband to see just how evil his actions are. Sacred marriage puts a premium on true, biblical love, and true biblical love puts a premium on speaking the truth. More than I should want someone to feel good about themselves, I should desire that they be holy.

Of course, there is a proper time and place for reprimands, and Scripture urges us to be gentle when we do it (Galatians 6:1). Additionally, wise spouses recognize that we need to be encouragers of the good more than we should be judges of the bad. Having said that, I suspect many in our generation oftentimes fail to speak the hard word of truth to our friends and spouses, leaving them in a state of immaturity and perhaps even on a path of personal destruction. We are more concerned that they feel good about themselves and us than we are about them responding to God’s purifying work in their lives.

That’s not love, Jesus-style. That’s cowardice.

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One response to Hard Truth

  1. Fantastic, fearful words of truth about truth here. Thank you, again, Gary. Will be sharing this post with the Future Marriage University (FMU) community at https://www.facebook.com/FMUniversity.