I love math; it was the subject in which I always excelled. It makes sense to me. Either the answer is right or wrong; there is no in-between. When I hear someone begin a sermon or any kind of talk with statistics, I begin to feel very excited. I sit up straighter and listen more intently; I’m fascinated with statistics, equations, and cold-hard facts. I tell you this at the risk of being tagged strange, but that is my personality. Unfortunately, this isn’t the greatest personality when relating to others. Let me give you an example:
Hannah, my oldest daughter, asks, “Can we watch The Andy Griffith Show (the greatest show in the world, by the way -facts are facts) tonight?”
My response is a curt, “Nope.” After all, why does she need an explanation? The fact is we will not be watching television tonight.
Carrie’s response is a little gentler. After giving me the mouth-wide-open-couldn’t-you-say-it-a-little-nicer stare, she follows up with, “Oh sweetie, it’s really late, and we don’t have time to watch an episode tonight, but if you are really diligent doing your chores and school work tomorrow, we can watch an episode or two tomorrow night. Maybe we’ll even have ice-cream while we watch it.”
We both gave the same answer. Carrie’s response did not even have the word “no” in it, mine was merely the bottom line. My response left her feeling empty, Carrie’s left her feeling a little disappointed but hopeful, excited, and even motivated. In the end, truth was not what left her with hope, excitement, and motivation to work hard; it was the perfect mixture of truth and love.
The necessity of truth and love
Cold-hard facts won’t change the world. Brow beating people with the truth won’t change the world. Facts are so impersonal; they can be very useful, but facts do not build relationships. Truth, in and of itself, is not what knits our hearts together as believers in Christ. We find unity in the inseparable union of truth and love.
And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Ephesians 4:11-16, ESV [emphasis added]).
Christianity is not about orthodoxy, it is about relationships with God and each other. Jesus didn’t come to teach his disciples the facts, so they could teach others the facts and pass them down from generation to generation. Jesus taught us that everything true and right and just and holy could be lived out through love. Jesus taught the filter for everything we do is love (Matthew 22:34-40).
The all-important question
So, why are truth and love inseparable? Can’t you have one without the other? You can certainly have truth without love; truth does not need love in its mix to be truth. Truth is truth no matter what. Walk into many churches on a Sunday morning, and you can find truth without an ounce of love (a sad indictment on so many churches and the antithesis of what Jesus taught and what Paul commanded in Ephesians 4:15). You can find a lot of heartless regurgitation of truth and a lot of minions engrossed in their dead orthodoxy, much like the state of the religious leaders in Jesus’ day. But this does not change anyone or leave anyone hopeful, excited, and motivated; it leaves them empty and searching.
However, it is impossible to have love without truth. Love always seeks the best for its recipients. Love has no boundaries in its reach. True love is absolutely unconditional, but it certainly sets boundaries for its recipients because it wants what is best for them. I cannot say I love someone too much to tell him/ her the truth, when I know the absence of truth will lead to harm and heartache. Truth is so vital; it cannot be withheld from those we love, but the vehicle of truth must always be love.
The walk away
Do you often find yourself guilty of always trying to be right in your relationships? Do you find it easy to convince someone you’re right at the cost of love? Is it more important for the people in your life to know you’re right or to know you love them? You’ve heard the old saying, “presentation is everything.” A meal tastes better when eaten in the right setting; a gift is more special when wrapped beautifully, and truth is more attractive when paired with love.
During our small group discussion Wednesday night, Carrie brought up this subject, and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about it. I would love to say I have mastered this, but I’m still working on it. I have a pretty big ego, and I love being right and love even more knowing that others know I am right. I need this just as much as anyone.
The indisputable facts might leave someone without an argument but empty nonetheless. We have not been called to be right and present truth; as believers, we are called to present truth in love in order to bring reconciliation between God and man. The gospel of Jesus Christ changes lives, not just because it’s true, but because it is truth intertwined with a perfect, indisputable, unconditional, inexplicable, and inconceivable love.