In Ephesians 4 and 5, the writer offers some “house rules” for living in Christian community. Among them, are these practical guidelines for being a community of truthfulness:
“We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro, and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, who is Christ . . . ” (4:14-15)
So, then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another (4:25).
Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear (4:29).
In Christian community, we seek truth because it shapes us into Christlikeness, because falsehood erodes authentic community, and because the truth, lovingly handled, encourages and empowers those to whom we speak—it “builds up and gives grace to those who hear.”
We need the truth about ourselves if we are to become the people we are meant to be. And some of the truth we have to face is hard; we’d rather not have to come to terms with it. Comedian Rita Rudner said, “I have a method of weighing myself in the morning. I hang off the shower curtain and gradually lower myself to the scale. When it gets to the right weight, I try to black out.”
We avoid mirrors, not so much the mirrors that reflect our appearance, as the ones which show us our hearts. The faces of those we love can serve as that kind of mirror: they register disappointment, frustration, and hurt when we break our promises to them, treat them harshly, and use them selfishly. If we pay attention to the anger or confusion or pain which flashes across their faces, we can see our shadows there. We can also “see” ourselves in those rare moments when we are still and quiet: our consciences whisper to us about our sins, our wounds shout at us about our brokenness, our doubts mock our faith, our disappointments deride our hope, and our indifference ridicules our love. Like the image of ourselves we see on the surface of a placid lake, silence can show us ourselves, which is why we need and avoid silence. Sometimes, of course, the most revealing mirror is the honest counsel, the loving confrontation, of family and friends, who risk telling us the truth about our effect on them.
We tell each other the truth, most powerfully and most lovingly, however, not when we say the hard things, but when we say the good news. That’s why, I think, Paul ends the fourth chapter of Ephesians this way: “be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.” The best truth we can tell each other is the truth about what God has done and is doing for us in Jesus Christ.
Much more often than I have needed to be confronted about my failures, shown my blinds spots, and challenged in my thinking, I have needed to be reminded of God’s love and mercy for me, of God’s delight and joy in me, and of God’s purposes and hopes for me. Most of the time, I am in close and feeling touch with my incompleteness, deficits, and needs, because life has a way of making those inescapable over time. I suspect that’s true for you as well.
So, we speak gospel truth, Jesus truth, to each other and the world. We remind the guilty and ashamed that Jesus says to them, to us, what he said to that woman, caught in the act of adultery and dragged before him by an angry and punishing mob: “I do not condemn you. Go and sin no more.” We help those who are driven to despair by their unfulfilled longing and craving hunger to hear him say: “Let any one who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink. Out of the believer’s heart shall flow rivers of living water.” “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
We urge the lonely and fearful to remember that he said: “I will not leave you as orphans. I am coming to you.” We encourage the weary to remember that Jesus still stands with his arms outstretched to all of those whose backs are about to break and whose knees are about to buckle: “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Jesus is the truth who serves and saves, who encourages and helps, who loves and heals. And our glad calling is to “speak him”—to be his tender voice—to each other.