When we go to the doctor, we want he/she to be honest with us about our true condition and health. If we have a clean bill of health, we are glad for that truth. If, however, we have something wrong, we would like to know what it is and how to deal with it rather than have the doctor avoid the truth so as to not make us feel bad or hurt our feelings.
In many ways pastors are spiritual doctors; it is their job to deal in the care of souls. In order to care for those souls, telling the truth to parishioners can not only be comforting, but it can also be painful. Pastor John Ortberg once said that “Trying to grow spiritually without hearing the truth about yourself from somebody else is like trying to do brain surgery on yourself without a mirror.”
The truth will set you free. But before it will free you, it will make you uncomfortable. We all have a real need to hear the truth spoken in love. And here is the truth that we must get a hold of: we are to be open, honest, and real with each other in the church because we belong to one another (Ephesians 4:25). We are to stop being dishonest, and start being truthful.
What is truth? Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life. Our lives together as a community of believers are to be shaped around the person and finished work of Jesus Christ. Since Christians share a common confession of Jesus together, we are to share a common life together. That life is to revolve around the truth of Jesus. That means we will put off non-Christian ways of relating to each other, and put on a Christian way of relating to each other. We will speak truthfully. And we will do it because we belong to each other. Just as Jesus closely identified with us in his life, death, and resurrection, so we are to so closely identify with each other that we take responsibility for each other. My problems are your problems – your issues are my issues.
We are to put off bad habits, and put on good habits. We are to put off lying, and put on truth. Let’s be honest: we are in the habit of not being truthful. We are in the habit of being liars. We are in the habit of pretending and being plastic – and what we need to see is that, in the Body of Christ, pretending that you are okay when you are not, or even acting like your life is hard when it is really not, is presenting yourself in an untruthful way. Secrecy and deception are tools of Satan, not God. Therefore, we must put off the bad habit of pretension, and put on the good habit of speaking truthfully to each other.
Why do we lie and not speak the truth? We are in the habit of lying because we have bought into the lie from the enemy of our souls that being truthful and transparent is too traumatic for us – we believe we can’t do it. The truth is that many Christians don’t think being open, honest, real, vulnerable, and genuine is worth the risk. We have believed the lie that we will not be accepted, that we will lose face with others, or that people will just gossip about me if they really knew about me. In other words, we let shame call the shots instead of speaking truthfully to one another. So, we simply avoid the truth and, so, end up avoiding others.
A lie is like a knife stabbed into the bowels of Christ’s Body, the Church. We are not to hide in the shadows and live in the dark. We are to step into the light and forsake all fakery and be truthful. Ephesians 5:8-11 says: For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth) and find out what pleases the Lord. Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, but rather expose them.
When Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Apostle Peter, they were judged severely because they betrayed the community. Lying undermines community and erodes the church. If we cannot be truthful to each other in the church, then we are living in the darkness and have need of coming into the light of truth.
How do we speak truthfully? We speak truthfully by making and keeping promises to each other because that is what God does with us. Churches that love truth will make a safe place for the awkwardness of confession, forgiveness, and healing. There must be assurance that members won’t abandon one another as they reveal their sins and weaknesses and fumble forward toward maturity and holiness. Truthful churches are communities of encouragement and hospitality where we are safe to be real. No one in the Body of Christ should ever have to suffer in silence, cry alone, or wonder whether the church will forsake them. The Church of Jesus Christ is to have a refreshing openness with each other, since we belong to one another. To have union with Christ is to have union with one another; you can’t have one without the other.
We must love one another enough to both speak and listen to the truth. Author Lewis Smedes has said in his book The Power of Promises: “Yes, somewhere people still make and keep promises. They choose not to quit when the going gets rough because they promised once to see it through. They stick to lost causes. They hold on to a love grown cold. They stay with people who have become pains in the neck. They still dare to make promises and care enough to keep the promises they make. I want to say to you that if you have a ship you will not desert, if you have people you will not forsake, if you have causes you will not abandon, then you are like God.
What a marvelous thing a promise is! When a person makes a promise, she reaches out into an unpredictable future and makes one thing predictable: she will be there even when being there costs her more than she wants to pay. When a person makes a promise, he stretches himself out into circumstances that no one can control and controls at least one thing: he will be there no matter what the circumstances turn out to be. With one simple word of promise, a person creates an island of certainty in a sea of uncertainty.”
I am harboring no illusions or ideals here: being transparent and real is both scary and traumatic, but if we are to be the church we will speak truthfully and not put up a false front. We will neither hide nor hurl. We will neither pretend everything is okay when it is not, nor will we project our problems onto others by hurling untruthful accusations. Instead, we will learn to communicate to each other by speaking the truth in love.
There are two tendencies that may plague us going forward from here: complacency and mediocrity. When it comes to having healthy relationships, we are too easily satisfied with a minimum amount of effort, words, and commitment. We are to live into our baptisms; we are to renew our covenant of care and commitment to each other. That means we will let the Word of God invade our hearts to the point of being willing to say what needs to be said and to be open enough to let others into our lives.
Some of us have putrid spiritual abscesses in our lives from either hiding the truth or hurling truth without love. Spiritual healing does not come apart from spiritual surgery. We must let God’s ordained means of bringing health and healing into our lives today. God the Father sent God the Son to die on a cruel cross for all of our unhealthy and sinful ways of relating to each other. God the Father and God the Son sent God the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Truth, to form a new community of believers in Jesus around truth.
I’m not talking out of the side of my neck when I speak about these things. I did not grow up in a family that was safe to have truthful communication. As a result, I learned very early in life to hide. My learned habits of communication were untruthful. It took years of painful spiritual surgery to become a person who could swim in the truth of deep relationships instead of superficial ones. It pains me, I think more than others, to see people settle for mediocre relationships in their families, with their friends, and especially with their church.
It only seems reasonable to me that churches need small groups of people who come together with the expressed purpose of sharing life together through being real and working out our salvation together. When Paul wrote his epistles, he wasn’t writing to a large building with hundreds of people in it; he was writing to small gatherings of believers throughout the city or region. If we lose our first love of Jesus we will see no need for sharing life together in such a way. You cannot have a robust relationship with Jesus Christ without having an equally robust relationship with others in Christ’s Church. The first step of real spiritual growth, after professing Christ as Savior and Lord, is allowing Christ’s Church to take responsibility for you, and for you to take responsibility for the Church because we belong to one another.
Will you let a trusted layperson or pastor into your life? Is there anything hindering you from doing so? Do you settle for superficial relationships? Why, or why not? What do you think God would like to do through you and your church when it comes to genuine community? Go for it.