I discovered some years ago that being “nice” was not the same as being “loving”. We can be nice: avoiding arguments, telling people what they want to hear and being generally pleasant. Or, we can be loving: willing to confront, telling people what they need to hear without fear of any lash back. Sometimes, I believe, it’s impossible to avoid conflict and still show love.
I personally believe that “nice” is overrated, but still, it has its place. Just because “nice” isn’t always loving, doesn’t mean that “loving” can’t try to be nice. In the past, I have at times been far too willing to confront. Now, I have never entered into confrontation easily, but I rationalized that any confrontation was okay so long as it brought out the truth. After all, when we know the truth, we are set free, right? (See John 8:32) So I don’t doubt the motivation of people who, like my younger self, are willing to walk into the fire for the sake of someone else. However, I’ve discovered that an action motivated by love may not be received as such. And even more, it may have the appearance of love, yet be ultimately cold and self-serving.
I find it interesting that Scripture has two answers to the same situation:
Do not answer a fool according to his folly,
or you yourself will be just like him.
Answer a fool according to his folly,
or he will be wise in his own eyes.
~ Proverbs 26:4-5 NIV
The first time I read those back-to-back verses, I had to do a double-take… then a triple-take… then I finally gave up and said: “Okay, Lord, what does this mean? Do we rebuke the fool or not?” I was more interested in doing what was right than being right. So He showed me: It’s more about our motivation than anything else. Do we care about the person we’re rebuking, or are we more interested in showing what we know? Do we truly want to help, or are we looking to be a hero? I’m so grateful that God uses us in our brokenness!
This Thanksgiving and Christmas season, many American Christians will have an opportunity to speak the truth to family and friends. I pray we have the right motivation. We are called to speak the truth in love. (Ephesians 4:15)
But what is love? Is it giving with the expectation of receiving something in return? Do we expect to have others extol our insight? Do we hope to be crowned a spiritual hero? Or do we seek to just love that person, speaking the truth in love. So before speaking the truth as each opportunity presents itself, we should ask the question: How does my expression of truth reflect the love of Scripture?
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.
~ 1 Corinthians 13:3-5
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of Him Who is the head, that is, Christ.
~ Ephesians 4:15copyright ©2011 Mitchell Malloy (http://mitchellmalloyblogspot.com/)