In a world obsessed with political correctness, meanness is perhaps the worst social faux pas one can commit. As Christians, we often struggle to walk the line between being offensive and being ineffective. Even within the church, we are urged to be sensitive and inclusive – carefully avoiding the slighted chance of offending anyone. But as the saying goes,
“The truth hurts.”
So what are we to do as followers of Christ? If we give in to public opinion, we must abandon the gospel to avoid offending anyone. But conversely, if we rant and rave over biblical principles we risk alienating the very people we are trying to reach. The only way to navigate this dilemma is to look to the example of Jesus.
Was Jesus mean? It depends on your definition of “mean.” Merriam-Webster’s dictionary gives two definitions of “mean” that illustrate the problem here 1. The first definition is “characterized by petty selfishness or malice.” The second is “causing trouble or bother.” Certainly, Jesus was never “characterized by petty selfishness or malice,” but many considered Jesus to be “causing trouble or bother.” Jesus publicly referred to the Pharisees a “brood of vipers2” and “whitewashed tombs.3” It’s hard to misinterpret those insults, but Jesus was never mean for personal gain or spite. He was willing to warn people about the consequences of their sins because he deeply cared for those he was speaking to.
Truth without love can be harsh and cruel, but love without truth is nothing but empty flattery.
When we separate truth from love, we become mean. In John 13:35, Jesus taught, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” The love that Jesus taught was much deeper than the wimpy platitudes that often pass for love today. He understood the difference between telling people what they needed to know and telling them what they wanted to hear.
Our culture often glamorizes the right not to be offended.
Rather than listen to someone who holds an opposing opinion or heeding wise counsel, we turn ourselves into victims the moment that we find an opportunity to take offense. As Christians, we must have a responsibility to speak the truth out of genuine love for our fellow man. What’s more, we need to set an example by receiving the truth with poise and grace. We cannot expect others to see our true motives if we are constantly jumping to conclusions about theirs.
When truth and love are separated, they become completely ineffective.
Though truth spoken with love will still offend some, it holds the power to change lives through the Spirit of God. This is the reason that the Apostle Paul said, “…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. 4”
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