Written Sermons & Bible Studies

Discipleship: Speak the Truth

Christ commands us to Go and Make Disciples. Christ’s command often gets interpreted as measuring people’s behavior against a Christian religious standard. In the Gospel of Mark 2:23-28, the apostles were eating grain on the Sabbath. The Pharisees, the religious leaders of the day, were quick to point out that they had violated the Jewish law. Christ criticizes the Pharisees for focusing on the truth of the law over loving people and caring for their needs. Religious convictions that we hold as truth can take priority over grace and love. When we share the Gospel with nonbelievers, I believe Christ would have us prioritize grace and love.

 

As Christians, you may have heard the saying, “Speak the truth in love.” We continue today in the fourth chapter of the book of Ephesians written by the Apostle Paul. Paul goes straight at that saying but flips it around. The saying starts with truth and ends with love. Paul starts with love and ends with truth. The passage tells us that if our words do not build up another or give grace to those that hear, then our words cannot be true. Wow! Those are demanding words from Scripture. We cannot claim to speak the truth if it does not provide grace, encouragement, and affirmation to the person we are speaking to. That requires some work to understand. Let’s read our Scripture.

 

 

Ephesians 4:25-32

So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another. Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and do not make room for the devil. Thieves must give up stealing; rather let them labor and work honestly with their own hands, so as to have something to share with the needy. 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. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with all malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ has forgiven you.

 

This past week, Jan and I watched the movie, “Deep in the Heart of Texas.” It is a wonderful film about the natural wonders of our state of Texas. In the film, they go to Bracken cave here in Texas where 20 million bats live.

The picture showed a few of the juvenile bats on their first journey from the cave. Without experience flying, they would run into each other and crash land. Some of them crash landed in the rocks. Others crash landed in cactus.

 

Waiting for the crashing bats were Texas Coachwhip snakes.

 

The snakes stalked the crash-landed bats and made dinner of them. The juvenile bats were not experienced fliers and could not take off from a flat place. They needed to climb up the rocks to get high enough to take off with some air under them. One little bat scampered up the rocks as the snakes slithered along hunting the little bat. As the little bat scampered up the rocks, one of the other crashed bats was lost to the snake and the pursuit was on again.

 

Finally, the little bat reaches high ground and was able to take off just before the snake arrived.

 

As many of you know, before I was a pastor, I was a commodity options trader and a business owner. I spent much of my time with people outside of the church. In my roles, I heard what people thought about Christians. Let’s just say, the crux of those conversations was not liking to be approached by Christians. I also got to see Christians both in their world and in the world around them. Truth seemed to be an important concept to some Christians, and they were going to share it with the world. As they saw fit.

 

Sadly, for secular people, when a Christian approaches them, they behave like those little bats trying to escape the snake. They scurry away and look for enough altitude to be able to catch flight and get away. Heck, I am Christian, and I scurry away when some Christians approach me. There are plenty of people out there that do not consider a conversation with a Christian to be an enjoyable experience. Why? Because many Christians seek to share the “truth” rather than the grace of Christ.

 

I have witnessed faithful Christians so committed to their version of Biblical truth that they became inhospitable, even hostile to guest speakers in their church. They do not know how to share the truth with love and grace. If the world acts like the Bracken bats scurrying away from the snakes when Christians’ approach, how can we share the Gospel with them?

 

Paul has much to say about our approach to the Gospel message. In Paul’s day, truth was also an important concept and hotly sought by philosophers and Christian apostles, evangelists, and others. That’s why Paul addresses truth in Ephesians. Paul’s understanding is much different than most Christian ideas of truth, both in the first century and today.

 

Let’s look at how Paul looks at the relationship of truth and grace for non-believers. For Paul, truth can only be discussed within a Christian community. Outside of the Christian community, the people’s Lord is not Christ but Satan. Paul does not believe that people without Christ can even understand truth since all truth flows from the grace of Christ. For people under the Lordship of Satan and death, the only message that makes sense is the message of the grace and love of Christ. Without the Gospel and its grace and love, truth is meaningless.

 

Yes, people often run from Christians like those little bats from snakes. However, people often find themselves caught by their circumstances in bad life situations. In our food pantry distribution line, we see joblessness, food insecurity, abuse, health issues, poor jobs, overwhelming responsibilities, and loneliness. Over our prayer site comes real needs. People are lonely, losing relationships, struggling to stay connected to kids, and suffering through divorce. Some people are suffering abuse and trauma. Their needs are real and the prayer they seek is for real difficult stuff. Our church touches people with raw and vulnerable needs.

 

In the movie, the little bats would fall and get caught up in cacti. They would try to get free and only get more caught up in the needles. Then the snake would appear and eat the little bat, cacti and all. The world is like the cacti for many of the people we reach through our food pantry and prayer ministries. Like the little bats they are caught in the cacti of life with looming disaster approaching. We as Christians know, it’s Satan who roams the world, seeking whom he can devour.

 

At this point in their life, we could come along and tell the little bat about our truth. We could share theories about the physics of flight. We could sit there and have a debate with the little bat, but until they are free from the cacti and in the air again, our discussion is pointless. Paul did not share the truth of the Christian life with those who had not received Christ as their Lord and Savior. When a person is dead and under Satan, they need to be freed before they can even hear truth.

 

For the people in our food pantry line and for the people who come to the church through our prayer ministry, they need our love, our grace, our smiles and our help. This week we had our food pantry, and we served 94 families. We had more volunteers from our church serving.

 

The people who came received food, and just as importantly, love, care, conversation, a smile and genuine concern. Our presence carries the Holy Spirit and real hope for freedom from the cacti of the world. I am holding up a vest given to me by one of the people in the line. She was concerned that I might be hit by a car as I directed traffic. Small gifts from people in the line happen from time to time. This church is part of their community, and they genuinely care about us.

 

When they are able and when they see a need, they give back. This is the exchange of grace that Paul envisioned from Christian outreach.

 

Back to our little bats. Once the little bats where airborne, they now had to worry about hawks and falcons swooping down for a meal. If the little bats stayed in the main flow of 20 million strong, they were safe. If they flew towards the outsides of the river of bats, the falcons and hawks would pick them off.

 

People get out of the main flow of the Christian faith easily. It often happens with young people, people who have just been saved, people who have been hurt in churches and people on the fringe.

 

Falcons are just waiting to swoop in and devour those out of the mainstream. People are deceived by the ruler of this world. Sadly, within Christianity, religious truth has been used as a club against other believers. I have often wondered why Christians so publicly attack their own. Atlanta Pastor Andy Stanley has written some thoughtful books and published one recently to much criticism. Whether one agrees or not with his views, does spiteful criticism communicate to the world the grace Christ shares with us?

 

From our scripture reading, it is clear to me that Christ and the Spirit have no interest in seeing our brothers and sisters getting attacked and swallowed up by religious truth. The Ephesians came to the faith because of grace and love. Too often people leave the faith because of someone’s condemnation presented as truth. It hit me, Paul would not say, “speak the truth in love.” For Paul it’s reversed. “Speak love in truth.”  

 

Paul says, “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.” If our words have malice, bitterness, wrath or anger, if our words carry any form of what Paul calls “slander and wrangling,” meaning falsely accusing and arguing with each other, then we aren’t speaking the truth. If our words lead to sin or evil, then our words are not truthful. On this, I think we can agree.

 

Paul goes beyond even this point. For Paul, there is no truth in our words, our theology or our faith if it does not build up our brother and sisters. Paul says, “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.” For our words to be truthful, they must build up and give grace to those who hear. Words that do not build others up and words that do not give the grace of Christ freely do not contain truth. 

 

When I came to this revelation about the order of love coming before truth, it hit me hard. In the passage, the Greek clearly says that there can be no truth if our words do not build up and communicate grace. How much of the Christian church would agree with that statement? Building up of others and grace take precedent over theology, doctrine, church rules and religious truth.

 

In my own life, I am great at old school truth. As a former mathematician and as a theology student, I can argue with the best of them. Yet, I stopped arguing about the truth 15 years ago. It hurt people, and it didn’t minister to them. Being right produced no fruit. Over all my years I have found myself in many different settings where I have been placed by the Spirit. In those settings, I have only seen the full power and truth of Christ where there was first love and grace.

 

Back to our bats, when that river of bats descends on the fields of south Texas, they consume an insane number of insects. If my numbers are right, it is something like 140 tons of insects a day. Imagine a swarm of Christians caught up in the river of life, flowing with the love and grace of Christ descending on the problems of this world. Christians leading with building up and grace instead of truth. What an impact they could make.

 

Here at Place of Grace Fellowship, we are part of that river of life. We do lead with grace and love. We make an impact. When we are in the middle of the flow, it is not always easy to see the impact we have. I see it on the faces of the people in the food line. I see it in our carry in dinner as we share grace and love within our community. I do not know where we will end up, where the river will lead us. Like those bats, I ask you to trust in the river of the Spirit flowing through Place of Grace. Trust in the river of life that flows from Christ. It leads us where we need to go. Amen.

About Pastor Tim

Tim Holmes

Senior Pastor

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