The Singapore government has in recent years stressed the importance of developing soft skills. Since then, schools have stressed upon us the development of presentation and communication skills, often through class debates and group discussions. Technology and Web 2.0 have also tremendously transformed how we communicate. Behind this force that is changing communication, society is developing her own worldview of speaking and communication. Thus, if we do not weigh what we are taught by the world against God’s Word, we risk taking in a destructive worldview of speaking.
I will only highlight two ways in which the world focuses wrongly on speaking—even though there are many others. The first is the world’s stressing on the art of persuasion and “authenticity”. To the world, there is no truth and any claim to it is marked as arrogance. Thus, man should focus on speech that is all about careful sentence construction, flowing with elegance and eloquence. Speaking must be according to what one feels strongly about, especially if it is against the Bible. It is the kind of speech that excites the heart of another; but when the conversation is over, the soul is starved. While there is much value in the training we get in schools in the skill of expressing ourselves clearly, if Truth is not at the core, centre and foundation to all our speaking, we become vain. If such a worldview of speaking creeps into our church, the life of the family of God will be severely affected. Soon, the preaching and the Bible studies of our church will become neglected and even despised, because the people are interested in just speaking, and not the Truth.
The second focus of the world is related but different from the first. It is about worldly wisdom. The goal of worldly wisdom is to substitute, rival and destroy True wisdom. The world works hard to confuse God’s people that speaking the truth of Christ is great foolishness because they cannot fit God into their scientific framework. Thus, with greater fervour every year, schools penalise students who speak the truth of Jesus Christ. If the church adopts this worldview, then the wisdom of God will be replaced with worldly wisdom in the conversations of God’s people.
The remedy to the wrong focus on vain speaking and worldly wisdom is to speak the Truth in love. This remedy in Ephesians applies to every member of the church (1 Corinthians 13:1-13, Galatians 6:1, 1 Peter 3:15). Just as we have be reminded many times that the struggle to speak the truth corporately as a church is real and intense, so too is the struggle to speak the truth in love with our own lips in our personal lives. The Church is the pillar and ground of truth, and our mouths ought to be the fountain of continual blessing. Both are tremendously important responsibilities God has given His people. So much so that Prophet Isaiah cried out because he knows how the old man of sin covers the mouth with violence. God teaches us that though all beasts in the world can be tamed, no man can tame the tongue. Only God can change our speaking.
In the book of Ephesians, God reveals to us a relationship between speaking the truth and love with three things. First, the preaching of God’s Word (4:11-14). Second, the growing in Christ (4:15-24). And last, our duty to speak as members of one another (4:25-26). Together, these three relationships show us that it is the hallmark of every Christian to open his mouth and pour out blessings of Truth to all around him. The tap of Truth cannot be shut up because it is steadfastly stuck in the love of God.
To learn how to speak, we have to recall what God has spoken to us. The central message that God speaks to us every day is that Truth and love are married together in Christ. Therefore, they are not to be separated at any time in our speech. Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other (Psalm 85:10). The Truth in Psalm 85 is the truth of God. Truth reveals and exposes us as the liars we are. The Truth is that we all justly deserve divine condemnation. This is God’s Truth. Nevertheless, God always speaks His Truth to His people with Mercy. His mercy in Jesus Christ, the Truth, was displayed by the shedding of Christ’s blood. Christ confirms that mercy and truth are married together by speaking the words “It is finished” and by His resurrection from the dead. Having undeservingly received God’s mercy and truth together, we by God’s grace keep them always together in all our speaking.
Before we speak the truth in righteous judgment to our beloved spiritual family members, we must first be aware of our obvious sins that we are oblivious to. God knows that more often than not, when we attempt to pull the dust out of our brother’s eye, there is an enormous beam in our own that we are oblivious to. A man is always wise in his own eyes. It is obvious that we have the old man of sin in us because we are very prone to speak the truth sinfully. Some of us are more inclined to speak God’s truth without love, cutting others down. Others have the tendency to totally remove inflicting “faithful wounds” through our speaking, which hurts our friends even more spiritually as we watch our brother continue in sin. The latter characterises the age of sinful tolerance we live in.
Each of us has a clear strength in speaking strongly in particular truths. Often, in our speaking, when others do not share the same intensity, we begin to wonder if God really loves them to begin with. On the other hand, we oftentimes miss out many important truths others are speaking about, because those aspects of God’s truth are sinfully not as important to us. With “tunnel vision”, we often exalt ourselves above others while putting others down.
In addition, we must consider that, each of us has the tendency to speak the truth to only certain people. Our speaking, just like our sensitivity to sin, is not consistent and can sinfully defer from people to people. The result of this done repeatedly is that we grow to look at certain people in church with an evil eye not because they are more sinful, but rather because we are more keen to recording their sins in our minds. God’s truth remains constant and true eternally. However, our hearts and lips are inconsistent and constantly changing.
We must be aware of our nature in order to speak the Truth. We must not confuse the infallibility of God’s Truth and the infallibility of our own words as imagined by our deceitful hearts. At the Cross of Christ will we find the strength to pull out the plank of partiality, inconsistency, fear of man, and self-righteousness from our eyes. Then, we can have a deeper understanding of how we are wretched sinners who are called to speak to other wretched sinners, all covered in Christ’s blood.
Because speaking God’s truth cuts our neighbour’s old man of sin, we should expect that he might turn to hurt us. However, even if speaking God’s truth hurts our neighbour and even if our neighbour responds by hurting us, we must still speak God’s truth and in greater love. We must have greater love because we must suffer more for the sake of our brother’s soul. Sometimes, God’s sheep can behave like dogs or swine, attacking those who out of godly love reach out to give holy pearls of truth. Jesus Christ has given us the Pearl of Great price, yet we have oftentimes responded according to our old man of sin with attacks of our Master like wild dogs (Ezekiel 16). Nevertheless, Christ maintains His Covenant of love with us. Similarly, we must be ready to suffer for righteousness, for the soul of our brother is more important than all suffering and our pride. Our hearts know that we have been shown way too much undeserved love by God to ignore our calling to speak Truth in love even if it hurts us and our spiritual family members.
Even when a person much older or in a position of authority makes a grave sin, we must speak the truth in love in the same posture as Noah’s two sons did for their godly father. Our faces turned around, walking backwards and covering the sin. Never do we mock and spread the sins of God’s precious sheep.
The preaching on the Lord’s Day gives us truth, and we need the whole of it, not just half of it. We know so little of the truth, and that is why we are weak and speak little. However, at the preaching of God, we are fed the bread of life. This bread perfects, edifies, and lifts up our souls. We are built up to the full measure of Jesus Christ. The preaching gives us strength to speak. At the preaching of God’s Word, we are put to rest in the land of Beulah. Our souls, tired from the night of mourning, now rejoices in the truth that God delights in us. The preaching gives us the delight to speak. The preaching God sets our hearts on fire like glowing candles in the darkness. Like a candlestick of Christ, we shine the truth of Christ in love to every neighbour God brings into our lives. The preaching gives us the Truth to speak.
God places huge responsibility on our shoulders by making us brothers and sisters of each other in His blood and eternal Covenant. We are all bound and connected to each other more so than we can imagine. We are joined to one another and united as a body; we are living stones constructed together as God’s holy temple. In the family of God, our spiritual blood is thicker than earthly blood and we are all soldiers in the same unit. Whether we feel it or not, we are bound by the blood of Christ in this life and the next. Jesus Christ is knitting us all closer together by the preaching of God’s Word. The preaching unites God’s people together in truth and faith. Therefore, with every sermon discussion, every WhatsApp message of spiritual encouragement with a
verse, every small contribution spoken in the bible study discussion, every conversation that ends with “I will remember you in my prayers”, every family devotion, and every whisper of our friends to us “hope thou in God”, we give expression to this marvellous verse…
“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ: From whom the whole body fitly joined together and compacted by that which every joint supplieth, according to the effectual working in the measure of every part, maketh increase of the body unto the edifying of itself in love.”
Together, in all of our daily struggles, we constantly whisper to each other over and over again, “Ebenezer, God is with us.” This is what God has made and crafted our mouths for—to continuously speak truth that all may constantly grow in to our head, Jesus Christ. Our God gives us grace to speak Jesus Christ in His Spirit to all.
Written by: Josiah Tan | Issue 36