Speaking the Truth in Love

by Spiros Zodhiates

The Nature of Love-Part 2 of 8

The Nature of Love-Part 2 of 8

Editor's note: In this series, Dr. Zodhiates elaborates on the Apostle Paul's magnificent description of the supreme Christian evidence-love.

"Love . . . doth not behave itself unseemly..." (1 Cor. 13:5).

Seemliness" in the Christian life relates to the manner in which we conduct ourselves toward others as we seek to express our Christian convictions in word and deed. It has to do with the etiquette of the Christian life. It is doing good in a loving way. It is tact and consideration for the feelings of others.

Love also behaves in a seemly manner when it keeps silent on occasion. Sometimes we just talk too much, or we express our opinions at the wrong time and to the wrong person. Some of us would give our right hand if we could recall those unseemly words. There is a time to keep silent, and happy and wise is the man or woman who knows it.

But let us not think that love bids us keep silent when it ought to speak out against evil. Love can behave unseemly when it is reticent out of a mistaken sense of delicacy or a desire not to hurt someone's feelings. Failure to speak out is often caused by a lack of moral courage on our part, a reluctance to suffer the pain of inflicting necessary pain on another. It may not always be easy to speak the word, but it may endanger the very life and soul of another not to speak it.

A false reticence may also rise out of over-tenderness on our part. The mother who cannot bear to see her baby suffer pain may imperil its very life by refusing to have it vaccinated. You know a certain man is headed in the wrong direction, and you do not have the heart to go and reveal him to himself, to plead, exhort, and rebuke. Such a man may go from bad to worse, until the waters finally close over him, leaving broken hearts behind him, and our own hearts filled with regret.

Your reminder might have been all he needed, the shock sufficient to galvanize him into a new purpose and aim in life. At worst he could only have insulted you. Better that than have his soul lost in sin; better be laughed at than that others should mourn. If our reticence is bought at the expense of another soul, then the price is too high. "There is a time to speak."

Sometimes we may not speak up because we feel it is better for a man to learn by his own mistakes. When a man finds out his mistake, we say, he will be more careful. But what if he doesn't find it out? Would you as an employer jeopardize a man's job because you were afraid to tell him what he was doing wrong? Will you jeopardize his immortal soul because you are afraid of offending him by telling him he needs a Savior? If fear of hurting a man's feelings has slain its thousands, then the reticence of a false sense of delicacy has slain its tens of thousands.

False reticence may arise out of personal pride, a reluctance to admit that we could possibly be in the wrong, and so lose face. A hasty word can assume such gigantic proportions that it threatens the peace of an entire household. A frank statement of the wrong and a plea to be forgiven would have healed the breach when it first began. But the longer we hesitated the wider the breach became.

In one family where the father and mother had wronged one another, neither would seek reconciliation. They took refuge in cowardly silence; they muffled themselves in a selfish reticence. "Forgive her? Never!" "Forgive him? I'd die first!" And so the difficulty became more and more acute. They ate at the same table yet never spoke. Where once abounded joy and laughter and freedom of speech, now reigned a sullen silence and heavy hearts. All this happened because of injured pride. A word, a humble acknowledgment of wrong, a little insight, much love-and the home could have gone on from strong to stronger.

A false reticence may also arise out of anemic faith. Though we believe the gospel is sufficient to meet our needs; we lack the faith to believe that it is equally good and effective for all men. We know that the power of Christ has helped us to overcome temptation, which no strength of our own was able to do. We know of a man or woman contending with this same temptation; yet we hesitate to assert that the power of the gospel is able to deliver him-though we recommend with almost evangelistic fervor some medicine that we fancy has helped us.

If ever there is a time to speak, it is surely when we are confronted by a man whose state is such that only the power of the gospel can help him. If our faith in the efficacy of the gospel is weak-kneed, then it is time we examined ourselves to see whether we really have a saving faith in Christ at all. As many men have gone to hell through the neglect of a word as through their own conscious rejection of the truth. If we ever hesitate to speak the right word, commend the gospel, find refuge in a cowardly silence, then we stand convicted. A cultivated reserve, a judicious silence may be fine things, but they are too costly if they are purchased at the expense of another man's soul.

© From To Love Is to Live, an exegetical commentary on 1 Corinthians 13, 1967, revised 1998. Available from AMG Publishers