“Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.” Proverbs 28:23 (ESV)
One of the reasons it is difficult for us to be open in speaking the truth in love is that it often does not go well. (For an intro to this topic see blog post “Why can’t we speak the truth in love?”) But that should not be the reason we do not speak out. We need to keep the goal in mind and be willing to endure a rocky road to get there.
The goal in such communication according to Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is to build one another up in love and grow together in Christ. (Ephesians 5:15-16) And Jesus made it plain in His teaching on corrective confrontations that the goal was always to be the healing of the relationship. “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” (Matthew 18:15)
The wisdom of Solomon from the Old Testament regarding truth confrontations provide us with a necessary perspective. “Whoever rebukes a man will afterward find more favor than he who flatters with his tongue.” (Proverbs 28:23) The use of the word “afterward” here gives us a clue that initially truth confrontations often do not go well. We have all experienced it. We can go into a sharing the truth in love time with the best of intentions only to have it backfire in our face. And if we are not careful we can come out of it so beat up and discouraged that we vow never to do that again.
But God wants us to approach it in a spirit of faith, do our best to be obedient to the nudging of His Spirit and ultimately trust Him with the results. We can cling firmly to the hope that by God’s grace and the faithfulness of His Word, that what we do in faith will eventually be rewarded with the outworking of His will. And “afterward we will find more favor” than if we had simply cowered behind a flattering tongue. It may take some time to resolve things, but afterward we will be thankful we did what we did.
And I must add, even in situations where we do not see the hoped for “afterward” reward, we must comfort ourselves in the fact that we have done God’s bidding and that is reward enough.
The Apostle Paul, who wrote the treatise on “speaking the truth in love” was no stranger to doing that very thing. The accounts of his life and relationships with others both in the book of Acts and through out his Epistles are replete with truth confrontations. Paul was a confrontational kind of guy. He confronted the ungodly and the godly alike. Whether it was confronting the incestuous man in Corinth or publicly opposing the Apostle Peter to his face in Antioch Paul did not hesitate. (1 Corinthians 5:1-5 & Galatians 2:11-21) He waded into messy situations with God’s truth and his zeal to honor God sustained and ultimately rewarded him.
One case in point illustrates the necessity of clinging to the “afterward” promise. At the outset of Paul’s second missionary journey he had a face to face showdown with his partner Barnabas regarding the make up of the team. Barnabas who had been the senior leader at the outset of the first journey wanted to bring the young Mark along with them again. Paul sharply disagreed because in his estimation Mark was a quitter having abandoned them previously. Paul held to his guns and he and Barnabas ended up parting ways with Barnabas taking Mark with him and Paul choosing Silas. (Acts 15:36-41)
This must have greatly impacted Mark in his being the cause of the break up of the team. But Barnabas, the great encourager that he was, stuck by Mark.
Undoubtedly Paul’s truth-in-love rebuke of his deserting tendencies registered deeply with Mark. We can surmise that it contributed along with Barnabas’s belief in him to his becoming one of the most outstanding men in the New Testament. Later in Paul’s writings we find references to Mark as a fellow worker and during Paul’s last days we find him requesting Mark to come and be with him. (Colossians 4:10, Philemon 24 & 2 Timothy 4:11) Our greatest familiarity with Mark is as the author of one of the gospels.
It is easy to see therefore that speaking the truth in love must always be initiated in faith. When we consider the famous definition of faith as “the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” it provides us with an eyes wide open approach to truthful confrontations. Hold on to the “afterward” promise and by God’s grace something good is sure to come of it.
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