I have a few friends who have been hurt by members of the Church- me included. It often was because of the tongue. Jesus’ brother, James, said that if a man can control his tongue, he can control himself in any other way (James 3:2). Also within the Body of Christ, in our weakness, we can rub each other off the wrong way with our words. Before James talks about controlling the tongue, he acknowledges that “we all stumble in many ways.” With that in mind, we must realize that each day of our lives must be spend asking God to be gracious in our speech. Most of the hurt that I will mention is not from direct abuse or insult; most of it is from downright ‘good’ behaviour and speaking but delivered in a hurtful way or in a way that eventually brings hurt to the hearers. I call it being bad by being very good. I pray that as you read through each one, you will review your own life (Not someone else’s) and ask the Spirit to help you change. So, here is how to be very bad by being very good.
Honesty without sensitivity
“How do I look, Ernest?”
My wife stood before me in a skirt she had not worn in a while. I never did like the skirt but she did. Without thinking, I said:
“Please don’t put on that skirt. It looks bad.”
Her face fell! I tend to be a perpetrator of this one. Under pressure I become very choleric in my personality. All that stands in my way is a distraction to my goal- even people. There are several times when I want to communicate a fact and I feel that everyone is waiting for the grass to grow. So I say it. I don’t care who it hurts and how they feel, as long as it is said. My excuse? “But it’s the truth!” I came to learn that honesty without sensitivity is ungodliness. I even found myself giving excuses such as “But Jesus was brutally honest, so what’s the big deal?” That is NOT true. When you read the Bible with an in-depth view of the culture of the time and the contexts of Jesus’ words, you realize that he was never brutal in speech. In truth, there were situations when Jesus said it plainly and called people whitewashed tombs! He even talked about eternity, hell and heaven, truth and lies, without shaking his stand. However, each time, I see such a situation with Jesus, I realize that he mostly won the people over. Even when he did not win them over, they left without an accusation against him. Even his own enemies wanted to kill him but said to themselves that they had no basis for it because he spoke the truth in an undeniable way. He spoke it in love. We are called to win people, not arguments. How did Jesus talk to people about their sinfulness without them getting angry at him or abusive? How did he approach a prostitute and tell her to repent- and she did. I’ll tell you how. He was honest but he was sensitive. His sensitivity did not dilute the truth, but rather, it justified it. I have learnt that people don’t care how much I know until they know how much I care. The truth is, we put the false mask of being good for being honest but in truth, we are being very bad by being insensitive. The next time you are about to say something that is true to someone, ask yourself whether you are being sensitive as you are saying it. However it is good to note that sensitivity should never dilute truth.
Sensitivity without honesty
This is the inverse. There are moments when truth is needed to save a situation but we hold it back. In our defence, “we are being sensitive.” There’s a thin line between sensitivity and cowardice. When truth is longed for and we withhold it, chances are we can trace it to a selfish motive. We do it because we don’t want to be unpopular for saying the thing that nobody wants to hear. Instead of seeking ways to deliver the truth with sensitivity, we decide not to tell it altogether. Or even worse, we change the truth for it to be compatible with the hearers. Paul said that in the last days people will run towards false teachers who have diluted truth so that they can hear what they want their itching ears to hear (2 Timothy 4). When things go haywire because we refused to speak up, we drown our guilt with the lie that “we were being sensitive.” In truth, we were so scared about scarring our image that we denied truth. Many Christians who don’t proselytize fall here. I know it well because I have been there. If you knew a house was burning, would you wake up the others to save their lives or would you sneak out quietly because you don’t want to ruin their sleep? The truth must be spoken, Beloved. And if you lean on the Holy Spirit, you will realize that it can be done with sensitivity. You will also realize that no matter how sensitive you become, there are people who will ALWAYS be offended. Don’t prostitute truth on the altar of fame. Don’t be bad by being very good.
Correction without encouragement
Another way of being bad by being very good is pointing out errors without encouragement. The Bible tells fathers not to exasperate their children lest they discourage them. (Ephesians 6). Too much correction without encouragement can weigh one down. If you keep correcting someone and there is no evident progress for you to encourage them or congratulate them, then it is possible that you are the problem; your mode of correction bears no fruit because there is possibly no wisdom in it. Don’t be fooled however by change. Fear can breed change. Determine whether your correction is worthwhile by finding out whether the change in the person is out of fear or out of a genuine love for improvement. I believe that for every ounce of correction, we need a pound of encouragement. When people progress out of an addiction, recognize that progress. Reward them! Ever heard of a parent who communicates with their child this way:
Son: Dad, I got 80% in math!
Dad: Who was the highest?
Son: Huh?…Allan, he had 92.
Dad: Well, then you need to do better and beat Allan.
(Son, walks away deflated).
The Bible says in Proverbs 18:14 “The human spirit can endure a sick body, but who can bear a crushed spirit?” Encourage the weary as you correct them.
Instruction without vulnerability
Another way to be bad by being very good is by passing good morals without vulnerability. As believers, at times we fear exposing our past because we think others will think differently of us. However in truth, it is a pride issue. We don’t want to look tainted. So we proclaim Christ but we never admit that we too struggled with our sexuality, our anger, our doubt etc. When you share a weakness, you give power to the one you testify to. A testimony of victory over sin is so powerful that even the Bible says in Revelation 12 that it is part of the power that is used to overcome Satan when we are crowned in heaven. The Bible says that “they overcame him (Satan) by the blood of the lamb and the word of their testimony.”
Teenagers want to know that you too struggled with your identity when you were in high school. Addicts want to know that you too overcame from the struggle. People struggling with masturbation, pornography need to hear the success stories. The reputation we think we are protecting is actually hindering the hope and victory of others. You can be a good instructor but a bad change agent because of a pride of self-image.
Teaching without example
The world is full of opinions and with a lack of examples. This is the flipside of vulnerability. We must share our successes too. Vulnerability without victory can poison instead of give hope. I tell teenagers that it is possible to wait and have sex in your marriage. When I tell them I did it, they respond affirmatively because they can see a literal example. When I hear success stories in other people’s relationships because I shared my victories, I am encouraged to spread the good news. We should not give in to false humility and abandon our victories. We should teach with boldness. Timothy Keller calls it bold humility. We must show people what Jesus has done for us as we invite them to salvation. We must count our blessings and share them with the hurting so that they too can hope that the same God of Ernest is the God that can help them in their need. Inasmuch as teenagers and several other people want to hear stories of vulnerability, they crave more for stories of victory. We can be good teachers by simply lifting Bible verses but we can be bad influencers by keeping mum about the Lord’s victories.
Think about other ways we have been bad by being very good. Pray over them and ask the Lord to enable you to change.