15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (Eph 4:15 ESV)
One of my favorite anecdotes from church history culminates in Nicholas punching the heretic Arius at the council of Nicaea. It’s hard to gauge the appropriateness of this measure and many of us who read their writings over 1500 years later little doubt why he did it. This account leads to many questions. “How do we know when to punch heretics?” “ Is it ever appropriate to punch heretics?” “When do I get to punch a heretic?” Or, more likely and applicable, what about exposing false teaching, how does one do it, how should my heart feel, and how should my voice sound? How does what I say and my body language affect the hearers?
Recently, I remarked to my wife, “my inner (insert popular Bible teacher) came out this morning.” She said, “that’s okay so long as it was more righteous anger than you really were angry.”
That’s a tough line to toe.
There are certain false teachings and foul winds of doctrine in every age that either slip in unnoticed or come waltzing through church doors that are far too wide open. We are to be faithful to lay out “these things” before the congregation (1 Timothy 4:6). Many understand that phrase in 1 Timothy 4:6 to refer to the false teachings Timothy was dealing with in Ephesus. There is a time and a place to expose certain things for what they are. In my personal labor, as I have told our congregation, I often do my best to “preach the positives” in that, I pray by clearly expositing, teaching, and proclaiming the truth we can recognize apostate teaching for what it is when we smell it. There is a way to do this with (2 Tim 4:2) “complete patience.” I had a mentor-pastor tell me long ago, “Never preach to step on people’s toes, preach where the Lord leads you and if you step on their toes, their feet are in the wrong place.” By the same token, if you knock them in the head, then their heads are in the wrong place. If their hearts sink, their hearts are in the wrong place. We preach the truth and let the Holy Spirit do the work. There is something about hearing the Holy Spirit that is like getting a punch in the gut. The truth is going to hit our congregants hard without us hitting them over the head.
I have found the only way to calm down and save my knuckles, as it were, is to grab hold of the center of all true theology. The way to soften the blow between the teacher and the congregation is for the teacher to keep His gaze on the cross. There is where all true theology hits the hardest. There is where sorrow and love flow mingled down. There is where righteousness and peace kiss each other.
There is no need to crucify the hearer because the Son of God has been crucified on his or her behalf. Christ has absorbed all the blows, the theological truths that hit the hardest slap Him in the face. Understanding that is speaking the truth in love. The way to speak the truth in love is to look to the way God loved us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Keeping the cross before us and our hearers makes hard hitting truth bearable.