Full of grace and truth

Some time ago I was doing the children’s singing at a Vacation Bible School. I was asking the kids what song they wanted to sing next when one voice piped up:

“Jingle bells!” he cried.

I could see the smiles on the faces of several adults in the room, but before they could respond, his buddy responded, clear as a … as a bell:

“He means Jesus songs, Bozo!”

I guess that’s a good example of speaking the truth, but not in love.

Jesus’ coming to the earth, John declares, was “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). The thing that set Jesus’ life apart from the rest of us was the balance he held between those two elements.

When I was young, I thought we needed to “just preach Jesus,” avoiding all issues and all doctrine. It was, I suppose, a reaction to what I perceived to be preaching that was unloving and judgmental. But it is naïve to think that Satan would leave the church alone to float on a sea of tranquility; the fact is that he is obsessed with dividing the church and destroying souls.

To proclaim that something is true implies that other things must be false. Though preaching the truth makes some squirm with discomfort, it is still needed. In the name of love, some will never issue a challenge or make an assertion. It’s not loving, however, to keep people in the dark if God has required something of them.

Yet truth should also be given in love. Though it is a cliché, it is still true: We must “hate the sin, and love the sinner.” Truth can be spoken lovingly, and should. To my shame I can remember as a young preacher decrying the “older” generation’s lack of love … and doing it unlovingly!

“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

“Truth becomes hard if it is not softened by love,” John Stott declared. “Love becomes soft if it is not strengthened by truth. The apostle calls us to hold the two together … There is no other route than this to a fully mature Christian unity” (God’s New Society, p. 172).

It’s not so much a balance we need to strike between love and truth – a compromise solution, if you will – as it is the presence of both in our preaching and convictions. One provides the substance; the other softens its harshness.

He wants Jesus songs, Brother!

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Stan Mitchell

Stan has preached since 1976, in Zimbabwe, California, Texas and Tennessee. He serves as preacher for the Red Walnut Church of Christ in Bath Springs, TN. He is currently Professor of Bible at Freed-Hardeman University. He is married to the former Marjorie McCarthy, and has one daughter, Tracy Watts. He is the author of four books: The Wise Get Wiser, the Foolish More Foolish: The Book of Proverbs, Give the Winds a Mighty Voice: Our Worship in Song, and Equipping the Saints for Ministry. He has recently published another book, "Will Our Faith Have Children: Developing Leadership in the Church for the Next Generation.

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