Blessed is he whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
“In town. Want a pumpkin latte?” was all it said. But it made me weep. It made me weep because a week before my reckless words had hurt this friend. She had wept. She showed me my fault. I saw it and confessed. Then came peeling off more layers because harsh words are only ever the flimsy outer layer covering a sinful heart. But ten years together, if nothing else, must reveal one’s friend’s favored beverages. And that’s how a Saturday morning, pumpkin-spice latte was undeserved, understated and unadulterated grace. And how a six-word text was an exquisite, stunning cover.
Two Kinds Of Coverings
He that covers his sins shall not prosper.Proverbs 28:13
You have covered all their sins.Psalm 85:2 Charles Spurgeon contrasts them, “we have man’s covering which is worthless and culpable, and God’s covering, which is profitable and worthy of all acceptation.”
As far back as Eden. As soon as the first couple disobeyed God’s command, they knew they were naked, uncovered. They felt guilt and shame. And they did not like how those felt, so they covered up with flimsy, leafy covers.
Then God came and uncovered the depth of their nakedness and their deeper need for more solid, substantial covering. And the LORD God made for Adam and his wife garments of skins and clothed them. He covered them, clothed them, with animal skins. Were they a divine foreshadow of the Sacrifice whose blood would cover us millennia hence when the Eve’s seed would crash, would crush, that serpent’s head?
Still our first father and mother teach us. When we try to cover up our sin we will not prosper. Be sure, Moses warned, your sin will find you out. Try to cover up and sooner or later your telltale heart will be found out. You can’t cover it up yourself. It’ll ooze and squeeze and spill right through.
When it does- when sin’s ugliness spills- you can’t erase it yourself. It must be covered. Just like we cover stains and vomit and dead bodies. The very same Hebrew word used in Psalm 32:1 and 85:2-kasah– that is used for that blessed state when God covers our sins also refers to the cover for skin-crawlingly vile and revolting uglies.
In the Old Testament, kasah referred to the leprous disease that covered a living body (Lev. 13:13) and the worms that covered up a dead body (Job 21:24). And to innocent blood poured out on a rock where dust could not properly cover it (Ezek. 24:7).
It was also used to describe man and beast covered with sackcloth (Jonah 3:8) and the deep waters that covered the pursuing Egyptians (Exodus 15:5). And to describe how Shem and Japheth took a garment to cover their father and walked backward so they did not see Noah’s nakedness. But Ham didn’t cover-his eyes, or his dad’s drunken body. And Ham’s line was cursed (Gen. 9:23-25).
So in our sin-stained world, kasah is a nitty-gritty word. MacLaren’s Exposition of Psalm 32:1 drives this home:
[Cover] means, plainly enough, to cover over, as one might do some foul thing, that it may no longer offend the eye or smell rank to Heaven. Bees in their hives, when there is anything corrupt and too large for them to remove, fling a covering of wax over it, and hermetically seal it, and no foul odor comes from it. And so a man’s sin is covered over and ceases to be in evidence, as it were before the divine Eye that sees all things. He Himself casts a merciful veil over it and hides it from Himself.
Foul things can’t be undone and divine can’t abide the offense. It must be covered. Love divine came down and cast his merciful veil over the sin we confess. He hid it from himself. Now we love because of he first loved. We forbear and forgive and cover.
Love is a many splendored thing.
And its resplendent rays reflect coverings.
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD; my soul shall exult in my God, for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation; he has covered me with the robe of righteousness. Isaiah 61:10
We are to be and live-to love and forgive-to the praise God’s glorious grace. But we forget. Or find it too hard. Then comes a pumpkin latte to reflect God’s grace blindingly to dull eyes. Who is forgiven little, loves little, I remember. I wince in this light.
But covering doesn’t remove the sin. The crimes were committed, and the blood cries out. I did pierce her with reckless words. I did destroy the tabletop and the Coke did stain the carpet. These really did happen. But for the sake of showing God’s glory to a watching world and for our own progress and joy in the faith, we simply must cover.
Whoever goes about slandering reveals secrets, but he who is trustworthy in spirit keeps a thing covered.Proverbs 11:13
Matthew Henry observed, It is the property of true charity to cover a multitude of sins. It inclines to forgive and forget offenses against themselves, to cover and conceal the sins of others rather than aggravate and spread them abroad.
Coverings take on hues more diverse than Crayola’s 152 Crayon Ultimate set. Here are a few:
When my husband waltzes in to dinner group before me and nonchalant he says, “Sorry we’re late.” And doesn’t mention it was because I burned the first batch of almonds when we should have been out the door.
Or when a friend throws a rug on the spot where someone tipped a two-liter of Coke on her creamy carpeting. No mention. Just cover and welcome and Let’s start this party.
Or when another friend covers the spot on her heirloom table where a hot pan melted the varnish away. A quilted placemat covers and my friend covers and we all sit down to dinner.
And when a man stopped me on my bike to ask if I’d seen his yellow lab and I didn’t mention that tire spokes alone had kept his dog’s teeth off my calf. Saw him ten minutes ago on the Grove Road hill, was all I said.
How can we cover like this?
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. 1 Peter 4:8
Lewis has a precious answer to this in his “Charity” chapter in The Four Loves. In a word, we cover with humility, with lowliness of heart. We humbly let life move on, while keeping fellowship with those who sinned against or wounded or wearied us.
A game, a joke, a drink together, idle chat, a walk…-all these can be modes in which we forgive or accept forgiveness, in which we console or are reconciled, in which we “seek not our own.” Who would rather live with those ordinary people who get over their tantrums (and ours) unemphatically, letting a meal, a night’s sleep, or a joke mend all?
We “get over our tantrums” and get on with it. Tell a joke and smile and hug. Offer a latte. Move along, with or as the covered one. That’s covering. That’s humility. That’s grace. And if it keeps hurting we pray that we can take the hurt and the sin that got at us, and cover it with grace. “Oh, that we could take the provocations from our fellow Christians, so that pearls of patience, gentleness, and forgiveness might be bred within us by what would otherwise would have harmed us,” said Spurgeon. Oh, to make pearls of pains.
Sometimes the small things are the hardest to cover: dropped balls at work and friends who forget and careless houseguests. These little nigglings are when my lack of love appears so stark. Like when I want to tell it like it is about loose dogs or justify my wrong. It could be that the small things are the hardest to cover. Or maybe it’s that we mostly only have small things to cover. Still, they are love’s blessed testing ground. And it’s an expansive land, because we are not all so naturally lovable. Lewis knew this so well.
“There is something in each of us that cannot be naturally loved…You might as well ask people to like the tastes of rotten bread or the sound of a mechanical drill [as love that part of us]. We can be forgiven, and pitied, and loved in spite of it, with Charity; no other way. All may be sure that at some times-and perhaps at all times in respect of some one particular trait of habit- they are receiving Charity, are loved not because they are lovable but because Love Himself is in those who love them.”
There’s no other way. You are, and I am, receiving Charity. And I am sure it’s not because I’m lovable, but because Love dwells in those who love and cover me. So let holy charity my outward vesture be, and give me such lowliness of heart to take the humbler part. Because Love did come down and seek sin-stained soul and cover me.
Come down, O love divine, seek Thou this soul of mine,
And visit it with Thine own ardor glowing.
O Comforter, draw near, within my heart appear,
And kindle it, Thy holy flame bestowing.
Let holy charity mine outward vesture be,
And lowliness become mine inner clothing;
True lowliness of heart, which takes the humbler part,
And o’er its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.
And so the yearning strong, with which the soul will long,
Shall far outpass the power of human telling;
For none can guess its grace, till he become the place
Driving out -ites is effortful. It’s hard work to hold back weeds. Despite all our pulling and digging, wild mustard grows like gangbusters and burdocks keep sharing their spiny seeds.
In fact, I plucked some burdock off my running tights this morning. Two steps off the trail was all it took; they latched on before I knew. I ran all of five yards before the itch was too much and I had stop and pluck them off.
At least some of them.
When It’s Not Good To COEXIST
In Part I, I shared how God told the Israelites on the edge of the Promised Land to drive out the current residents—the “-ites.” God promised through Joshua that he would be with them and give them success. So he called them to take and to possess the land. But they did not. They chose to coexist.
Neither God nor Joshua suggested the Israelites “coexist” with the Canaanites. Because coexisting with -ites leads to compromise (Deut. 7:16-26), “for that shall be a snare to you.”
The Israelites could not possess that part of the land where they coexisted with the Canaanites (Judges 1:27-34). Instead of destroying or driving them out as God had commanded, the Israelites allowed them to live in their midst.
But we are not called to dwell with sin in our lives and let burdocks to stick to our pants. With these we ought not coexist.
For we are called not only to take but to possess the land.
Take And Possess
In an insightful message called “Living With The Enemy,” pastor Bob Deffinbaugh explains the distinction between the Hebrew words, “take” (lakad) and “possess” (yarash),
The term “to take” has reference to the initial conquest of a territory while the term “to possess” refers to the permanent occupation and control of that territory.
We may read of an earlier conquest of a certain city in Joshua only to discover in Judges that it had to be taken again and then possessed. When the Israelites first “took” the Promised Land under Joshua, there were too few people to occupy and possess the land. When the victorious Israelites moved on to fight another battle, the displaced Canaanites moved back to “re-possess” their land. Under Joshua, the Israelite tribes united to fight the Canaanites and make strategic victories (Joshua 1-12). Later under Joshua (Joshua 13 ff.), the land was divided among the Israelite tribes with each tribe allotted an inheritance. Then, in Judges, it is the task of each individual tribe to “possess” their inheritance. This usually required retaking the land and then occupying (possessing) it.
But these two JoyPrO posts are more than an Old Testament history lesson. They’re meant to help make sense of our struggles with “indwelling sin.”
Because if we focus elsewhere the enemy slips back in. This morning it was a bright yellow flower, a cowslip I think, that took my focus off the beaten path where the burdock got me.
They represent our besetting sins, the ones that are hard to shake, that “cling so closely.” We might “take” and name them: gossip or anger, grumbling or envy or anxiety. But we don’t fully drive them out.
They’re irritating. But it takes more time and effort than we’d like to spend to pull all that burdock off.
Or, I could say, to fully “possess” my pants.
Why They Didn’t Possess The Land
Like we said at the start, taking possession is effortful. The Lord’s rebuke of his people in Judges 2:1-3 makes that plain.
Now the angel of the Lord went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, “I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, ‘I will never break my covenant with you, and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.’ But you have not obeyed my voice. What is this you have done? So now I say, I will not drive them out before you, but they shall become thorns in your sides, and their gods shall be a snare to you.”
The Israelites did not obey God. So God did not drive out the -ites. Which makes me wonder, does God drive out our sinful -ites while we stay friendly with them?
A Thorn In Your Side
The Lord had said that He would not drive out the Canaanites, but would leave them as a “thorn in the side” and as a “snare” to them (2:3). Thus, coexistence was a form of divine discipline.
God said to Israel, in effect: ‘If you make alliances with the people of the land, you shall no longer have power to cast them out. The swift rush of the stream of victory shall be stayed. You have chosen to make them your friends, and their friendship shall produce its natural effects, of tempting you to imitation.’ The increased power of our unsubdued evils is the punishment, as it is the result, of tolerance of them. We wanted to keep them, and dreamed that we could control them. Keep them we shall, control them we cannot. They will master us if we do not expel them.
The world’s prescription for hurt is to hurt back or to retreat, but it’ll only make it worse— more self-focused and proud. I know this. The worldly way of handling hurt won’t help you grow.
We’ve got to cling to the Lord and obey his commands. Or the weeds will come back.
Cling to the Lord & Possess the Land
We see this in Joshua chapter 23.
4 Behold, I have allotted to you as an inheritance for your tribes those nations that remain, along with all the nations that I have already cut off, from the Jordan to the Great Sea in the west. 5 The Lord your God will push them back before you and drive them out of your sight. And you shall possess their land, just as the Lord your God promised you.
6 Therefore, be very strong to keep and to do all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right hand nor to the left, 7 that you may not mix with these nations remaining among you or make mention of the names of their gods or swear by them or serve them or bow down to them, 8 but you shall cling to the Lord your God just as you have done to this day…
11Be very careful, therefore, to love the Lord your God. 12For if you…associate with them and they with you, 13 know for certain that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you, but they shall be a snare and a trap for you, a whip on your sides and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from off this good ground that the Lord your God has given you.
The world will not yield an inch to the person who is not resolute for God. Like the -ites who became a trap and a snare. Like pesky, unyielding weeds. The world and the weeds come back. They’re invasive.
Worldliness is a garden of spiritual weeds.
But we don’t live those weeds.
Already & Not Yet
If you know Jesus, I know your address. Because it’s the same as mine: Between the already and the not yet.
The Book of Joshua speaks of both the complete fulfillment of God’s promises (11:23, 21:45) and the incompleteness of the actual possession of the land (13:1, 23:4-5). The writer speaks of the conquest as completed (21:43-45, 10:40-42, 11:23, 23:1, 14)—I have given them rest— but he also describes the occupation as incomplete (13:1-7; 15:63, 17:12-13, 18:3, 23:5). I will drive them out.
A country may officially be defeated and occupied before every part of it ceases resistance. I was after all jogging along with more prickers in my pants. But there will comes a time when they’re all plucked out.
We see the same truth in the New Testament: the power of sin is broken, but it’s still present in our lives. God has already blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing and our future inheritance is guaranteed (Eph. 1:3, 14).
But we don’t possess it completely. Not yet.
Able Not To Sin
Have you ever heard this progression? That after the Fall we were:
1) Not able not to sin. But when we were redeemed, we became
2) Able not to sin. Then, in glory, we will be
3) Not able to sin.
Zach Howard explains it well in context here. Near the end of the article he writes,
Although we are able not to sin, sin still plagues us. Scripture gives no promise of sinlessness in this life; indeed, it says the opposite (1 John 1:8). We’re never promised total victory over sin.
Instead, the renewal we experience in our life is a foretaste of future glorification. We will win battles against sin in this life, but we should not expect to win the war. We have the ability not to sin, but not the ability to eradicate sin…Our ability to achieve total victory over sin will never come in this life. But it will come. It will come because Christ will return.
As Christians we can live in hope — hope that God’s grace is sufficient for our fight against sin, hope that the Spirit is renewing us and restoring our ability to fight sin day by day, and finally, hope that we will one day be completely remade.
Yes, battling our own sin and waging war on our weeds is exhausting! But God’s grace is sufficient and the Spirit of Jesus is with us to strengthen us day by day.
Our Joshua Is Jesus
Which brings us full circle to Joshua. Reading the book of Joshua started this two part post.
Remember that the Greek name Jesus simply translates the Hebrew name Joshua. The names are the same.
What Israel received in the Promised Land, they received through the hand of Joshua. What we receive from God we receive through Jesus Christ, our Joshua. For all God’s promises are “yes” in Christ. Joshua led Israel into Canaan. Likewise, Jesus goes before us.
So don’t go into battle against with a coexist mindset. For in this Land of Already and Not Yet we are, after all, able to not sin. Even if the burdocks stick us now and then, we will pluck them off.
Until one day, led by our Joshua, we will possess a glorious thornless and weedless land.
A land with a tree and a river.
On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him.
“Be ashamed when you sin, don’t be ashamed when you repent – Sin is the wound, repentance is the medicine. Sin is followed by shame; repentance is followed by boldness Satan has overturned this order and given boldness to sin and shame to repentance.”
St. John Chrystostom, AD 357-407
Raise your hand if you like to apologize and say sorry. Both hands if you enjoy confessing and repenting.
Thought so. I didn’t raise my hands either. But I’m reforming. Slowly, and I mean decades slow, I’m changing. I’m starting to see repentance as refreshing and freeing (Acts 3:19) and, in Chrystostom’s words, the medicine my proud self needs.
We ought not be ashamed of our repenting. But for some reason many of us still are.
Why Don’t We All Just Repent?
I was just talking with a friend—a friend who Thursday received a(nother) apology text from me—about this very question. We agreed. So many of us are either too ashamed or too proud or too blind to repent. At least those are a big three, three I too often see in me.
No sugarcoating: Coming clean is painful to do—to confess and to repent are death to the flesh. But, oh is it refreshing to have done! I write this post to help in hope that you too will see that repentance is about the most refreshing thing a soul can ever do.
Note 4/19/21: This post is a revision of the original posted on 10/31/2017 on the 500th anniversary of the day Luther nailed his 95 Theses to that Wittenberg church door. With that stroke, he set off the Protestant Reformation and his reforms are still re-forming sinful saints like me.
Whether you like him or not, there’s a lot we can all learn from Luther—starting with his concept of Christian repentance, which just so happens to be the very first of the 95 theses.
When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said, “Repent” (Mt 4:17), he willed the entire life of believers to be one of repentance. That’s it. His first thesis.
Biblically defined repentance is changing one’s mind, so that one lives differently (see Thesis #3). It means turning from sin to Christ. Repentance is the path to forgiveness of sins and favor with God. We repent and believe and are saved (Matt. 4:17, Mark 6:12, Acts 2:38, Acts 26:20).
Repentance is a Lifelong Process
But repentance doesn’t end when we receive Christ Jesus as Lord. It’s a life-long process.
It’s not, as Luther wrote (Thesis #2), a sacrament of penance administered by the clergy.
These days the issue is more the notions is that repentance is one and done. Check. It. Off. As if real Christians, strong Christians, are the one who never have to turn from sin, who never have to repent. The ones who might say, Oh, no. I’ve never changed my stance. I’ve always lived this way.
As if. Because it seems to me that that never having to confess or to repent means you’re either God-like and divine or deceived and blind.
Because, truth be told, we just don’t see all of our sin at once. Our sins are layered, like onions. We peel a layer off and- lo! and behold- there’s another.
In mercy, we don’t see all our sin at once. That would leave us all undone.
From as much as you know of your sin…
Which is why I like J.I. Packer’s definition of repentance so much. He explains,
Repentance is turning from as much as you know of your sin, to give as much as you know of yourself to as much as you know of God.
This definition, like Luther’s first thesis, helps me see repentance as a lifelong pursuit, a way of living. Not one and done. We confess as we see more of our sin.
Because Christians are not comfortable with our sin. We regret it and don’t settle with it. We repent that times of refreshing might comefrom the presence of the Lord. In fact, I’ve told our sons, Repenting is a really big thing to do, because it shows Christ is at work in you.
We must live like continual confession and onion layers of repentance are A-okay. Because God does.
Which means we forgive 70 x7 and gladly receive confessions of others, as we gladly receive God’s cleansing and forgiveness (1 John 1:9). Our lives are in continual mid-point correction. My Christian walk is like my swimming: dominant right arm always pulls my front crawl that way. My strong arm of saving face—AKA: my pride— steers me.
We must constantly reorient our strokes, our walks, our lives to align with as much as we know of our Lord.
Not a man who never goes wrong.
You might say we’re in constant reforming mode. By grace alone, through Christ alone, we’re constantly, “making good.” My Reformation Study Bible explains repentance is the ongoing turning from sin in the life of a Christian. Ordinary Christian life will include times of profound sorrow for remaining sin. So good grief, and the repentance that follows, is part and parcel of ordinary Christian life.
A live body is not one that never gets hurt, but one that can to some extent repair itself. In the same way a Christian is not a man who never goes wrong, but a man who is enabled to repent and pick himself up and begin over again after each stumble—because the Christ-life is inside him, repairing him all the time, enabling him to repeat (in some degree) the kind of voluntary death which Christ Himself carried out. (Mere Christianity 1952; Harper Collins: 2001. 62-63).
Christians stumble. Now or then, we all go wrong. But we see our sin and get up and repent. We run on and stumble and see more of our sin and repent.
And He knew his servant Martin Luther’s flawed frame too. He saw the sin that Luther himself couldn’t see in himself and, therefore, could not repent of and confess. But seeing Luther’s spiritual blindness, takes us straight back to one of the most precious Reformation truths.
Luther’s anti-Semitism, egregious as it is, does not lead me to abandon his rediscovery of justification; it leads me to lean harder into it. Here’s the glorious truth: the reality Luther saw so clearly provides the answer to the sin he didn’t.
In other words, Luther discerned the reality of justification by faith alone better than he discerned the sinfulness in his own heart and life. And it’s that reality of justification by faith alone that levels us all and drives us to our knees–thankful for the clear example of horrendously flawed theologians articulating the only doctrine that gives hope to all of us who are horrendously flawed. It’s only in the security of being wrapped up in the righteousness of Christ that we can say, “Challenge me, Lord. Change me, Lord. Expose my wickedness.”
In the end, when death came for Luther’s mortal body, and the last of his parasitical sinfulness was destroyed, his final words contained no more vile epithets toward the Jews, but only a deathbed confession of his Jewish Messiah: “We are beggars; this is true.”
This is true.
Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…
Asking you to tolerate whatever I do or say because you say you love me is a fundamental misunderstanding of what love is and what love does. Much of what we think love is simply isn’t love after all.
-Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies
If You Love Me, You Would…
Have you ever said that? Has anyone said it to you? If you love me, you would ___________. Fill in the blank: scratch my back, stay up late, wear a mask, don’t make me wait.While it’s absolutely true that love is kind and seeks not its own, love does not mean anything goes.
We know this intuitively. Which is why I don’t bite when my 13 year-old says loving him means I allow him take a phone to school. Or when the 15 year-old insists loving him means I let him go deep with an ominously named gaming stranger.
But, as helpful as are, the love languages they might hurt us here. Because if I assume that for love to be love it must always come in my preferred language—and feel good—I’ll miss and misinterpret a whole lot of love.
I know this because the Lover of my soul doesn’t always speak my preferred language or love me how I would choose to be loved. He didn’t with Mary and Martha either.
Jesus loved them enough to let Lazarus die—yes, to die—so that he could raise him up in a majestic way and so that they would see the his glory. And I guarantee that Mary did not say, Master, if you love me, please wait to come until Lazarus dies.
I Wanna Know What Love Is
We’ve got to know what love is. And Jesus can show us.
Now Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was (John 11:5-6). Jesus loved them so much he didn’t save Lazarus from dying. He didn’t spare Mary and Martha that pain.
Love is doing whatever you have to do — or whatever God has to do — at whatever cost, in order for the glory of God to be shown. If that sounds like no definition of love you’ve ever heard, like it’s straight out of left field, please reread John 11:1-6. (If that definition is still confusing, you might listen to “Even When It Hurts,” where John Piper explains this definition.)
Because seeing the glory of God is the greatest good. And love, we know, is helping the beloved enjoy the greatest good.
5 Things I Know About Love
1. Love Is Anchored In Truth
I know it must be anchored in truth. It cannot contradict truth. It cannot exist without truth.
Real, biblical, self-sacrificing, God-honoring love never compromises what God says is right and true. Truth and love are inextricably bound together. Love that compromises truth simply isn’t love. Truth without love ceases to be truth because it gets bent and twisted by human agendas. If love wants and works for what is best for you, then love is committed to being part of what God says is best in your life. So, I am committed to being God’s tool for what he says is best in your life, even if that means we have to go through tense and difficult moments to get there.
Paul David Tripp, New Morning Mercies
This, for the record, is one of the marks of a true friend. And lest we misconstrue Tripp’s words, it’s not as if one person in the relationship is always the “truth tool” while the other is always the “project.” Holding out the truth in love, or “truthing it in love” ala 4:15, is to be reciprocal. The subject and object are not fixed. Heidi truths it with me and I truth it with her.
What’s more, speaking the truth in love is not the main point. It’s not. The grammar of Ephesians 4 is clear. Truthing it in love is not an end in itself. Me correcting you or you proving a point factually true, or even us rooting out our idols together, is not the point.
Do you see the purpose of Ephesians 4:15? The end for which “speaking the truth in love” is but a modifier?
It’s grow up. We are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. That’s the goal.
Speaking truth in love is not the endpoint. Growing up into Jesus is.
But what you might not know off the top of your head is what comes right before it. Here’s the famous command in context:
That jumped off the page when I read it last week. Because most of us are conflict avoiders. It’s so much easier to walk away when we see a brother do wrong. And if the wrong hurt us, well, we might walk away and nurse a grudge. Because, if I’m honest, to hate my sister in my heart takes less effort than to reason frankly with her.
When conflict comes we are tempted to think God has left the building. In peacetime we feel God’s presence; his providence is sweet. But the moment a fellow sinner hurts me, we imagine God left. But God said Love, don’t hate. And God said the way out of hate and the way into love is reason frankly.
Speaking truth in love includes “reasoning frankly.” And, done right, it not only benefits my sister it also helps me. Because the alternative to reasoning frankly with her is “incurring guilt” myself. The guilt could come if I take vengeance, bear a grudge, or get passive-aggressive. And she could be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:13). In both cases, reason frankly is God’s preventative against incurring guilt, against harm.
But this is hard. Because reasoning frankly and holding out truth in love can cost a lot.
3. We All Need Influencers
But I’m learning that silence is costly too. To the extent that I feel I can’t speak truth—because a friend is that sensitive— it is equally hard to feel love. My closest friendships are the ones who truth it love, side by side, with me. They say, “Smile more, talk less.” They ask, “Do I hear discontentment?”
I read this paragraph last night. It doesn’t use the word truth and it doesn’t mention love, but it’s on point. Here, a main character—The Man in the Wing Chair— describes his mother.
She just has her own opinions, and they’re the only tribunal that’s permitted to judge her when she makes a mistake. Can you imagine what you would be like if you didn’t have anyone close who was capable of influencing you? Anyone to point out your flaws, to confront you when you went too far, to correct you when you did something wrong?
Natalia Sanmartin Fenollera, The Awakening of Miss Prim
Isn’t that so sad? When I read the paragraph, I dropped the book and asked myself, Who is close enough to correct me?
Now I ask you, Who in your life is close enough to dare correct or confront you?
4. Speak Soft Words And Give Hard Reasons
I won’t grow if I stay blind to my faults, blind to my sin. As a Christian, I know that the Word of God and the Spirit of Christ can convict me. I don’t always need a fellow sinner to show me my sin. Sometimes it comes to light without him.
But God uses means. I wrote about the large chocolate spot I obliviously sported one night. The lesson: friends tell friends.
But how we hold out truth matters. And I’ll be first to admit that I don’t always get the how right. My family and friends will tell you that. But I do aim to apply C.H. Spurgeon’s advice:
If you see that a stick is crooked, and you want people to see how crooked it is, lay a straight rod down beside it; that will be quite enough. But if you are drawn into controversy, use very hard arguments and very soft words. Frequently you cannot convince a man by tugging at his reason, but you can persuade him by winning his affections.
That might sound like this: Kelsey, your voice is gorgeous. And I know you want us to be drawn to worship Christ not be focused on your clothes. That’s why I wanted to tell you I was distracted by your clothes the last few times you led singing. But I don’t doubt your love and I thank you for your hard work.
Gentle words, with gratitude and hard argument, rooted in truth. We speak this way so that we will grow into Christ and not incur guilt.
5. We Love People When We Love God
That was a big takeaway for me as I studied 1 John. Since God is love (1 John 4:8), it stands to reason that if I don’t understand God rightly, I won’t understand love rightly. By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and obey his commandments.
But isn’t that out of order? Hasn’t John explained that the main way show our love for the God who we can’t see is by our love for our brother we do see (1 John 4:20)? Yes, he did: We cannot love God without loving His children.
But that answer just kicks the can. How do we love people? In 1 John 5:2, John explains that we love others by loving God and keeping his commands.
That brings us full circle. So what about, If you love me you would…? Jesus is the only person who could say with impunity, If you love me you would.
Do you know why? Because he and the Father were one. The God-Man had no sinful nature to taint his If you love me you would. He knew with certainty what would help us see His glory. So he said, If you love me you will keep my commands.
Truth without love is abuse. Love without truth is neglect.
The doctor that conceals a cancer diagnosis is not “loving” his patient. Remember the prophets who “healed the wound of the people lightly, saying, ‘Peace, peace,’ when there is no peace” (Jeremiah 6:14)? Perhaps out of self-love or fear of disappointing, the prophets did not act in love for God’s wounded people.
Love covers offenses and sins (1 Peter 4:8, Proverbs 10:12). But it also exposes and rebukes (Matthew 18:15, Proverbs 27:5-6). Soft, gracious words do not abuse and hard, biblical reasons do not neglect.
Paul David Tripp writes,
Love doesn’t call wrong right. Love doesn’t ignore wrong and hope it goes away. It doesn’t turn its back on you because you are wrong. Love doesn’t mock you. And love doesn’t go passive and stay silent in the face of wrong. Love moves toward you because you are wrong and need to be rescued from you. In moving toward you, love is willing to make sacrifices and endure hardships so that you may be made right again and be reconciled to God and others. God graces us with this kind of love so that we may be tools of this love in the lives of others.
Love moves toward you because you are wrong and need to be rescued from you. Jesus did that for me. He—Love—covers a multitude of sins, but also shows me my faults.
And as much as I want to be a tool of this kind of love, sometimes it’s hard to discern which path love takes.
What I Don’t Know About Love
There are so many things I don’t know about truth in love. The God-Man alone, could rightly say, If you love me you would… Because he knows all things. He alone knows all that is good.
I do not. Which is why I can’t always tell if my friends and sons are right when they say or imply, If you love me you would….
And I don’t know how much truth love tells. I’m not always sure when love conceals and when it reveals. I often don’t know the best, the most loving way to hold out the truth in love or if I should say a thing when I don’t feel the love.
But I do know that I want to be pure for the day of Christ. And I know I need a discerning love.