More On Truth Telling

Bruce Green



The witness section of Deuteronomy 19:15-21 should lead us to think about truth telling as it relates to the community of Christ. After all, the text isn’t addressing honesty in general terms — its specific concern is with truth telling as it relates to the community of Israel and its judicial proceedings. The judicial system was “the last resort” (Brueggemann) for justice and conflict resolution — initiated when all else had failed. Therefore, truth telling was an essential part of the glue that held community together.

In Ephesians 4:25, Paul tells us, “Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” Again, the scope of his statement is not universal, but specifically concerns the community of Christ. He’s not addressing a legal proceeding as in Deuteronomy, but he is clearly telling us that to maintain our Spirit-given unity we have (v. 3), we need to be truthful with each other.

Being truthful doesn’t mean we say whatever’s on our mind (Proverbs 12:18, 15:28, as well as what Jesus said in John 16:12). In the context, I think being truthful means that we are speaking constructive words that will build up the body as opposed to things that will tear it down. “Truth” doesn’t simply have to do with what is factually correct (although that’s certainly the baseline), it also means what is spoken is shared from a thoughtful, loving perspective (Ephesians 4:15). It is wholesome and “helpful for building up others according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (v. 29).

When we speak this way, we become faithful witnesses. We’re speaking the truth to be sure, but we’re also speaking it in a way that builds up the community of Christ and testifies to the kind of Lord we serve — one who came to earth to seek the good of others. Audrey Hepburn said, “People, even more than things, must be restored, renewed, revived, reclaimed and redeemed. Never throw out anyone.”

Audrey Hunt tells us about Edward, a student in her college music class. Throughout the semester, he sat in the back, didn’t interact with anyone and did just enough to keep from failing. She reached out to him on several occasions but with little response on his part.

Final exams were taken, and students came by Ms. Hunt’s office to get their grade. She wondered if Edward would even bother to show up, and if he did, what she would say? He didn’t show up — until she was locking her office door to leave.

He apologized for being late. Then he told her he knew he was a lousy student and a lousy person. No one could ever love him, and he had no future. Then Ms. Hunt did something she had never done before or after: She gave him an underserved grade — an A. She told him he might look like a D student, but he was an A person. Moreover, she believed in him and would always believe in him. She told him she was there for him and would always be. Then she told him to go out and make something of himself.

And he did. He took another class under her. He did so well he ended up tutoring others! Today he is married, has four children and is a dentist. In his free time, he works with troubled children.

Hunt learned later that Edward had been planning on taking his life after he got his grade for the semester. He had left a note on his pillow and had made all the arrangements, but her words changed everything. And deep down inside, that’s what Edward was looking for. Why else would he stop by to get his grade?

It’s something to think about, isn’t it?

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