Speaking the Truth without Dishonoring

As leaders learn to follow Paul’s exhortation to speak “truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), they also learn that one of the many dimensions of love is that it “does not dishonor others” (1 Corinthians 13:5). Servant leaders seek to speak the truth without dishonoring the person who needs the truth. To dishonor another brings shame or disgrace to them.

 Imagine a situation where James, the person helping you organize a large event, makes room assignments without considering the social status of the assigned roommates and it results in many complaints.

How will you respond? You could make a quick announcement to the group, “I’m sorry that James didn’t do the room assignments as I requested. Please bear with us as we correct this situation.”

Is it the truth? Yes! Is it said without dishonoring? No! (Ask James if he felt honored!) Servant leaders learn to speak truth without dishonor.

Speaking the truth without dishonoring requires balance.

Truth cannot be compromised for honor. Neither should honor be compromised for the truth. Both are needed in proper balance. Some cultures and some personalities will more easily speak truth while other cultures focus on honor. Some leaders naturally focus on honoring the person. They avoid shame at all costs so find it very difficult to speak truth.

In the situation with James, they might simply keep quiet, not wanting to make James look bad or feel bad about his mistake. Truth is not spoken. With this leader, James will not hear the truth and is likely to repeat the mistake another time.

Other leaders, such as in the scenario above, would quickly speak the truth with little regard for how it may impact James. But Paul calls servant leaders to love the truth and to love the person who needs the truth.

Speaking the truth without dishonoring reveals maturity.

It is easy to honor truth or to honor the person, but not easy to balance them both. Leaders often make mistakes on the journey towards a mature ability to speak truth without dishonoring. But they learn from their mistakes and adjust their manner of speaking as they grow. When a leader has a genuine desire to speak truth but still to honor the person, they will consider how their own natural tendencies and the culture in which they live, may influence them towards truth or honor.

Different cultures demonstrate honor in different ways, so leaders consider carefully how loudly they speak, what titles they use, and whether they use direct eye contact. Most cultures show honor by giving a rebuke or correction privately. A mature leader will not publicly rebuke someone unless there is a clear need to do so, as Paul did with Peter in Galatians 2:11-21. In this situation, Paul spoke publicly because Peter’s hypocrisy was impacting the whole group. Servant leaders reveal maturity by balancing truth and honor.

Speaking the truth without dishonoring reflects Jesus.

Jesus spoke truth while honoring people. He did not use shame to motivate a change in behavior. The woman caught in adultery (John 8) is one example of a time He spoke truth and showed honor.

The woman had clearly done wrong and everyone knew it. The Pharisees publicly shamed her and were ready to stone her to death. Jesus first did not answer their questions except to write on the ground. Finally, He said to her accusers, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). After everyone left, Jesus was alone with the woman and said to her, “Then neither do I condemn you, go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11).

Jesus, the only one who had a right to accuse, did not. He offered forgiveness! But He also spoke truth and called her to “leave your life of sin.” He spoke truth without dishonoring. The woman entered in shame and dishonor; she left rebuked but loved and honored by Jesus. Servant leaders seek to follow His example as they learn to speak the truth without dishonoring others.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • What is my natural tendency, to speak “truth” or not to dishonor? What is the result in my leadership?
  • When have I spoken truth, but dishonored the person? What was the result in my own life and in the life of the person to whom I spoke?
  • In my culture, which is more highly valued: truth or honor? How does this impact my ability to speak truth without dishonor?
  • Can I think of another time when Jesus spoke the truth in a way that honored the person involved? What can I learn from His example?

Copyright, Global Disciples 2019.