When I’ve done my best to speak truth in love to a good friend, but they continue repeating the same mistakes, what does it mean to respond in the way of Jesus? Paul clearly commands us to speak the “truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). But then he clarifies that love “keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:5). So, servant leaders are called to speak the truth in love with no record of wrongs. This is not easy, especially when the person has wronged you several times.
Speaking the truth with no record of wrongs requires balance.
Some leaders will focus on the truth: that wrongs have been done and they have been repeated! When the focus is on the “record of wrongs,” leaders respond with their own emotion of pain for the wrongs done against them. This is often an angry outburst which includes a reference to the number of wrongs: “You hurt me four times now; enough is enough!” In this response, the focus is on how the wrong has impacted the leader, not on how to help the other overcome their mistakes.
Other leaders may focus on not keeping a record of wrongs, but in doing so, they do not speak the truth! Their response after several mistakes is, “Oh, that’s nothing major, don’t worry about it!” They do not acknowledge the wrong and therefore don’t help the person to improve.
Servant leaders recognize that a balance is needed. Truth must be expressed, but the focus should not be on the number of times a mistake has been made. Remembering wrongs and keeping a record of the wrongs are two different things. Leaders cannot choose to forget what has happened in the past. But they can consciously choose not to allow the ‘record’ of wrongs to dictate their current emotions or response.
A healthy response may be to say to the person, “This has happened several times now, can we talk about what is causing this?” Here, the truth is addressed, but without the accusation of the past failures. Servant leaders learn to focus on the needs of the other to grow rather than their own need to recall!
Speaking the truth with no record of wrongs reveals maturity.
It is natural to keep a list of offenses against us—we do it without training! When the offense of the other person is repeated, we naturally begin to react with strong emotions, often anger, towards the person. Then our response may contain ‘truth’ but it is shaped by the record of wrongs. Paul would remind us that this is not love. Our focus in on self and retaliation rather than on helping the other person.
It takes maturity of character not to use that list of wrongs against another person. Mature leaders speak what the other needs to hear, not what they feel like saying! Servant leaders grow as they realize that the ‘truth’ of their own condition is that they have also repeated mistakes often and have been forgiven often. As Jesus shapes their hearts, they can extend the same grace to others.
Speaking the truth with no record of wrongs reflects Jesus.
Jesus is the one who taught us to forgive others at least 77 times! (See Matthew 18:22.) But He was not encouraging us to remind people of the number of times they failed!
He demonstrated this when He greatly desired the prayers of His three closest disciples. They failed once, then twice and then a third time when Jesus comes back, and they are sleeping again. Returning the third time, he said to them, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough! The hour has come. Look, the Son of Man is delivered into the hands of sinners. Rise! Let us go! Here comes my betrayer!” (Mark 14:41-42).
I would have been tempted to respond with only the truth, “You’ve had three chances to pray for me and you have failed me three times!” Or I might have minimized the wrong and said only, “Let’s go!”
Jesus spoke truth when He said, “Are you still sleeping and resting? Enough!” But He didn’t remind them of how many times they had done wrong. He didn’t react from His own disappointment and didn’t need to remind them that this was their failure number three! He spoke truth with no record of wrongs.
Servant leaders learn from Jesus to speak truth with no record of wrongs.
Until next time, yours on the journey,
For further reflection and discussion:
- What is my natural tendency: to speak “truth” by reminding others of their past record or to avoid the painful truth from the past? What is the result in my leadership?
- When have I spoken truth, but also reacted to others because of their previous mistakes? What was the result in my own life and in the life of the person to whom I spoke? Do I need to ask forgiveness from that person?
- What other times in Jesus’ life and ministry reveal that Jesus did not keep a record of wrongs? How did He speak truth in those situations without reminding people of their history? What can I learn from Him that I need to practice in a current relationship?
- We’ve been looking at many ways we are called to speak truth in love and we have a few more to examine. In what ways is my speech changing?
Copyright, Global Disciples 2019.