We are beginning to recognize that it is not a simple matter to follow Paul’s instruction to speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) because he challenges our understanding of love when he lists the actions of love. One of these actions is that love “always protects” (1 Corinthians 13:7).So, servant leaders learn to speak truth while protecting. What does it mean for a leader to protect the other person as they speak truth?
Servant leaders protect the humanity of the other, seeing them as a fellow human being created in the image of God. When correction is needed, they protect the dignity of the other by sharing privately, not by shaming them in public. Servant leaders protect the honor of the other person by expecting the best from that person. They protect that person by choosing the right time to speak and selecting the location that will most likely allow the truth to be received.
Everything the servant leader does is focused on the needs of the other and how to make it most likely that they will receive the truth spoken with deep love. They express their love by protecting as they speak truth.
Speaking the truth while protecting requires balance.
Some leaders speak the truth with little concern about how it will impact the person listening. They speak quickly and put everything out at once. They live by the principle, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free!” They love the truth more than the person to whom they are speaking truth.
Other leaders focus on the feelings of the other person and are so concerned with not offending or hurting the relationship that they ignore the truth.
A balance is needed. Servant leaders learn to speak truth that is balanced with concern to protect the listener.
Speaking the truth while protecting reveals maturity.
Immature leaders either ignore the truth or speak it quickly without concern for the other person. It takes the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit to develop love in the life of the leader so that the focus is on the person receiving the truth.
Mature servant leaders learn that truth is valuable, but people are more precious. The person should be protected, not from the truth itself, but from anything which would cause the truth to not be received. Demonstrating this depth of love requires time for the leader to become mature.
Speaking the truth while protecting reflects Jesus.
Jesus boldly spoke truth, but He also expressed love by protecting those who needed to hear it. When the woman caught in adultery was brought to Him in John 8, Jesus spoke truth but protected this woman. He literally protected her physically from those who were accusing her with the truth. They came armed with the truth and were ready to kill her. Jesus protected her life. In the end all her accusers left, and Jesus was alone with this hurting woman.
He protected her dignity by not speaking at all about her sin until He was alone with her. Her accusers loudly spoke the truth in the open and with the intent to condemn. Jesus protected her dignity by not speaking at all about her sin until they were alone. He was concerned about the timing and location when He would speak truth. He stooped down, humbling Himself in her presence, protecting her dignity as a human being and valuable person.
Finally, when the time was right to speak directly to her, Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Jesus lovingly spoke truth while protecting and He shows servant leaders how to do the same.
Until next time, yours on the journey,
For further reflection and discussion:
- What is my natural tendency, to speak “truth” or to “protect the other person from the truth”? What is the result in my leadership?
- When have I spoken truth, but did not protect the person? In what way did I not protect them? What was the result in my own life and in the life of the person to whom I spoke?
- Can I think of another time when Jesus spoke the truth while protecting the listener? What can I learn from His example?
Copyright, Global Disciples 2019.