A second response is passionately vocal. With swords drawn and flashing, they fear not the enemy but too often employ the enemy’s tactics. They one-up the enemy in the vehemence and volume of their words. Unashamedly bellicose, they ruthlessly wage their war in defense of the truth, leaving heaps of corpses in their wake. They seem unconcerned that their words or manner could cancel out the very thing that they are trying to say.
There is a better response than either of the above. It recognizes that sin must be identified and exposed and that failure to do so would give evidence of a lack of love for God’s truth or for the souls of men who are careening headlong to an eternity in hell “because they refused to love the truth and so be saved” (2 Thess. 2:10). There must be the combination of a straightforward, unashamed telling of the truth about sin and doing so without causing unnecessary offense or bringing shame on the testimony of Christ. Peter said that we must always be prepared to make a defense of our hope, “yet do it with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15–16). Balance is the key, but finding the right balance is not always easy. Horatius Bonar wrote, “Scripture is wonderfully balanced in all its parts; let our study of it be the same, that we may be well-balanced men.” Obviously, serious prayer and Bible study are a must in finding this balance.
One of the most unforgettable pictures in The Pilgrim’s Progress is of Mr. Valiant-for-truth. When he was accosted by three thieves, having made it clear that he would not join them, they “fell to it” for more than three hours. Though he faced great odds, he was convinced that “little or more are nothing to him that has the truth on his side.” He fought till his sword and hand were joined together as one. Thus the enemies were put to flight, but not without the shedding of blood—both theirs and his. Similarly, we must steadfastly hold to the truth, confident that the truth is on our side, and knowing that the truth will finally prevail. J. Gresham Machen, who has been called Mr. Valiant-for-truth par excellence, stated, “Controversy of the right sort is good; for out of such controversy, as Church history and Scripture alike teach, there comes the salvation of souls.”
But someone might say, “Wasn’t Jesus pretty intense when He threw the money changers and merchandisers out of the temple (Matt. 21:1–13; John 2:13–22) and when He unleashed a torrent of woes on the apostate religious leadership (Matt. 23:13–36)?” Undeniably, He was. However, this same Jesus tenderly and compassionately urged sinners to come to Him for life (vv. 37–38). Paul told Titus that he must “rebuke them [the false teachers on Crete] sharply, that they may be sound in the faith” (Titus 1:13). Later, he instructed Titus “to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people” (3:2; see also 1 Peter 3:16). God’s truth must be defended in a God-honoring way.
We must be defenders of God’s truth, never shying away from exposing the sins of our times, but we must do so in a way that honors the God of truth and seeks to bring the lost to the knowledge of the truth. May God help us to be bold and yet balanced in our defense of the truth. This is truly loving speech.