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An old Indian proverb cautions us to be gracious in our speech and in our responses to antagonistic questions. It says, “Don’t cut off someone’s nose and give them a rose to smell.” In recent years, discourse about important matters in our culture has taken on an increasingly antagonistic tone. In person, people talk over each other and quickly give way to rage. On social media, commenters prefer sharp zingers that attract “clicks” to the “soft answer [that] turns away wrath” (Prov. 15:1). One wonders if there has ever been a generation that has had more to say and has said it worse than our own.

In such a context, how can Christians passionately speak the truth without letting our passions get the best of us? How can our communication be genuinely Christlike so that, whatever the response, it honors our Lord? In this piece, I would commend one doctrine, one verse, and one quote that give guidance and hope.

Jesus carries out the ministries of Prophet, Priest, and King inseparably.

The doctrine is one of the crown jewels of Reformed theology—the doctrine of Christ’s triple office (munus triplex). The triple office describes the work of Jesus in terms of the three main offices of the Old Testament—prophet, priest, and king (Ezek. 7:26–27; 22:26–28)—that converge in the one office of the Christ in the New Testament. Jesus fulfills all three aspects of this office as our courageous final Prophet, our sinless and compassionate High Priest, and our incomparably wise and capable King (Luke 4:24; John 18:37; Heb. 4:14). More than that, and critical for us here, Jesus carries out the ministries of Prophet, Priest, and King inseparably. He does not sometimes act as a Prophet, other times as a Priest, and in still other situations as a King. Rather, as the Dutch theologian W.A. Visser ’t Hooft states, “the three offices are so related to one another that Christ is Prophet in a priestly and royal manner; Priest in a prophetic and royal way; King, but King as priest and prophet.” That is why Reformed theology does not speak of Jesus’ three offices (plural) but of His triple office (singular).

As we consider whether and how to communicate something, we should ask ourselves not only the prophetic question (Is it true?) but also the priestly questions (Is it pure? Is it compassionate?) and the kingly questions (Is this the wisest way to say it? Is this the best time?). At times, Jesus spoke immediately and forcefully, as when confronting Peter (Matt. 16:23). At other times, Jesus delayed speaking important truths because He knew “you cannot bear them now” (John 16:12). He amazed His audiences especially with His questions and shocked Pontius Pilate with His silence. If we would be like Christ in our communication, we should consider our words from all three aspects of His triple office, for He spoke not as our Prophet only but as our Prophet, Priest, and King.

From our doctrine we move to a verse, Colossians 4:6: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each person.” The key word here may be “always.” The ways of speaking that you cultivate in private—with your parents, your spouse, your children, and your coworkers, and online with distant people whose claims annoy or offend you—profoundly shape how you will speak in a critical moment when much is on the line. This requires hourly dependence on the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit, but as we walk in the Spirit and “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17), the Lord can transform the most wrathful tongue into one that is “always gracious, seasoned with salt.” This habit then serves us in our time of need, as F.F. Bruce says of this verse: “If Christians practice grace of speech, it will not desert them when they find themselves suddenly confronted by the necessity of defending their belief.”

Third, let me close with a word of encouragement from a quote. It’s been said, “The darker the night, the brighter the stars do shine.” We encounter much darkness in our discourse today, especially in the online world filled with falsehood and fury. But the darkness cannot overcome the light; it can only emphasize the contrast between darkness and light. It belongs to us, then, to “shine as lights in the world, holding fast the word of life” (Phil. 2:15–16). And this we will do as we fix our eyes on Christ, rejoicing in and reflecting the glory of our Prophet, Priest, and King.

Jesus the Truth-Teller

Feeling the Truth

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From the November 2020 Issue
Nov 2020 Issue