We should resist these impulses. The call to rightly handle what has been entrusted to us is a call not to convince but a call to be faithful, and that means being clear in how we communicate. When we obfuscate and overqualify, we are not using our gifts for the benefit of others.
We should say what we know. We should say what we believe. We should be simple and clear. If we don’t know something, we ought to say so. The Holy Spirit works through the faithfulness of His saints, and we are to use wisdom and courage in stewarding what He has given to us even while we trust Him with the results.
A particular bugaboo of mine is the chain letter. I have always been mystified about some people’s tendency to credulously disseminate ridiculous stories with accompanying promises of blessings or curses. For whatever reason, some in the Christian world have latched onto such messages. (Once they were actual letters, then they were e-mails, and now they usually take the form of Facebook posts urging “real Christians” to share them.) These stories—from discovering hell in Siberia, to the thwarting of a robbery by a gang of angels, to the imminent enforcement of sharia law in the United States—are almost always false, and verifiably so, but that doesn’t stop people from passing them on.
Sharing stories without confirming their veracity violates the ninth commandment. The same goes when we repeat faulty biblical teachings, fallacious exegesis, theological error, or even fabricated or misleading news stories. It is incumbent upon us as Christians to love the truth. We are to be diligent in the study of God and His Word and to be sure, as far as we are able, that what we say comports with His truth.
Good intentions are no excuse. It doesn’t matter if we are sharing bad information for good reasons (to confront others with the reality of hell and to encourage them to vote for a particular candidate, for example). If we are knowingly or recklessly spreading false information, we are sinning against the God who is Truth and against our fellow man. But when we promulgate the truth, we honor God and bless His image bearers.
Moreover, we must learn and keep learning—studying the Bible, listening to good preaching, and reading good books. We may not know all truth, but we can do all we can not to treat the truth frivolously and to make sure that what we say is true.
When Peter counsels his hearers regarding facing persecution and commending the Christian faith, he says we are to make our defense “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15). Why? Because our opponent is human. He is made in the image of God. And God will not treat lightly those who carelessly denigrate His image bearers.
When we present the truth, we are to do so winsomely, having our words seasoned with salt, pleasing to the ear. Even if what we say is hard—it can be difficult to hear about one’s sin and God’s judgment—we can say it in a way that conveys our respect and love for the one to whom we are speaking.
Moreover, we ought to be humble. We don’t know everything about our conversation partner’s situation. We don’t know everything, period. We ought not to presume to know more than we do. The same goes in the church. We should be humble enough to learn from others and to benefit from the gifts that God has given to them.
Unbelievers need to hear the truth, and our churches need to be reminded of the truth. Our pastors cannot do this alone, and moreover, they are not meant to do it alone. We people in the pew are called to make disciples of all nations, to teach and exhort one another, to build one another up in knowledge of the truth, and to encourage one another. When we are faithful with the knowledge God has entrusted to us, and when we communicate it to one another in a way that is clear, correct, and caring, the gospel is proclaimed, the body is built up, and God is glorified.
Editor’s Note: This post was first published on June 29, 2018.