My entire life I have been surrounded by messy people with messy lives. The only reason it doesn’t bother me is because I’m messy, too.
But it should be familiar to be around messy people. That’s what the church is. I assume that’s been your experience, too. Some people can trick you for a season, but I promise, they’re just as messy as the rest of us. All Christians are. Eventually the depression, anxiety, chronic health issues, addictions, doubts, insecurities, pride, abuse, prejudice, or poverty will come to the surface. To know a person is to know their mess.
Whatever the cause of the mess, God has a plan to help each one of us grow. And at the center of his plan he has placed you and me. I am called to speak the truth to you in the midst of your mess. You are called to speak the truth to me in the midst of my mess. This is not just the calling of pastors, missionaries, counselors, or Bible study leaders; if you are a Christian, this is your calling, too. God wants to use you, even in the midst of your mess, to speak loving truth into the lives of other messy people.
But for us to live out God’s call to minister in the midst of the mess, both truth and love are necessary. Loving someone without truth is like being a bad Uber driver. It’s like being a driver who is meticulous about the comfort of his passengers, but doesn’t have any navigation skills or knowledge of the city he’s driving in. You make sure the temperature in the car is just right. You put on your passenger’s favorite music. You provide them with a plethora of phone-charging cords, and offer gum or candy for the trip. But then you spend thirty minutes simply wandering around the streets of the city and end up dropping off your passenger miles from where they actually need to go.
Similarly, when we fall into the trap of loving others without speaking truth, we end up wandering aimlessly. This is what happens when we are kind, polite, caring, and compassionate, but fail to bring the truth of God and the gospel to bear when a person is struggling. The truth of God and the message of the gospel are the only things that can provide true hope, peace, joy, and transformation in the midst of our messes. To act lovingly toward someone but withhold what they desperately need isn’t real love. We cannot build one another up through niceness or well wishes. We must love one another enough to courageously and wisely speak the truth.
On the other hand, speaking truth without love can also be compared to being a bad Uber driver, just in a different way. It’s like being a driver who knows exactly where to go but has no interest in his passenger’s safety or comfort. You pick up your passenger in your beat-up 1973 Ranchero that is filled to the roof with fast-food garbage so they have to sit in the open back with no seats and no seat belts. Your passenger hops in, only to find a coyote carcass and a month’s supply of beer cans, while you take off racing down the street and squealing your tires around every turn. When you arrive at their destination you discover that your passenger hopped out miles ago at a stoplight because it was all too much. You may have arrived at the destination, but you failed to bring your passenger along with you.
This is what it’s like when we throw our favorite Bible verses at people without considering whether they are actually what is most needed. Too many people have been convinced that biblical truth “doesn’t work,” not because there was a problem with the truth, but because the truth wasn’t communicated with love. It may be true that “all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28), but is that verse what is most needed or the best application of love in every moment of every mess? Oftentimes not.
This also happens when we speak truth but don’t demonstrate that truth through our sacrificial actions. Messy people need more than just truth spoken to them. They need it lived out for them. I think this is partially why the phrase translated “speaking the truth” in Ephesians 4:15 is actually only one word in the original language: “truthing.” Paul’s call is literally for us to be “truthing” one another in love. While this undeniably includes speaking the truth, it also involves much more.