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I wonder how many times Jesus withheld the truth from someone who said or did something that was not right. According to John, it was many times, which does make you curious about His reasons for communicative self-control. Listen to how John talked about Jesus withholding the truth from His friends.
I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth (John 16:12-13).
Withholding truth could be a form of lying, depending on the motive of the person who is not saying what they know to be true. Of course, in the case of Christ, we know that He could never lie. You then conclude that His silence on a matter had more to do with discretion, wisdom, and love.
I have had friends who said, “It’s the truth! If they can’t hear the truth, it’s their problem.” Do you perceive the immaturity and arrogance in that statement? Can you see how they have focused on the wrong thing—the validity of the truth claim but not the person who they want to listen to them?
But the dogmatic person will come back with, “Why can’t I just say it when I am right?” The question is honest and needs a response. And the problem with what they are asking, of course, is their emphasis. They are so fixated on the truth that they are missing the other-centered call of the gospel.
Being right is not always the best criterion to determine whether you should open your mouth. The two greatest commandments implore us to love God and others more than ourselves. The questioner has emphasized themselves and what they know, not the other person, and the wisdom and timing of saying whatever it is that they want to share.
If you have something to say, and you know you’re right, the first thing you want to do is run it through the two great commandments filter. Let me share with you a few illustrations of this concept, and you can assess yourself to see how well you understand the wisdom and timing when talking to others.
In all of these illustrations, the essential person is not you but the other person. When it comes to gray areas, preferences, or even what could be sin, the first person you want to think about is the other person.
Bringing glory to God and serving others come in one package—a way to glorify God is by how you care for others. One way to think about the “glorifying God, serving others” concept is when you do something kind to someone, you are doing it to the Lord. Matthew told us about this concept from Jesus in his Gospel.
Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you? And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me (Matthew 25:37-40 ).
Some of the other gifts you want to assess, along with self-control, are patience, kindness, graciousness, wisdom, forbearance, discernment, discretion, love, and mercy. Imagine being all of those things to your friends and family. Compare getting your point across to giving them all these grace gifts by merely not talking.
There are times when you can have a more significant impact on a person’s life by not saying what you’re thinking. You could correct them on the spot, which will give you an “at the moment” victory because you believe that withholding your words feels like a defeat. But you want to play a longer game with those you love.
Think back to your three-year-old son who wants to know how he got here. By withholding some of the truth, you can build a surer foundation of love, encouragement, and grace in his life, which will position you to bring more radical ideas later, like the sex talk.
What about a husband with a nitpicking wife? “He was raised in a barn. He not only doesn’t know what etiquette is, but he’s never heard the word.” Do you want to use all your “corrective bullets” on trivial matters or build a more supportive relational bridge for more vital transformation later?
Jesus was always right and never wrong, but being right was not the leading prerequisite for talking to others. He showed wisdom and discretion when it came to playing His “truth cards.” When it comes to communication, you want to think more comprehensively. Here are a few questions to help you with this concept.
There is no question that the “other-centered aspect” of the gospel is what drove Christ, and, of course, He was under the control of the Spirit. If you are walking in the Spirit, you will be other-centered, which will empower you to speak appropriately to those around you. Let me paraphrase John 16:12-13 to provide a snapshot of what I’m saying.
I know that I am right. I am God in the flesh. I also know you need to hear what I want to say to you. But my first consideration is you, and you are not ready to listen, receive, and apply what I need to tell you. That’s okay. I will not only stay here for a while longer, but I will send another to come alongside you, and He will continue to make things clear for you.
I don’t have to sweat what is happening now. Even though you have a ways to go in your maturity, I know that in time, you will know what I know, see what I see, and live in such a way that will glorify my Father. I can be patient with you because I know that He who has begun a good work in you will see to it that the good work will be complete according to my Father’s timetable (Philippians 1:6). – Jesus (paraphrased)
How hard is it for you to be like Jesus in moments when you feel like you must share the truth with someone? How aware are you of how self-righteousness is lurking and looking to gain control of your mind? The opposite of other-centeredness is that “greater than, better than attitude” must speak now regardless of the consequences.
One of the ways you can test yourself on these matters is by the tone in which you communicate. There are two kinds. One is a graceful tone, which has the other person in view. A self-righteous tone has an air of annoyance that rides on the wavelength of your words.
There is something manipulative about this kind of truth-teller. They want to control the situation and the other person. They are the primary arbiter of truth. Rather than submitting to the wisdom and control of the Spirit, they are the ones who determine when, where, how, and why to share stuff.
The battle for them is over faith. Am I willing to trust the “foolishness and weakness” of God in this relationship or rely on my “wisdom and strength? (See 1 Corinthians 1:18-25; 2 Corinthians 12:10) Withholding the truth or biting your tongue can feel weak and foolish when, at times, it is the power and wisdom of the Lord working in you for a greater good.
The power struggle with this person is with the Lord, and it’s not just over who will I rely on, which is the faith issue, but who determines when this person will change? “Am I okay with this person not changing today, according to my timetable and expectations?” This question is acute for those who are watching loved ones fall off a bridge in real time.
The critical matter is when you find yourself in a “prodigal scenario,” and everything in you wants to tell the truth to them right now, but in your “heart of hearts,” you know they won’t listen. In some of these cases, it’s better to modulate the truth while accelerating your love for them, as you hope for that future conversation after they hit the hog lot and are ready to listen to you (Luke 15:17).
Sometimes being right does not mean things are supposed to change according to your timetable. I have to remind myself of the gospel in those moments when I want things to change now. Specifically, I have to remember the patience of the Lord with me. He has tolerated more foolishness out of my life than anyone I know.
In His timing and in His way, He has taught and helped me to change. This truth is real and pleasant to my taste: God is mercifully patient with me! Some of the needed change in my life has taken years, decades. Sometimes I say it this way: What I have learned from many decades of walking with the Lord is a reminder not to expect others to change in a week, month, or even years. Sometimes it is best to keep my mouth shut while praying for the wisdom to know when to speak.
Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger (James 1:19).
Rick launched the Life Over Coffee global training network in 2008 to bring hope and help for you and others by creating resources that spark conversations for transformation. His primary responsibilities are resource creation and leadership development, which he does through speaking, writing, podcasting, and educating.
In 1990 he earned a BA in Theology and, in 1991, a BS in Education. In 1993, he received his ordination into Christian ministry, and in 2000 he graduated with an MA in Counseling from The Master’s University. In 2006 he was recognized as a Fellow of the Association of Certified Biblical Counselors (ACBC).