We use the word, “tact” often. I am beginning to wonder if what is meant by those who use that term in relation to people proclaiming the truth is, “be tactful with the truth and if you have to compromise one, don’t compromise tact.” The go to verse is, “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ (Eph. 4:15).” Friends, there is an object of the “love” in that verse. The object of the love is the truth. There is an ellipsis in that verse. We are to speak the truth in love, but love of what or whom? Well, we are to speak the truth in love of the truth. This is not the sugar stick our liberal contemporaries think it is. This verse does not justify compromising the truth over tact. What if Jesus had this mindset? Did he compromise truth over tact? Let us notice a few examples.
The Rich Young Ruler (Mark 10:17-22)
Here comes a man, a respectful man with a good heart. By all accounts, this young man wanting to follow Jesus has an honest heart. What would be the reaction dictated by the wisdom of the world? Notice what Jesus did. Jesus, beholding him, loved him. We know that Jesus loved him, not only because we know Jesus, but because an inspired writer wrote it. Then Jesus “ran off” this young man. Think about that. Here is a young man who is well respected and wealthy. He had an honest heart and he was inquiring about salvation. He WANTED to be a Jesus follower. Our Lord and Master, the merciful and loving savior of the world, told this man someone that caused him to leave His presence very sad.
The Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 15:1-20)
On the heels of, possibly and arguably, the most widely notable miracle of the Jesus’ ministry besides the resurrection, we have the Scribes and Pharisees coming to criticize Jesus and His disciples because they did not wash their hands. Really? How can one get any more petty? How did Jesus handle this encounter with these religious leaders. I mean, really, here are THE preeminent religious leaders of the day; they were in charge of religion in the nation of Israel. What did Jesus do to show that He was sorry for offending them and incurring their judgment? Well, He did nothing. In fact, not only did He use this as a teaching moment to publicly shame them and show how they were an ungodly bunch of usurpers, He was not satisfied with the amount of people to witness this so He called attention to the multitude, perhaps gathering more of a crowd to witness this shaming (Mat. 15:10).
One of His disciples brought to His attention that the Scribes and Pharisees were offended. What did Jesus do to make it up to the offended party? He did nothing at all. In fact, Jesus takes this opportunity to hold the Scribes and Pharisees up as an example of how not to be.
How would we treat someone who did this today? Would we commend them for being Christ-like, or would we try to cut them down and work against them? Would we go behind their back and console the ones rebuked?
The Scribes and Pharisees (Matthew 23:1-39)
The entire twenty third chapter of the book of Matthew records a lesser known sermon by the Master Teacher. There is so much here that would turn people, today, against the speaker. Jesus calls the Scribes and Pharisees by name. Seven times He says, very emphatically, that they are hypocrites. Read this chapter and notice how harshly He speaks of these people. Would we tolerate such? Would we hear a sermon about leaders in Christendom and commend the speaker for being Christ-like?
The Mother of James and John (Mat. 20:20-28)
Ah, never has so much wrath been incurred by one than that one who has slighted the over proud mother. Here we have a woman coming trying to vie for position for her sons. The text is silent on the desires of the sons. It may be that the sons were oblivious to the intents of the mother. It may be that the sons were desirous to fade into obscurity. Either way, the mother took it upon herself to approach the Word, whereby all things that were made were made, and attempted to tell Him how to set up the hierarchy of His kingdom.
What did Jesus do? Did he quietly handle this and sweep it under the rug? Did He acquiesce in order to keep the peace and not stir up a woman scorned over perceived slight to her children? You know the answer to that question.
Not only did He not grant the request of this woman, He publicly put them in their place. He asked pointed questions that they either could not answer or would answer wrongly. Then He, because of them, taught a valuable lesson to the entire group. How embarrassing would it have been to be the mother and children while Jesus taught a lesson about the very thing with which you had just had issue? All the while, everyone knows it was you that caused this teaching moment. If this happened today would we commend the teacher for being Christ-like?
What is the thread that ties these four accounts together? Notice this verse: “And of some have compassion, making a difference: And others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire; hating even the garment spotted by the flesh (Jude 22-23).” The examples of Jesus “running off” someone with the truth are more numerable than the examples of Jesus drawing someone to Him with the truth.
Our problem today is that we forget that the greatest act of love is to tell someone something they don’t want to hear. We MUST speak plainly and, sometimes, bluntly. A doctor is trained how to deliver news that a patient is terminal. If he does not do it correctly the person will have false hope. Looking at some of the protocol the theme is being direct. Actually, if it were any other circumstance, the protocol is rather curt. It is not cold nor emotionless, just terse.
Friends, we need to be more like Jesus. We have been so inundated with tolerance that we, generally, have come to accept a certain amount of compromise of the truth in order to be tactful. Let us understand that God’s truth will clear a building or pack a building….He is satisfied with either (cf Deut. 28:63; Rom. 11:22).