READ: 1 Kings 22, Psalm 106, Matthew 17, 1 Timothy 5
The wise man learns to love his critics. Critics often speak a measure of truth. We need to be secure enough to absorb the sting of truth even when it is barbed with envy. The wise swallow the truth and spit out the malice. We can learn about ourselves from our critics as they often are more ready to speak truth to us than our friends. When we are willing to consider the accusations of our enemies, we often find there is fact mingled with their animosity and we would be wise to extract the metal from the ore.
Just as difficult as gleaning truth from our adversaries is speaking truth that is unpopular. Ahab resented Micaiah (1 Kings 22) because the prophet continually told the king what the king did not want to hear. It is wearisome to always bring the minority report – as much for the speaker as the hearer. The danger for the hearer is to stop the listening (and missing truth); the danger for the speaker is to grow faint under the burden and stop speaking (and truth is missed). A special sort of stamina is required when unpopular truth is needed: a stamina of both hearing and speaking. The gospel is not popular. The good news starts off as bad news. We tell people they are bound for hell, justly condemned on account of their own sin. We call people to change, to repentance, and the direct implication is that they are wrong, foolishly so – and no one likes to be called a fool.
Truth-telling is fraught with danger. When we tell the truth, we risk ridicule, rejection, persecution, and isolation. These dangers are temporal (no matter how much they sting), while the risks of not telling the truth are eternal. We must have the discipline to both tell the truth and listen to the truth – especially when it is most inconvenient or troublesome.
Truth-telling has some parameters. To spout off facts without any consideration for the hearer can be as counter-productive as not speaking at all. Paul exhorts Timothy (1 Tim. 5:1-2) to exhort (rather than rebuke) older men as fathers, younger as brothers, and younger women as sisters in all purity. A high-handed, pompous, self-righteous approach to truth makes our wisdom sound like a lie. Only God speaks truth from a position of moral superiority. Weeping prophets are more understandable than shouting ones – even when they proclaim the same message. As Samuel Hugh Moffett says, “We are but beggars telling other beggars where to find bread.”