Speaking the Truth in Love

If only the Church was like Alcoholics Anonymous… it would be more like Jesus wants it to be! I mean it! There is something refreshingly honest about an AA group. Saying the 4 words… “I am an alcoholic,” takes guts…it requires honesty with oneself. To be a member of Alcoholics Anonymous, one must recognize that one is powerless over alcohol and admit one’s need for a Higher Power. And… because they have faced their own need, they don’t let others in the group play games or pretend that they have it all together. They speak their own truth and they speak the truth to one another.

In the church, we are way “too nice.” Not wanting to offend anyone or hurt any ones feelings, we often let people get away with irresponsible and immature behavior…without calling them on it. Sadly, we sometimes talk ABOUT someone in the church parking lot after a meeting, rather than going directly to the person with whom we are in conflict or about whom we have a concern and talking directly with them. Not so in AA If someone needs a good kick in the pants, a member of the group gives it too them. If someone in the group is having a “pity party” for themselves, another member tells them to “get over themselves!” AA members tell the truth about themselves and they tell the truth to one another…in love. And they stick with one another, too. They don’t run away in times of trouble.

Although the Apostle Paul urges members of the church of Christ to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), rarely do we see this biblical principle at work in the church. Churches are notorious for letting people behave badly without consequences. I am working with several pastors right now who need to speak a hard truth to a member of their church staff or a member of their congregation, but the culture of their church has been to “avoid hard truths.” These pastors realize that if they speak the truth, it will be a shock to their ecclesiastical system and they will pay a price. Interestingly, some these congregations do not even have personnel reviews for their staffs, and they don’t want the pastor to preach about money. The church often has a culture of avoiding the truth!

I have urged these pastor friends to pray about their situation…a lot… and then to “speak the truth in love” because that is how we grow up into maturity of faith. (See Ephesians 4:14-16.) In contrast to the church, Alcoholics find a way to hold each other accountable to be their very best selves. They don’t let people get away with falsehoods. They demand that others be true to themselves and name their own stuff. Alcoholics realize that self deception and deceiving others are aspects of an alcoholic personality….if we’re honest we recognize that these things are parts of all of our personalities!

Speaking the truth in love can save someone’s life! I experienced this in New York City when I served a church there years ago. Right before the 11:00 P.M. Christmas Eve service, I saw Jim, a recovering alcoholic with six weeks of sobriety, walking out of church. As Jim walked toward the door, I could tell something was terribly wrong. Jim told me that his wife and two children had left him and went to spend Christmas with his wife’s parents…because he was a drunk! He was trying so hard to stay sober…and now he was going to be ALL ALONE on Christmas! When I asked Jim where he was going he said, “If you must know…I’m going for a Scotch!” I said, “Jim you can’t do that. Where is your AA sponsor?” Jim replied, “Tom its Christmas Eve and my sponsor is in Minnesota…thank you very much! Where am I going to find an AA group on Christmas Eve?”

I knew that there must be an AA group meeting in New York on Christmas Eve but this was in the era before I-Phones. I was wondering how to find an AA group, especially when I had to start the service in 5 minutes! So, I asked Jim to sit with me in the vestry, just behind the sanctuary, along with the Associate Pastors, while I went out and made the announcements. I was praying that God would give me a creative idea to help Jim! At the conclusion of the announcements, I felt a “nudge” from God to make the following announcement: “If anyone here tonight is a friend of Bill W. (Bill Wilson was the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous) I could sure use your help. If you’re a friend of Bill Wilson, will you please come out the side door and meet me in the vestry?” As I walked to the side door, I looked up…and all over the sanctuary…African-American people, Caucasian people, Hispanic people, Asian people, young people, old people, middle-aged people…were getting up and coming to the vestry. It was incredible…and quite moving!

While I was preaching about the Word becoming flesh, the Word really was becoming flesh in the vestry as this group had their own AA meeting. They heard Jim’s hurt and pain, but they didn’t let him stay there. They knew what it was like to be all alone on Christmas and feeling sorry for oneself. But, they knew that Jim could not take a drink… so they stayed with him. After the service, Jim and this group of AA friends came out the door to meet me. “Tom,” Jim said, “I have been invited to have Christmas with members of this group! It is amazing!” The group stayed with Jim, not allowing him to be alone, until his brother came in two days. I asked the group why they would do this. This was their reply. When we were “in trouble” someone was there for us. We want to do the same for Jim as people did for us. This group spoke the truth in love to Jim that Christmas Eve…and it saved his life!

If only the church was like an alcoholics anonymous group. Alcoholics speak the truth in love to one another…are we willing to do the same?

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