There Now

What we say has an impact on all who hear us and, as Christians, we are keenly aware of this. However, appreciating that something must be said on occasion (even knowing it will be poorly received), might invite us to euphemize. So, here in the South, one often hears, “Bless his heart,” which carries volumes of subtle innuendo that will certainly be understood by those informed few but simultaneously possesses that necessary element of feigned innocence; this way, the speaker cannot be accused of being mean, you see.

My brother-in-law, an X-ray technician, is often privy to these handy genteelisms, some of which are particularly and intentionally vague. After all, one thing you absolutely do not want to hear from the chief surgeon in the throes of a complex operation is “Oops.” So, in order to avoid raised eyebrows, profuse sweating and panicked jitters, an experienced doctor will never use the “oops” word. Instead, a doctor might say “There now!”

We all appreciate a gentle approach upon hearing negative news. No one wants to be bludgeoned with even the truth. Still, there can come a point when the meaning of the message is lost in translation. Jesus was not afflicted with this flaw and had no qualms about being blunt when the moment demanded it. “Do not give what is holy to dogs; nor cast your pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6) obviously entailed considerable circumstance and timing issues but there was no misunderstanding His point. He called a spade a spade (Matthew 7:13). He did not mince words with the rebellious (Matthew 23; “hypocrites” {v. 14}, “blind guides” {v. 16}, and “brood of vipers” {v. 33} is pretty clear, don’t you think?). Evidently, it was important that He not be misunderstood.

If we are to be followers of Christ, we must be equally clear when the moment demands it. We cannot afford to risk precious souls, for whom Christ died, by allowing our obsession with speaking prettily to render the truth of God’s message ambiguous; “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15) is still speaking the truth. Some of the kindest, most loving words we may ever speak could be those blunt, urgent, plain truths that someone we love must hear (cf. Jude 22-23).

Perhaps the best way to approach this challenge of being understood would be to imitate Christ. He never lacked love, even when denouncing self-righteous religionists. If we speak “as the oracles of God” (1 Peter 4:11), instead of “speaking perverse things” (Acts 20:30), (and this in spite of those nay-sayers who are consumed with concern about hurt feelings), we might just “save a soul from death” (James 5:20). There now.

Jeff Sweeten