Posted by: Philip Rushton | February 27, 2012

Prophet or Critic?: Reflections on speaking the truth in love

Pastor John gave us an important challenge yesterday to learn how to speak the truth in love (Eph 4:15). We often conceal truth in our conversations with other people in order to maintain harmony. We want people to feel good about themselves so we hold back on pointing out issues that are damaging them.

John gave a great example of how we would be upset if the car mechanic told us everything was fine with our car, when in reality the brakes were about to give out. Similarly, we would be mad at the doctor if he told us we were 100% healthy when we were actually one donut away from a heart attack. However, when it comes to the state of our soul, we tend to get offended when people point out problems.

The reason why we get offended is because we do not really want to hear this kind of truth. As David James Duncan once put it, “the truth will set you free, but not until it is done with you.” When things are revealed in our life it often means that we have to make some big changes. That’s why we resist hearing the truth. As John shared yesterday, we have all kinds of defense mechanisms that help us get around the truth.

As I have been reflecting on the sermon this morning I have been wondering how to actually go about speaking truth to other people. I get the concept, but I still struggle to implement it. I think this is where Paul’s qualifier, “in love,” becomes important. While we need to speak truth to other people, we need to communicate it in a loving way rather than a critical way.

One of my professors at Regent said that there is a big difference between a critic and a prophet. A critic knows how to speak the truth, but they are rarely motivated by love. They are not actually concerned for the well-being of the other. For the critic, truth telling is no more than an elaborate defense mechanism. The critic is motivated by pride and self-righteousness. They embody Jesus’ characterization of the person who sees the speck in another eye while ignoring the log in their own eye.

The prophet, by contrast, has a deep love for the other person. Jesus models this in the scene where he stands on a hill overlooking Jerusalem and weeps for the people because he sees that they are in danger (Luke 19:41). Jesus is sometimes very blunt with people about their bad behavior; however, his motivation is not to simply make people feel bad. His truth telling is motivated by a concern over the implications of bad behavior. He literally weeps for those who are stuck in sin.

Ezekiel captures this idea as well. In the midst of his profound statements of judgment towards the Israelite people, he reminds them that God is not just out to criticize them. He writes, “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?’

Perhaps that is the major difference between prophet and critic. The prophet does not take pleasure in the sin of others but actually wants them to turn and live. If truth telling is a means of making us feel better about ourselves, then we have lost the prophetic role. For, at this point, we are taking pleasure in the sin of others. Their downfall makes us feel better about ourselves.

As we seek to learn this skill of speaking the truth in love, let us remember that these two virtues cannot be separated. We ought not to call out another persons sin unless our motivation is one of love and genuine concern.


  1. Well stated. I like especially the last line, “We ought not to call out another persons sin unless our motivation is one of love and genuine concern.” A great guide to live by.

  2. Amen, well said. The concepts are straight forward. It’s the discipline and skill to find the right time and way to speak truth in live that’s a challenge. I like your contrast. Thanks Phil or shall we call you ‘blogmaster P’

    • Thanks for your thoughts Daryl.
      ‘blogmaster P’ could work!

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