When I was a youngster I loved the teeter-totter. I loved going up and down on the teeter-totter with a friend. The real trick was, if you and your friend were approximately the same weight, to balance the teeter-totter right in the middle. It’s not as easy as it looks. As a skinny, scrawny kid I often found myself paired with a massive, moosey kid who wanted to use the teeter-totter too. Balancing was out of the question.
Speech is often like that teeter-totter. We need balance when we speak. Proverbs 27:6 says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy.” In other words, real friends will wound you when they see sin or destructive habits in your life. They won’t wound you with a sword to kill you but with a scalpel for the purpose of healing. Enemies, on the other hand, will kiss you on both cheeks and tell you how great you are. They will never wound you or speak the truth to you. They want you to fail. Friends want you to succeed. So, friends wound you. How do they wound you? They speak the truth to you in love (Ephesians 4:15). Whether they know it or not, when friends wound you by telling you the truth in love they are God’s messengers to help you become mature and molded into the image of Jesus Christ (Ephesians 4:15).
Like the teeter-totter, the trick is to balance speaking the truth with love. You cannot be too heavy on either end or the teeter-totter won’t balance. If you speak the truth bluntly and without love you may get your point across and be right however you will also crush the other person. They will not accept what you have to say because you cared more about the message than about them. As President Teddy Roosevelt said, “People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.”
The opposite is equally true. If we love our friend so much that we don’t speak the truth to him about a sin or destructive habit in his life we hurt him too. Our logic is that we love him too much to hurt his feelings so we will keep our concerns to ourselves. That’s selfish. We want the relationship for our own needs. We need to courageously speak the truth to him. If he’s never confronted with the truth how will he ever change and become more Christlike?
There is, however, a risk involved in doing this. You may lose the relationship if your friend cannot receive your reproof. Your relationship will go one of two ways. Either you will have a deeper, more mature relationship with him or he will do a cutoff and jettison the relationship with you.
My favorite approach to speaking the truth in love is to invite my friend to join me for coffee at a quiet, private, neutral space. Once seated and served, I quote Proverbs 27:6 and ask my friend if we are friends. If he says we are then I ask if I have his permission to wound him. If he gives me his consent then I let him know that I love him but I see something in his life and I boldly and courageously tell him the truth. If he accepts it and thanks me for pointing it out to him then I know that the relationship will continue. If he becomes defensive or walks out of the conversation I may have lost him as a friend. Like the teeter-totter, sometimes you land hard when the other gets off while you are elevated.
Balancing truth with love,