One of the treasures of my adulthood, particularly since my conversion in 1994, is the friendship and brotherhood that I share with my earthly father. Doug Lyle spent decades in the banking industry and then left it to commit himself to the kingdom work of developing men. Dad prefers face-to-face connecting above writing but has graciously agreed to serve as guest-blogger from time to time here. I have only a handful of men in my life to whom I will listen to anything they say. Dad is one of those men and today he challenges us all – male & female – concerning the element of truth in our relationships. I am grateful to God for making Doug Lyle my dad and you will benefit from what he shares below.
A number of years ago we woke up in trouble with China. Seems one of our spy planes collided with one of their fighters. Bummer! There’s something very odd about this situation with China. Here we have both countries tacitly acknowledging that America routinely spies on China but the public argument between the two countries is over who hit who first. China didn’t seem to be upset over the spying as long as we say we’re sorry about hitting their plane and America seemed blasé about the whole thing, insisting that no apologies were needed. After all, we were just flying around minding our own business, right? This situation reminds me of fights I use to get into as a kid. We never addressed the real cause of our fights – we just fought. Both sides knew what the fight was about but we couldn’t find a way to deal with it directly. We just danced around it, hoping that someone would blink so that we could all go home with very little egg on our faces.
Have you ever noticed how we do this same dance from time to time as adults? We get into relational difficulty and don’t know how to address the issues. And so we fight and then embrace the stony silence, pretending nothing’s wrong. Thankfully, there’s a better option. The apostle Paul gives it to us in his letter to the Ephesians. It’s in chapter 4 starting at verse 25.
“Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body. In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold.”
It turns out that the better option we have for dealing with conflict is a very simple concept. Tell the truth. It is a simple concept but not always easy to execute because the truth sometimes feels dangerous. Let’s explore these three verses a little.
Verse 25 begins with “Therefore” so before we skip past that let’s see what “Therefore” is there for. If we were to read verses 20-24, we would see that the author, Paul, is telling us that we have to do what we might call a brain-dump. He calls it “putting off the old self…” and “…being made new in the attitude of our minds.” We need to quit acting like the Chinese and American governments, pretending that things are different than they are. So, Paul begins verse 25 with “Therefore” or “In light of what I just said about getting a new attitude, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to get rid of the pretense and deal in the truth.”
So does this mean that Paul wants us to say just whatever comes to our minds as long as it’s the truth? No. I know a person who prides herself in being brutally honest. She says whatever comes to mind and excuses the wounds she inflicts by saying, “At least I’m honest.” She is ignoring a key phrase in our text here. Paul tells us to speak truthfully to our neighbor because we are all members of one body. The inference is that we are to look out for each other. The King James Version says that we are “members of one another.” I like that better because it paints a picture of an intertwined unit. In fact, the Greek words for “neighbor” and “one another” paint that same picture. Each part is inseparable from the others. Here’s the point: We cannot operate in pretense with others and not do damage to ourselves. If you want to get selfish about it, speak truthfully so you don’t wound yourself. China and America might be able live in pretense but we Christians can’t because we are inseparable partners; we are “members of one another”.
In verse 26, Paul keeps pounding away at this idea of getting rid of pretense. Look at what he says. “Be angry and do not sin.” Wait a minute! Isn’t anger sin? Maybe not. I checked out the Greek word for anger and, sure enough, that’s exactly what it means. Anger, even rage. What I believe Paul is teaching here is for us to commit to being real. There’s no pretense. He knows that people feel angry. We know that even Jesus displayed anger in the Temple when He threw out the money guys. So what does Paul mean by telling us to be angry but don’t sin? Well, obviously, sinning would include acting on our anger. But remember Paul’s context here is that of speaking truthfully. So avoiding sin while angry means to talk truthfully about what’s going on. It’s getting the issue out in the open where all parties can deal with it in truth. When Paul tells us not to let the sun go down on our anger, he is telling us not to sit on it. This is Conflict Resolution 101.
Our last verse gives us the basis for Paul’s insistence on the truth. “Don’t give the devil a leg to stand on.” Huge! What this means is that speaking the truth – being real because we’re an intertwined unit – protects both parties from the attacks of our enemy. Jesus Himself tells us that Satan is the father of lies and that there is no truth in him. So it makes really good sense to say that speaking the truth gives the devil no place to latch on to us. He simply cannot connect with the truth. But he can always connect with pretense because he diabolically authors it.
China and America probably can’t afford to speak truthfully to each other about their historical trouble. That would be like running a million amps through a 20-amp fuse. The two nations couldn’t handle it because at the heart of international spying is distrust…and distrust is the real issue. But you and I aren’t nations. If we are wise, we can handle any friction created by dealing truthfully with each other. Here’s how.
We make a decision to do two things. First, we make an irrevocable choice to be people of truth in everything. That means we refuse not only to lie overtly but also to not bend the truth or hide it when doing so would work to our advantage. The second decision is to refuse to react when the truth that we are given wounds us. Sometimes not reacting seems impossible but it isn’t. Each choice we make to not react adds another layer of power to do it the next time and the next time and then next time. Before we know it, we’ve built a new attitude in our minds; we’ve built a new habit. This next week, be thinking about where you might be dealing untruthfully with someone. It’s probably not some bold-faced lie. Most of us don’t do that. Look for the little ones – the truth that you have hidden, even the truth that you are currently hiding. Make these two decisions about that specific situation and then keep on doing it until it’s a habit.
Speak truthfully. It’s a much better option.