Don’t say what people want to hear; say what they need to hear.
Sometimes the most loving thing we can do is to say what people need to hear. What I mean is that the best thing to say to someone is not always the thing they want to hear – or even the thing that will be encouraging to them. There are times that saying something hard is really the most loving thing we can do for someone.
Many times, people talk about being encouragers as Christians. But while encouragement is desperately needed in this day and time, there are many scenarios in which God might call us to speak a word of exhortation or correction to others out of love for them.
Jesus did not always say things that were easy to hear. In fact, there were times when His words were quite challenging, but He spoke out of love for those to whom He was speaking. For example, out of concern for their future welfare, Jesus warned His listeners, “but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3). This was not an encouraging word for the people to hear, but it was certainly needed.
In another situation, recorded in Matthew 16:23, Jesus sternly rebuked Peter for not having the right focus. He said to him, “You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” Certainly, these words must have cut right to Peter’s heart since he had been such a close follower of the Lord, but Jesus said what needed to be heard out of love for Peter.
If we follow Jesus’ example, we can actually be of more help to others than if we simply say what is more palatable for them to hear. Speaking only as a cheerleader who says positive things all the time, is not ultimately showing love to others.
Let me give some examples. When someone is living in a way that is not honoring to God, they are setting themselves up for damaging consequences in the future. If we speak into the person’s life and challenge them to live in a way that is in keeping with teaching of God’s Word, we are helping them to be on a path that will be better for them in the long run.
Another example would be when we are in a conversation with someone who is speaking in a way that might be offensive to people because of the language they are using. My college-age children have encountered other students who claim to be followers of Christ but use language that doesn’t seem to reflect that claim. One of my sons gently challenged some of these acquaintances to think about how their language might affect their ability to be a witness to others. It wasn’t necessarily a comfortable conversation for him, but he spoke out of concern for his fellow students, as well as for how they represent Christ to others.
Being willing to speak difficult words to others may have powerful results. Exhorting or rebuking someone else may be the very means by which they are spared from future heartache or regret. Ultimately, such words may result in someone coming to saving faith in Christ and experiencing eternal life. For our fellow believers, saying what they need to hear, rather than what they might want to hear, can be the very thing that helps them to live victoriously and joyfully in obedience to Christ. When we consider such outcomes, we realize that sometimes speaking a difficult word to someone may truly be the most loving thing we can do.