Being the Truth
In Ephesians 4:15 we encounter the phrase “speaking the truth”. But this phrase comes from one Greek word, aleitheuo, and can literally be translated as “truthing it” or “being truthful”. The application is not merely to speaking but includes attitude, behavior and lifestyle — a total existence in truth that makes us genuine, real people. Without truth in our lives to produce this kind of genuine humanity there can be no unity or community, only distrust and disunity.
One to One Correspondence. As much as is possible there should be a one to one correspondence between what we say and what we are. This may be more important than a one to one correspondence between what we think and what we say. According to Dr. Smedes, the epitome of untruthfulness is pretending to be something you are not. “Being ‘full of iniquity’ may be the common lot of sinners; but acting out a charade of virtue makes iniquity doubly nauseous.” (Lewis B. Smedes, Mere Morality: What God Expects from Ordinary People)
Intentions. Don’t confuse intentions with feelings. We should be true to our intentions. It is not hypocritical to act hopeful when we don’t feel hopeful if our intention is to become hopeful once again. It is only deceitful when we have no intention of becoming hopeful. For then we impress people as being something we have no intention of becoming.
Being true to what we intend does not mean I am required to reveal everything in my heart. We are not required to tell everything or to act out everything in order to be truthful people. We need not express our sinful thoughts in order to be honest. Sin needs to be nipped in the bud – at the thought level.
“The (9th) commandment tells us to speak truthfully whenever it is appropriate for us to speak at all.” But “…the command requires only a revelation that is pertinent to the situation.” It “does not call us to be garrulous blabbermouths. Truthfulness is demanded from us about the things that we ought to speak about at all.” (Smedes)
Hunger for Truth in a Broken World. I have sensed in my interactions with people of various cultures over the years an honest quest for what Dr. Smedes calls the “truthfulness of being”. In a society where truth is at a premium, hidden under a morass of so-called civilization, the hunger for truth in the human heart is greatly accentuated.
As sinful, broken people we are in a sense alienated from ourselves. We are confused, not knowing who we really are. Wholeness is something we are seeking not something we are. The truth of who we are is a long journey even for those who have access to the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. For those without that revelation the search would seem a hapless one. “Truthfulness of being is an ideal we struggle toward.” (Smedes)
In our alienation and brokenness we project a persona, a social facade, the wearing of a character “mask”, as it were. But this lack of truth is not the only reason for our hypocrisy. Sometimes we also willfully and purposefully become hypocrites in order to make a profit, in order to deal with our fear of being disliked or rejected, in order to escape what we really are. As Dr. Smedes writes, “…even with the best intention truthfulness is hard to come by for mixed up human beings.”
Furthermore, what I say may not be what the listener hears. Every word, innuendo, plus body language are all filtered through his understanding grid, which has been conditioned by his personal history. “What he hears is never exactly what we say.” (Smedes) We may speak truth, but with his past conditioning he may hear a falsehood. This calls for a dialogue in order to be sure the desired communication has taken place.
A friend of mine who works for a large company in the U.S. tells the interesting tale of the struggle he and others in his company faced when trying to communicate with one of the new vice presidents — a man from a middle eastern country who had little understanding of Americans or American culture. Consistently, almost predictably, the man’s (English) words were misunderstood, and much of what he heard he misinterpreted. This caused so many problems the company hired a professional counselor to function as a middleman interpreter.
This is an extreme case, but it serves to highlight the potential for misunderstanding. Even among those close to us, those who know us, those who share our language and culture, there is always potential for misunderstanding.