Most of us Christians want to get along well with the significant people in our lives—our families, friends, neighbors, fellow workers and fellow believers. We would like to know there are good feelings between us, to enjoy a pleasant sense of oneness and togetherness.
Did you know that God wants exactly the same thing for us? It is expressed in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. In the first three chapters he shows us how much God loves us and what He has done for us, particularly how He united us together in one Body. Then Paul begins the second half of the book by saying, “I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, entreat you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling with which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, showing forbearance to one another in love, being diligent to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as also you were called in one hope of your calling; one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all who is over all and through all and in all” (Ephesians 4:1-6). Do you get the point? There is a built-in oneness in the Christian faith that can now be expressed in our relationships with one another. We should be able to get along with each other in love and peace, and enjoy a sense of togetherness because we are one in Christ.
It’s strange, isn’t it? We know what God wants, and we know that the structure for it exists. Yet we have so much difficulty practicing it. Instead, we have disagreements and hard feelings. We see husbands and wives fussing with each other, parents and children quarreling, Christian neighbors feuding, church members on the outs with one another. How can we change that? How can we learn to get along with each other?
The fourth chapter of Ephesians, probably more than any other in the New Testament, helps us answer that question. For one thing, God gives us spiritual gifts by which we can minister to one another and help one another (vv. 11-12). That will bring us to unity and Christlikeness (v. 13), which enables us to be built up in love (v. 16).
But that is not the entire answer. As the chapter progresses, it becomes increasingly clear that in order to get along with each other we will need to make some changes in our lives. We will need to live differently from the way unbelievers live, from the way we used to live before we met Christ (v. 17). The provision has been made. When Christ died on the cross He dealt with the old nature which is dominated by sin and self. He robbed it of its authority over us (v. 22), and He gave us a new nature which is patterned after His own (v. 24).
With that provision, we now have the potential for making the changes that will help us get along with each other. But there are still some things we must do in order to make this potential real in our daily experience. For one thing, we will need to renew our minds (v. 23), that is, feed into our minds God’s perspective on life generally. That will strengthen the control of our new natures over us. But we also will need to put aside the acts of our sinful nature consciously and choose instead to let our new Spirit-empowered nature act in each situation we face. We will need to reject the old way of acting and choose to let the Spirit of God act through us as He Himself wishes in each situation. We will need to put off the old and put on the new in each new circumstance we face.
Paul lists some of the areas in which we will need to do that by a series of contrasts—first the negative, then the positive. Put off lying and speak the truth (v. 25). Stop stealing and do an honest day’s work (v. 28). Do not speak corrupt words, but speak edifying words (v. 29). Put away anger, and be kind (vv. 31-32). It is interesting to note how many of these areas have to do with our speech. The key to getting along with each other is how we use our mouths. And right at the top of the list is truthfulness. If we want harmony in our relationships, we will need to tell the truth. “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (v. 25).
To lay aside falsehood is to stop making any statements that are untrue, and stop acting in any way that deceives or leaves a false impression. There are any number of ways we can dabble in falsehood. For one thing, we can simply say what we know to be untrue.
Let me tell you about Henry, a man who struggles with his self-image. He longs to be viewed as a strong, wise, capable individual who has it all together, but he suspects that people view him as a loser. Rather than become all he can be by God’s power, and be happy with himself in that capacity, he finds it easier to present himself to be more than he is. He tells his wife how pleased the boss is with his work, when in reality he is on the verge of being fired. When he gets fired, he insists that he quit, and that he had to do it because his working conditions were so bad. Then he will keep telling her that he has a good prospect for a new job which is sure to materialize next week, when there really are no prospects at all. He tells his friends about the fantastic business deals he has in the making, but it is all fabricated to make him look better than he suspects he is.
That is the way many unbelievers live. It is part of their sinful natures. They inherit it from their father. Jesus said that Satan is a liar and the father of lies (John 8:44). And those who go on habitually lying are indicating that they are his children. God is the God of truth, and those who have His nature speak the truth. Lying lips are an abomination to Him (Proverbs 12:22). He hates a lying tongue (Proverbs 6:16-19).
That is not to say that a true Christian can never lie. Ananias and Sapphira were true Christians. But they had an obsession to appear better than they actually were. They wanted people to think that they were giving to the church the entire proceeds from the sale of their land. They didn’t actually say that. They just let people believe it. We can lie by silence too. But it is still lying. Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” (Acts 5:3). And we get an idea of how seriously God views the intent to deceive because he took both Ananias and his wife in death.
There are other ways we distort the truth. One is to exaggerate. Fishermen are not the only ones who do that, you know. Most of us take our turn. If we had any part in planning or running a meeting, we may find it advantageous to stretch the attendance figures a little. That makes us look good. We may exaggerate our contribution to any successful venture because we want people to think we are important. In trying to make a point, we may say, “A lot of people have told me …” when in reality, only one person said it, and maybe it was our husband or wife.
Another way we shade the truth is to tell only what suits our purpose. If we are involved in a confrontation with someone, we may find it to our advantage to slant the facts slightly to favor our own point of view, or tell only part of the story. A wife said to her husband, “The counselor said this never would have happened if you had done what you were supposed to do.” But she conveniently forgot to mention what the counselor told her she did to agitate the situation.
One of our most common forms of lying as believers involves the way we cover up the shortcomings in our lives and pretend everything is all right when it isn’t, and the way we hide our true feelings to appear more spiritual. Please don’t misunderstand what I am saying. I don’t think the Scripture is advocating that we reveal all of our past mistakes and secret sins to every other Christian we meet, nor express our emotions in an unrestrained way. That will do nothing but drive us apart. But to be candid about it, most of us live behind masks.
We don’t want people to know what’s going on inside us because, as John Powell so skillfully pointed out, we are afraid they won’t like what they see and maybe they will reject us.6 We hide our true self, and say just what we think will create the kind of image we want to project. We avoid sharing our feelings of hurt, anger, jealousy, inferiority, frustration or depression, convincing ourselves that it would be better for our image if we keep them to ourselves. But they affect the way we treat each other and they hinder our ability to get along with each other.
We hold our conversations to the cliche level: “Hi, how are you?” Or to the fact level: news, weather, sports and unfortunately, people. Occasionally we will rise to the idea and opinion level, so long as we don’t think our opinions will alienate the people we want to impress. But seldom will we share our feelings, and rarely will we develop a relationship with anybody where we can be totally honest about what is going on in our lives. The risk is too great.
So my wife and I may be drifting apart. But I’m not going to tell you about it. It will distort the image I want you to have of me. I may be losing my temper with my children, but I’m not going to say anything about it. You may think less of me. I may be struggling with alcohol, drugs or impure sexual desires, but I can’t possibly let anyone know. It could cause me to be rejected by the very people I want to respect me. I may be feeling depressed and down on myself. But I don’t want to admit it because it doesn’t sound spiritual.
We surely do not need to tell everyone all about our feelings, our problems and our faults. That would be presumptuous and boring. But we can stop living a lie. We can share with those who genuinely care that we are having problems and need their prayers. We can be honest with at least one close friend who will encourage us, advise us, pray for us and hold us accountable for the changes we need to make.
That accountability may be one of our main reasons for hiding the truth. To share the problem obligates us to change, the very thing we have resisted so long. But God says one reason we should speak the truth is because we are members of one another (Ephesians 4:25). That seems to be a strange reason. He doesn’t remind us of the nature of our God, though knowing a God of truth is a good reason for being truthful. He doesn’t point out the damage our lying does to the testimony of Christ to the lost, though that is a good reason. He uses the great truth of our union with each other in the Body.
Because we are all members of one Body, we are members of one another. My finger is a member of my hand, and my hand is a member of my arm, and my arm is a member of my torso, to which both my head and my legs are also connected. Ultimately, every member of the body is a member of every other member. God put them all together in such a way as to function harmoniously and successfully.
If the members of my body start lying to each other, they won’t get along very well and the whole body will suffer. If my eyes see a rut in the road, but they tell my feet that the road is smooth, one of my feet may get broken. Or if the hand tells the rest of the body that it is fine when in reality its nerve endings are dead, it will eventually destroy itself to the detriment of the whole body. The members of the body need each other, but they are of little value to one another if they are not honest.
Paul is saying that we are all members of one another. God has put us together to function harmoniously and effectively, and for that reason we need each other. But we will be of little value to each other if we are not honest.
Let’s go back to my friend Henry who has such a difficult time telling the truth. He and his wife are believers. They are one in Christ. They belong to each other. They are part of each other, one flesh. They need each other. But they are of little value to each other. In order to minister to one another there must be trust, and Henry’s wife has no trust in him at all. He has lied to her so often, that she never knows whether to believe him or not. He promises he will stop lying, but then she catches him in another untruth, so even his promise turns out to be a lie.
If he tries to reassure her of his love, or encourage her about the future, she finds no consolation at all in his words. How can she ever be sure he is telling her the truth? His attempts to minister to her will be rebuffed. Her hopes will be raised, then dashed to splinters. Her resentment will build. Arguments will become frequent. Their relationship will never improve until Henry puts away lying and establishes a habit of telling the truth.
He has a problem with his friends at church, too. They don’t trust him either and they doubt much of what he says. Can you imagine him trying to teach a Sunday school class? Or counsel a believer with a problem? They would never know what to believe. He can have no ministry in their lives.
He has a problem with them as well. Since he thinks nothing of distorting the truth, he suspects that others do the same thing. So he doesn’t believe much of what they say to him. He even has a problem accepting what his pastor says when he expounds the Word of God. If there are many others like him in his church, you can be sure it is a sick assembly, and will soon be a contentious one, for suspicion and distrust are the seeds of conflict. Let us heed the exhortation of God’s Word: “Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth, each one of you, with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Ephesians 4:25).
What about the other side of dishonesty—living a lie, hiding behind a facade, pretending everything is right in our lives when it isn’t, hiding our feelings? How does that affect the Body? For one thing, it discourages others who watch us. They know their lives are not perfect, and if they think ours are, they usually conclude that we are somehow different, in a separate category of super-saints to which they can never attain. They tell themselves they can never be like us so there is no reason to try. It alienates them from us and keeps them from coming to us for help. Far from rejecting us for our truthfulness, people usually respect us more, and derive great encouragement from knowing that we struggle with the same weaknesses as they. And they will be able to take advice from us more readily when they know that we have been there. They know that we are aware of what it is like. Truthfulness will help us minister to each other more effectively.
In recent years Mary and I have had the privilege of ministering to missionaries on more than a dozen different fields. In each conference we have taken a session to share the platform and briefly recount the story of our lives, warts and all. We have told of the struggles we have encountered in learning to get along with each other, the arguments and conflicts we have endured, and our failure to meet each other’s needs. In every case, our honesty has helped the missionaries relate more effectively with us and has opened opportunities for counsel. A number of them have said, “We have had the same kinds of problems, but we never told anyone. What would our supporters back home think if they ever found out? Thanks for being honest.”
Not only does our deceitfulness make it impossible for us to minister to others, but it makes it impossible for them to minister to us. Let me illustrate. We seldom go to a doctor unless we have admitted that we are sick. He cannot help us unless we are willing to acknowledge that something is wrong and tell him what hurts. The same thing is true in the spiritual realm. God put the Body together in such a way so that each member can minister to other members. But if we refuse to admit our needs, we cut ourselves off from the help which the rest of the Body can provide. They cannot minister to needs of which they are not aware.
If I have a marital problem, you cannot help me work it out unless you know about it. To cover it up would be like a broken thumb saying, “I don’t want the rest of the body to know I’m broken. I’ll straighten myself out without their help.” That is absurd. A broken thumb cannot straighten itself out without help from the rest of the body. And neither can we work out most of our problems without help from the rest of Christ’s Body. Problems will just hang on, making us more edgy and irritable and less able to get along with each other. Truthfulness will help us minister to each other more effectively, and improve the spiritual health of the entire Body.
Another detrimental effect of dishonesty about our feelings and faults is that it keeps us from understanding ourselves. Psychologists tell us that we only understand as much of ourselves as we share with others, and I have found it to be true in my own life. The more of my inner life I share with my wife, the more I begin to understand myself. If we are not transparent with others—have never verbalized our hopes and fears, values and priorities, dreams and aspirations, failures and discouragements, joys and sorrows, needs and wants, feelings and frustrations—we probably do not fully understand ourselves, and therefore we are not growing.
Just admitting what is going on inside of us can help us grow. If I must keep saying, “I feel angry with you,” eventually I may have to admit that I am expecting too much from you and have never committed my expectations to God. If I must keep saying, “I feel hurt when you say that,” I may have to admit that I am overly sensitive about inconsequential things. When I admit that, I will begin to change. And as I grow, I will be of greater help to others in the Body, and the whole Body will function more harmoniously.
Maybe you are beginning to grasp the importance of truthfulness. It can help bring happiness and harmony to our relationships. We need to begin to put off the old way of life and put on the new, lay aside falsehood and speak the truth, for we are members of one another.