Chapter & verse: Proverbs 24:26
Richard Lewney on speaking truth to those we disagree with
Spot the Bible text among these three sayings: ‘Before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.’ ‘An honest answer is like a kiss on the lips.’ ‘Never wrestle with a pig. You both get dirty and the pig likes it.’
You probably ruled out the last one (though it’s my favourite advice about social media). A people for whom pork was unclean wouldn’t use many pig metaphors. The one about revenge isn’t in the Bible either, even if it’s consistent with the theme that vengeance is the prerogative of God rather than the individual (eg Romans 12:19).
So, it’s the one about the honest answer. But what does it mean exactly? It’s hardly newsworthy to report that the Bible is in favour of truth telling.
Think of this as advice to a leader. What is precious to a leader, and perhaps so rare, about an honest answer? One of the threads that runs through the book of Proverbs is the importance of receiving wisdom, even when it is not always what we want to hear: ‘Lips informed by knowledge are a precious jewel’ (20:15). ‘Do not be wise in your own eyes’ (3:7). A fool despises instruction (15:5). Be quick to listen and slow to speak (18:13). Hear all sides before jumping to conclusions (18:17).
Those who speak honestly to a leader, without varnishing the truth to seek favour, are to be valued highly. Why does a leader need to be told that? Because it’s often inconvenient and sometimes painful. The last thing we want to hear when we’re investing heart and soul in trying to lead change are the words of a naysayer. You know who I mean. The person who never gives encouragement and always finds fault. The person who unfailingly finds a way to impugn my motives and challenge my competence. The person who saps my energy. The person who makes my heart sink every time I see their name on an email. It’s almost enough to make you sympathise with Ahab (1 Kings 18:17). …
Richard Lewney is a United Reformed Church lay preacher, based in Cambridge
This is an extract from an article that was published in the July/August 2020 edition of Reform