July 19, 2017: Speaking the Truth in Love
When Jesus spoke about “planks of wood” and “specks of sawdust” that we have in our own eyes and spot in each other’s (Matthew 7:3-4), he was not laying down a mandate for us not to bring the truth to each other. I cannot see the “plank of wood” sticking out of my own eye (very likely because I do not want to!). But you can see it! I don’t like that you can see it because, quite frankly, it ruins my image of myself. For lo, in mine own eyes, I am awesome! … until you ruin everything by telling me differently.
So how are we to speak to the speck that we see in another person? How do we speak God’s truth to each other? The apostle Paul lays out the ground rules: we are to be a people who are continuously “speaking the truth in love.” (Ephesians 4:15).
There is a remarkable lesson in how to do that found in the book of Daniel. When you read chapter two it is almost like the ultimate double jeopardy version of speaking the truth in love. If Daniel gets this conversation with the king wrong, he is going to die — literally, horribly. Hopefully, the stakes will not be that high for us, but certainly if we can learn to speak the truth in love it will always bring life. The key to Daniel’s success is all in the mercy that he brings to the task.
1. Mercy in Relationship
King Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon (605-562 B.C.) was the richest, most powerful man on the face of the planet at that time. He was in the process of creating an empire that would, at least in his imagination, immortalize him. And yet his nightmares give away a deep insecurity. These dreams signal a change in his fortunes and we find a man whose desperation to know the truth has made him dangerously paranoid. He called for his magicians, enchanters, sorcerers and astrologers, and demanded that they interpret the troubling dream. They begin, “O King, live forever! Tell your servants the dream, and we will interpret it.” (verse 4). But they have missed a subtle detail. Nebuchadnezzar had demanded that they not only interpret the dream but first they must tell him what the dream was. The penalty for getting this wrong is death as well as the destruction of their houses. With a visible sweat forming on their brows, they eventually answer, “What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among men.” (verse 11).
Paradoxically, they are speaking the truth. Nobody can do what the king is asking. Human wisdom is inadequate. Pagan wisdom has no answers. Only God can do this. So, what is the king’s response to this deposit of truth? We are told that Nebuchadnezzar became “angry and furious” and issued a decree that “all the wise men of Babylon” should be executed. That broad category included Daniel and his friends.
At this point Daniel enters the scene. Daniel has some relational history with the king and his servants. One of the young men who had been handpicked from the Jewish people taken into exile, he has turned up for his Babylonian fine art seminars, learned the language, and built a trusted relationship with the king’s officers [Daniel 1: 3-4]. Daniel has been observed to stand firm on just one issue (concerning what he will eat) but this has added to his integrity. And at the end of chapter one we are told that the king himself found Daniel and his friends to be “ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom.” (Daniel 1:20b).
This relational investment now comes into play. Daniel speaks to the officer of the guard who has orders to find the wise men and put them to death. We’re told that he speaks with “prudence and discretion” (verse 14) as he inquires as to what is going on. Nebuchadnezzar agrees to the audience, listens to Daniel and grants him his request for extra time. The Babylonian wise men are being gathered up and put on death row. Why this reprieve for Daniel? Why does Daniel get the break?
The point here is that if we want to be able to effectively speak God’s truth in love to another person then the quality or the integrity of our relationship with that person is a crucial prerequisite.
2. Mercy in Prayer
The first thing that Daniel does is to pray with his friends. Daniel urged them to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery. What we later learn is that the whole of Daniel’s life was centered upon this deeply prayerful relationship with God (“…he knelt down on his knees three times a day, and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as was his custom since early days.” – Daniel 6:10).
When we feel like some great deposit of truth is burning a hole in our hearts and we need to unleash that truth upon some unsuspecting beneficiary, have we prayed about that? In making our deposit of truth, what is our motivation? With how much mercy have we prayed before we wade in with both feet? If we are not inclined to pray, then it is probably not our job to drop this little bomb of truth. If we can’t pray with mercy in our hearts for the person we think we need to talk to, then we are not ready for the conversation.
3. Mercy in Truth
During the night, the Lord miraculously showed Daniel the vision that the He had given Nebuchadnezzar of a large statue of a man comprised of different elements (gold, silver, bronze, iron, and a mixture of iron and clay) that was destroyed by a rock that then grew and filled the whole earth. Daniel also received the meaning. Without a doubt, Daniel has some tough news to deliver. The summary of Daniel’s vision is “King Nebuchadnezzar, your kingdom is toast!”
But Daniel brings mercy to truth as he speaks to the king. Daniel told him the dream. Listen to how he begins the interpretation: “You, O king, are the king of kings.” Daniel does not begin by assaulting Nebuchadnezzar’s ego and I doubt he was purposely starting with flattery. What he has said, from a purely earthly perspective, is correct. The king is still listening. Daniel gets to do some more talking and broadens the king’s perspective. “The God of heaven has given you dominion and power and might and glory; in your hands he has placed mankind and the beasts of the field and the birds of the air. Wherever they live, he has made you ruler over them all. You are the head of gold.” (Daniel 2: 37-38). The King is still listening and now Daniel brings him the greatest mercy. At the heart of his interpretation is this clear message: King Nebuchadnezzar, what you possess is yours only by God’s hand and it will be taken from you. There is, however, a Kingdom that belongs to God that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. This Kingdom, represented as a rock in the vision, will crush all the kingdoms of this world and will itself endure forever.
This Kingdom Daniel is referring to, of course, is the Kingdom of heaven of which we hear a great deal about in the New Testament. This rock is Jesus Christ. He is the rock that crushes the kingdoms of this world because He is the one into whose hands the Father has committed all judgment. He is the living word of truth that speaks to us from the Cross where mercy and justice meet. In fact, the Cross is where we see exactly the mercy of relationship, the mercy of fervent prayer and the mercy of truth that will eternally set us free.
How does King Nebuchadnezzar respond to this word of truth that there is a plank of pride that is causing him to not see his position clearly? We are told, “Then King Nebuchadnezzar fell prostrate before Daniel and paid him honor… The king said, ‘Surely your God is the God of Gods and the Lord of Kings and a revealer of mysteries, for you were able to reveal this mystery.’” (verse 46-47). The king not only receives the truth but he recognizes Daniel as a representative of the one true God.
We are all called to be little “Daniels.” And if we are to get it right, we will speak in love, in the mercy of a relationship that has integrity, the mercy of prayer that seeks both the Lord’s leading and His forgiveness, and in the mercy of His truth.
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