“I’m just being honest.”
That’s a common phrase. I’ve used it more than once, myself. Even as I say it over and over in my head, it carries a certain tone, a specific intent. Maybe it’s a tone assigned by me, but I know what I usually intend when I say it.
Rarely, if ever, do I speak those words objectively. There’s a hint of and an attempt at self-justification in them. It’s as if uttering that phrase instantly excuses the words immediately preceding it and shields me from any potential consequences.
Fueled by some cultural shifts, honesty, couched in terms like authenticity, vulnerability, or openness has become a buzz word in Christian circles, with good reason. After all, Scripture exhorts us to “[speak] the truth” (Eph 4:15, 25).
But rather than being a means to an end, honesty has become an end in and of itself. We believe that if we can reach a state of perfect authenticity, vulnerability, and openness, then our faith will be perceived as genuine, healthy…biblical.
Our lives should be marked by honesty, but honesty alone isn’t my goal. As a follower of Christ, honesty has a greater purpose. It is one of the means by which we grow in holiness. But it’s only a means. The goal is holiness.
Consider again Paul’s words in Ephesians 4:15-16, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Speaking the truth is meant to be a correction to false teaching so that the body of Christ can grow properly, not malformed. It’s in this properly functioning body that Christ is glorified before a watching world. Later in the chapter, Paul uses truth-speaking as evidence of a transformed life. “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members of one another” (Eph 4:25). Liars are transformed into truth tellers.
For proper growth to happen, speaking the truth must take two forms. First, I have to continually make an honest assessment of my own heart. For example, I might ask: Where is sin gaining a foothold? In what ways am I pridefully trying to live out gifts I haven’t been given (see 4:11-14)?
Second, I have to be willing to “[speak] the truth in love” (emphasis added) to other members of the body of Christ. We all have blind spots and we need others to help us see what we can’t or won’t see on our own. But the goal isn’t shaming a brother or sister in Christ. The goal is the mutual growth needed for the body to thrive.
Honesty for the sake of honesty is a self-interested, self-justifying act that creates a separation in relationships. Honesty in the biblical sense always moves us toward Christlikeness and one another.