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There are many different ways a pastor may be derelict in his duty. The most common and obvious would be his morality. If a man is not reflecting the doctrine that he is teaching then his ministry is a sham. We know that there are moral qualifications for the office of elder (1 Tim. 3:1-8). At the same time the pastor must be biblically sound in his doctrine; he must have a firm grasp on the truth. If he’s in error doctrinally then his congregation will suffer. Not surprisingly Paul gives many encouragements to this end in 2 Timothy alone (2 Tim. 1:6-7, 13-14; 2:15; 4:1-4, etc). This culminates with the pastoral inclusio to watch your life and your doctrine closely (1 Tim. 4:16).

There is another aspect where a minister of the gospel may go wrong, and I fear it is becoming increasingly neglected–or at least overlooked. He must give attention to his tone. The pastor must be firmly committed to the truth while maintaining a tone that is consistent with the truth. In other words, truth and tone go hand-in-hand. If I might take some liberty, “what God has joined together, let no man separate.”

It is not difficult to fall off one side of the ledge while being so confident about our standing on the other. We can be indifferent to doctrine and extremely nice or we can be committed to doctrine and complete jerks. If we are indifferent to doctrine and try to be really nice then we abrogate our calling, dishonor Christ, and don’t help anyone. And, if we are committed to truth while being harsh, rude, or biting then we undermine our doctrine. You can see how you can fall off both sides of the cliff.

Perhaps you’ve not noticed how often the Bible tells Christians, particularly pastors, to be careful with their tone? One such example is 2 Timothy 2:24-27. With controversy in the context we read:

“And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” (2 Timothy 2:24-26)

Paul is laboring, amid controversy to stress tone and truth: not quarrelsome but kind (to everyone), patient in the face of evil, correcting gently, all because this is the key that God uses to open the prison of sinful captivity.

It is almost like some today have read this in the opposite manner: The Lord’s servant must be ready to throw at any moment, harsh with everyone, impatient with evil, correcting his opponents mercilessly. After all, they have are foolishly following this doctrine instead of being smart like me.

I have found John Newton to be of great benefit in this aspect of pastoral ministry. Some of what follows comes from his letters, compiled in the book Select Letters of John Newton. There is need for personal inventory and consideration here.

If the person you are in a disagreement with is a Christian then remember to deal gently with them. This is the manner and custom of Christ. Remember David’s word to Joab concerning Absalom? “Deal gently with him for my sake.” Remember, the Lord loves this brother or sister and patiently bears with them. And so should you.

“The Lord loves him and bears with him; therefore you must not despise him, or treat him harshly. The Lord bears with you likewise, and expects that you should show tenderness to others, from a sense of the much forgiveness you need yourself. In a little while you will meet in heaven; he will then be dearer to you than the nearest friend you have upon earth is to you now. Anticipate that period in your thoughts; and though you may find it necessary to oppose his errors, view him personally as a kindred soul, with whom you are to be happy in Christ forever.” Newton, p. 112

But if the person is a non-Christian then they are doubly in need of your compassion, gentleness, and love. They do not know what they do! Jesus saw this phenomenon and it moved him to prayerful pity (Lk. 23:24). If it were not for God’s sovereign grace you would be the scoffer, the mocker, the self-righteous one.

“Of all people who engage in controversy, we, who are called Calvinists, are most expressly bound by our own principles to the exercise of gentleness and moderation.” People who believe the Doctrines of Grace have no business being harsh, unkind, biting and lacking in understanding. We have a theological framework that makes sense of this and it bids us to be merciful!

There is a kind of selfishness that makes us angry with and opposed to those who are different than us. We believe that we are serving God’s cause in our anger. But, let us not forget the words of James 1:20, “the anger of man does not produce the righteousness God requires.” You may absolutely right in your doctrinal or practical conclusion, however, you may be communicating your rightness in a sinful way. You could be right on truth and wrong on tone. And as a result, you are wrong on truth! Some feel they are serving the truth while actually discrediting it!

To those who thrive on controversy while using doctrinal purity as a cover Newton sounds prophetic:

“If you can be content with showing your wit, and gaining the laugh on your side, you have an easy task; but I hope you have a far nobler aim, and that, sensible of the solemn importance of gospel truths, and the compassion due to the souls of men, you would rather be a means of removing prejudices in a single instance, than obtain the empty applause of thousands.”

If the minister of the gospel to effectively lead the church he must lead the church into Christlikeness which is far more reflective of patience, kindness, and gentleness than a lot of the knife-fighting and harshness that often gets passed off as the ministry of the word.

Pastors must remember that truth and tone go hand-in-hand.

(This is taken from a sermon preached at Emmaus Bible Church entitled Truth and Tone Go Hand-in-Hand from 2 Timothy 2:24-27. Audio here.)

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16 thoughts on “Truth and Tone Go Hand-in-Hand”

  1. Chuckt says:

    I agree with you in that my conscience bothers me that I have had to fight people really hard and maybe I should have been nicer about it but they agape evil and will continue to do what they do out of the darkness of their hearts and a lot of the evil evangelists have treated me like they had opportunity to deceive me because they thought I was stupid enough to talk to them.

    King James Bible
    Wherefore take unto you the whole armour of God, that ye may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand.

    Titus 1:13 This witness is true. Wherefore rebuke them sharply, that they may be sound in the faith;

    Outline of Biblical Usage [?]

    I.abruptly, precipitously

    II.sharply, severely, curtly

    Jude 3 says we are to fight and I believe they will fight until they come to the end of themselves.

    After trying to give the world a more conciliatory approach and even if I have never been seeker sensitive or Emergent, I believe those are the wrong ways to go. I believe we have a commission because friendship with the world is enmity with God.

  2. Chuckt says:

    Years ago I met a self professed Christian woman who I didn’t know was on drugs at the time. The only thing she would listen to were the drugs. In one sense, evil men will wax worse and worse and my pastor would tell me that I’m not pastor so and so; so I can’t save them because only God can save them and what they were doing was committing grievous sins and the response to grievous sins is not to be nice about it.

    While we shouldn’t try to separate the wheat from the tares, we also have to remember that some people are just goats and a heretic is going to tell me that he has seen reformed goats but biblically, you don’t reform goats.

    In other words, a puppy dog that runs with a pack of wolves is going to become wild because the wolves don’t become domesticated.

  3. grh says:

    How does this square with Christ’s “tone” as he was whipping those who abused the truth of His Father’s worship for shameful gain, or the religious elites whom he wrote off as “fools and blind”?

    1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

      grh: “How does this square with Christ’s “tone” ….?”

      Here’s a perfect balance of truth and tone from Lord Jesus:

      27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.

      29 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous. 30 And you say, ‘If we had lived in the days of our ancestors, we would not have taken part with them in shedding the blood of the prophets.’ 31 So you testify against yourselves that you are the descendants of those who murdered the prophets. 32 Go ahead, then, and complete what your ancestors started!

      33 “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell??

      From Matthew 23.

      1. Philip K says:

        The “brood of vipers passage” is very commonly quoted among us Christians, and at times used as a license to call out the iniquities in others, and to justify our anger towards sin. It is true Christ does say these things (plus more like tying a mill around your neck and jumping in a lake, etc), but it is also true that Christ is God, and His anger justified and righteous because He is God. And His and words and actions displayed righteously, because He is God. We, Christians, on the other hand, are not God. While we should feel anger at evil, false teachings, and sin in the world, because we are broken, our anger, though rooted in righteousness, will be displayed brokenly.

        For instance, in Matthew 21, he cleanses the temple and overturned tables. And verse 13-“He said to them, ‘It is written ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’, but you have made it a den of robber’. ”

        And literally the next verse, verse 14 – “And the blind and the lame came to him in the temple, and he healed them.” In the immediate aftermath of His righteous anger, Christ shows compassion and mercy and heals. I love this verse, because it reflects so many aspects of our God, one who is merciful, righteous and just, powerful, all mighty, and glorified, etc.

        I think the article could have talked more about “truth in love”, instead of truth in tone. Tone can be compromised, love cannot. 1 Corinthians 13, clearly spells out the importance of love in living out the Christian mission and in the church. I think pointing out evil in love is a more difficult task, than pointing our evil in our anger. As when we are in Christ’s love, it is pains us to see a fellow brother or sister to be in sin. And instead of “You are sinful!”, our natural response in Christ will be “I love you, it pains me to see you this way, come back, Christ is better.”

        1. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

          “It is true Christ does say these things (plus more like tying a mill around your neck and jumping in a lake, etc), but it is also true that Christ is God, and His anger justified and righteous because He is God. And His and words and actions displayed righteously, because He is God.”

          Of course. Christ is perfect in Truth and perfect in Tone.

          “We, Christians, on the other hand, are not God.”

          Which genuine Christian do you know who has claimed that he or she is God?

          1 Peter 1:16: “Because it is written, Be ye holy; for I am holy.”

          Emulate God/Christ who is perfect in Truth and Tone and Love.

          Christ: “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell??”

          1. Philip K says:

            Of course Christians will not claim they are God.

            However, by default nature of our sin, do we not honestly think/want to be the god of our lives? Otherwise, the church would not have to preach the gospel every week, not just to unbelievers, but most of all its own body. If we all already knew and lived it out, we would not need to be reminded every week. God would not need to refine us throughout our lives.

            Emulating v.) to try to equal or excel; imitate with effort to equal or surpass.

            We will never imitate with effort to equal or surpass Christ, that is why we need Christ. However, I do agree we must follow Christ “Then Jesus told His disciples (matt 16:24), “If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me.”

            Yes Christ called the pharisees a brood of vipers, but we are the pharisees. We are the unbelieving pharaoh. For Christ died for us while we were still sinners. Christ is speaking truth from the vantage of the sovereign God over all. Does a king not have the authority to speak in a harsh tone to his servants. But are the servants allowed to speak in the same manner as the King to his fellow servants? Matthew 18 talks at length at how we should bring up fault with our fellow brothers and sisters. Furthermore, the parable of the king who forgave his servant’s debts, and that servant did not treat a fellow servant who owed him as kindly as the King. once the King heard, casted the first servant in jail.

            Phillipians 2 “So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

            My claim is not to turn a blind eye to sin or evil committed by our fellow brothers, nor to tone police how it is handled. But we as servants of Christ have a very different vantage point than Christ himself, and that I would have liked to see more about truth in love, rather than truth and tone. Because writing about truth and tone, may seem to suggest that our tone must always be gentle for the sake of getting the truth across. But as we can agree, the gospel is offensive, that God died and resurrected on account of our sinful nature. This has nothing with tone, but with truth (as God reveals himself) in love (as God loved us to make provisions for us as sinners to be redeemed). I have no clue if I’m making sense at this point, but I’m not disagreeing but saying something different alltogether.

          2. Truth Unites... and Divides says:

            “My claim is not to turn a blind eye to sin or evil committed by our fellow brothers, nor to tone police how it is handled.”

            That’s good.

            “Yes Christ called the pharisees a brood of vipers, but we are the pharisees.”

            The Tone Police too often come across as pharisees.

  4. grh says:

    As a follow-up, here is an insightful observation from Todd Pruitt this morning:

    “The Protestant Reformation would never had happened if the tone police had been in charge.”

  5. grh says:

    Sorry, one last thing on this: it’s also important to remember that just because someone gets offended, that doesn’t mean we have a wrong “tone” or we need to adjust ourselves. If that were the case, we’d never share the most offensive message of all, the Gospel.

  6. Chuckt says:

    But evil men and seducers shall wax worse and worse, deceiving, and being deceived.

    Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?

    Whose mouths must be stopped, who subvert whole houses, teaching things which they ought not, for filthy lucre’s sake.

  7. Georgina Mcdonald says:

    Thanks for this article Pastor Raymond.
    It’s clear that the Lord cares about the way we correct people and I’m thankful to hear someone talk about it.

    1. Chuckt says:

      Galatians 2:11 But when Peter was come to Antioch, I withstood him to the face, because he was to be blamed.

      When someone claims to be Christian or speaks about Jesus in public, they are basically operating in a pastoral ministry. If they say something wrong then they are basically fair game to be blamed and that is hard because a lot of Christians can’t speak out because large churches are operated like corporations and they have lawyers that would sue people for all they have.

      The fact that Jim Jones created his own cult and no one did anything means that the body of Christ cannot protect itself. The fact that Jehovah Witnesses use the King James to convert Christians and got most of their converts from Baptist churches means that Christians cannot protect themselves.

      Tone isn’t going to protect us from cultists who spend all their time studying how to get Christians to convert and I’ll give you an example. I’ve seen Jehovah Witnesses go to the mall downtown and sit there all day to try to talk to people and now they have their little book stands here. The question is what Christians are going to do to protect the flock. Are we willing to do for the truth what the Jehovah Witnesses are willing to do for a lie? Are we willing to be there all day to protect those who might hear their lies?

  8. Matt says:

    In your first paragraph your state “We know that there are moral qualifications for the office of elder (1 Tim. 3:1-8). At the same time the pastor must …” With this are you saying that Pastors and Elders are not one and the same office? I ask becasue it will give me a better understanding to your perspective as I read the whole thing.


  9. Curt Day says:

    This is a good post. We should remember that tone often indicates whether we are producing either the fruit of the Spirit or the works of the flesh.

  10. Chuckt says:

    My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me: – John 10:27

    English Standard Version – John 8:47

    Whoever is of God hears the words of God. The reason why you do not hear them is that you are not of God.”

    It is based on whether people love God or not that they believe.

    And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. -John 3:19

    Another translation uses the word “verdict” and the verdict is that they agape (love) evil and the verdict is not about our tone.

    You can drive up and down I-95 in Philly and see hundreds of dead churches because they don’t have anything going on. It is about whom you know that makes Jesus real and if we don’t know Jesus then we can talk all we want but won’t have anything to convince people.

    I think about tone when Moses had his followers in the wilderness. How many of them were comfortable in the desert? They wanted to go back to Egypt for the leaks.

    If people have to be comfortable to follow Him, they have something in place of Jesus. Jesus was the storm king and not the bread king. People will follow for bread but they won’t believe. You can’t even pay people to be obedient to God.

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Erik Raymond

Erik Raymond is senior pastor of Emmaus Bible Church in Omaha, Ne. He and his wife Christie have six children. You can follow him on Twitter.

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