One of the greatest struggles I encounter as a pastor is the tension between grace and truth. I can’t speak for all other pastors, but I suspect I’m not alone. Generally speaking, pastors are social people who want to be liked by others. Biblically speaking, one of the requirements of being a Pastor/Elder is that he “must have a good reputation with outsiders” (1 Timothy 3:7). Yet, we are also people who are so convinced and passionate about what we read in Scripture (more importantly, we’re committed to the Author of Scripture) that we feel like Jeremiah when he writes “But if I say, ‘I will not mention him or speak any more in his name,’ his word is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed, I cannot” (Jeremiah 20:9).
We must live in the uneasy tension that we want to be gracious, gentle, compassionate and loving towards all people – especially towards those who disagree with us. As Jesus said to his disciples, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that” (Matthew 5:46). We are called to embody the grace that we have received, and if we don’t do that then we are declaring by our lifestyles that we a) haven’t really received the grace we claim, or b) are so immature in our faith that our inconsistency (or hypocrisy) contradicts and invalidates the reality of God’s grace. We are Ambassadors of God, our actions reflect on Jesus Christ. This is all true of every Christian, but is especially true of leaders in Christ’s Church.
We also live under submission to Scripture, because we believe the Bible isn’t simply another book, but is truly and completely the Word of God. That’s why most education for pastors includes training in Hebrew & Greek, Ancient Near Eastern culture and history, and theology – so that we can get ourselves as close to the actual meaning of the text as possible. We love people, but we love our Creator and Savior more, and we’re often amazed (at least we should be) that God would chose us to serve Him because we know how unworthy we really are. There are times when it would be the greatest comfort to tell people what they want to hear rather than tell people what we are convinced God has revealed to us through Scripture. As the quote from Jeremiah above says, if we do not speak the truth we are convinced of then it’s like a fire burning in our heart that will consume us. We should speak the truth with grace, but we must be true to Scripture.
It’s not easy to tell people you really love and care about hard things that you know could hurt them and sever your relationship. We must speak both grace and truth, remembering that the Gospel of Jesus Christ really is the GOOD NEWS. But we speak the Good News because there’s bad news… really bad news: we’re all sinners and the only thing we’ve earned from God is judgment because we have both knowingly and unknowingly joined the rebellion against his Kingship over what He’s created.
One thing I was told years ago was to always make sure I follow us hard things by emphasizing the hope we have because of God’s love and grace. I try to remember this, but I wish I did a better job at following that advice consistently.
As I write this, I recognize this is a struggle many Christians (not just pastors) work through, and I hope that this post will help you to know that you are not alone and that your pastor(s) also struggle with living in the tension between grace and truth. There are a number of things right now that have made me wrestle through this personally and why I feel this might be helpful to share, but here’s a little bit of insight into one of the struggles I am confident many pastors wrestle with.
Ultimately, I think the most important thing here is to recognize that this “tension” isn’t a battle as if the two are at war against each other. God is full of grace, if He isn’t then we’re all without hope! God wants us to be gracious towards others, just as He was gracious towards us. This means that we will point to Scripture in order to “correct, rebuke, and encourage” the people around us. The conflict between grace and truth enters this discussion when sin leads us to resist what God has to say. Those are the moments when this tension becomes more tense.
I’ll end my thoughts here by referring those who are interested in this tension to the best book I’ve encountered on this issue: Randy Alcorn’s The Grace and Truth Paradox, it’s a short and easy read… and well worth the effort!