Friday, April 19, 2013

Tact vs. Gentleness

Recently, a guy I know told me I have no tact. I've had a number of people say something similar to me over the years, and more often than not, it is with the assumption that tact is something that we should be striving for, that tact is somehow superior to non-tact, if that were a word. This time was different in that it was the first time it had happened since God began the process of teaching me to be more thoughtful in how I treat people some 4 1/2 years ago.

If you stick around this blog long enough, I'm sure at some point I will share the beginning of that story, but for now, considering this was something I had not heard in quite some time, I agonized over it for several days. Slowly, God began to remind me of something I had written recently as part of a project I'm working on. It was born out of my consideration of a passage in 2 Timothy.

2 Timothy 2:24-25
24 The Lord’s slave must not quarrel, but must be gentle to everyone, able to teach, and patient,  25 instructing his opponents with gentleness. Perhaps God will grant them repentance leading them to the knowledge of the truth.

Being gentle with truth is a complex skill. There are many factors to balance, from tone of voice and words that are chosen to the when and where of the conversation and the delivery mechanism itself, not to mention taking into account the nature and strength of the relationship between the two people involved. Some err on the side of not speaking truth at all in order to maintain an air of pleasantness, which ends up really being nothing more than a facade masking real issues that need to be addressed. But for those of us who have a passion for proclaiming the truth of God’s Word, it is very easy to forget to heed Paul’s warning in Ephesians 4:15 to speak the truth in love.

In considering this idea of tact vs. gentleness, I had to look up the dictionary definition of tact. Not because I didn't have a general sense of the word, but because I wanted to know the exact definition. This is the first part of the definition from dictionary.com:
  1. a keen sense of what to say or do to avoid giving offense;
I then began to contrast this with the ideas in the following verses (emphasis mine):
  • Ephesians 4:14-15 Then [once we are mature in Christ] we will no longer be little children, tossed by the waves and blown around by every wind of teaching, by human cunning with cleverness in the techniques of deceit. 15 But speaking the truth in love, let us grow in every way into Him who is the head—Christ.
  • John 1:14 The Word became flesh and took up residence among us. We observed His glory, the glory as the One and Only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.
  • Colossians 3:16 Let the message about the Messiah dwell richly among you, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, and singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, with gratitude in your hearts to God.
  • Proverbs 27:17 Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
Tact has as its goal to not offend. Gentleness has as its goal Christ-likeness. If your goal is to never offend, then you will at times have to avoid truth. But it takes friction to sharpen a blade, and it takes friction for one person to sharpen another. If you are a disciple of Christ, then you have an obligation to teach, admonish, and sharpen your brothers and sisters with truth, grace, wisdom and love. And they have this obligation to you as well.  

As I said before, doing this with gentleness is a complex skill, and I have a long way to go. Those around you may have a long way to go as well. When we don't do it quite right, please give us grace.