The Christian faith concerns not only what we believe but how we behave, and that behavioral part seems often more difficult to get right than the believing part! The virtue of graciousness, for example, is one we all wish others would cultivate, and it’s likely that it should be much more evident in our own lives and relationships also.
I’m Fred Zaspel, editor here at Books At a Glance, and we’re talking today to Pastor John Crotts. John is pastor of the Faith Bible Church in Sharpsburg, GA, and author of the new book, Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love.
John, welcome, and congratulations on your new book.
Thanks very much; it’s an honor to be with you.
What is graciousness? We recognize it when we see it, but how would you define it?
Well, graciousness is when we have our words and our tones marked by pleasantness and kindness, the will to help and encourage and to convey regard. I think that that spirit of the will to help and to be a blessing with what we say and how we say it is a huge part of it. It obviously shows up differently through different people’s personalities, but you can tell a difference between a self-focused kind of communication style and one that seeks to be a blessing to other people.
We might want to clarify what you are not saying. You want to distinguish graciousness from weakness and from indifference, say, indifference to false doctrine or situations in the church that must be confronted, and yet be gracious. Sort that out for us.
I think that’s a very important thing to distinguish because, in this specific work, I’m wanting to speak to the people who have a great passion for the truth. And I think some liberal churches might give an answer that we need to tone down our passion for the truth because of the importance of graciousness and love for others. But we absolutely believe we need to continue to hold to the truth of God zealously. However, we need to have a corresponding graciousness that goes with it. So, we would never want to say that we would dial back our concern even to be precise in the truth of God’s word and making distinctions between truth and error, and truth and lies. But we want to continue to elevate the love component as it says in Ephesians 4:15, speaking the truth in love, and to be like Jesus, full of grace and full of truth.
I think maybe a significant thing that comes up a lot is how do we deal with false teaching, and how do we deal with the passion with which our Lord dealt with the Pharisees, for example, when they were in clear error. And I think that even though Jesus was very clear in the way that he communicated with the Pharisees and false teachers, he still wasn’t trying to win for himself, for selfish gains. He still had a gracious intent behind the words that he said. He was trying to be a blessing to them and to the other listeners around as he spoke God’s truth to them and called them to repent. So, absolutely we don’t want to diminish our passion for truth or passion for precision; we just want to maintain our compassion at the same time.
Actually, Jesus is an interesting study in that, it seems to me; because, after all, he’s the one who called the Pharisees a bunch of snakes at some point. And yet, we want to say he is a model of graciousness.
That’s why I like that idea of gracious intent. I think of a child that’s playing too close to the road when a car is coming. You would speak very clearly and forcibly to the child, to be careful, or to step back onto the sidewalk. But your goal is not to put the child down; your goal is to be a blessing to the child, and to rescue the child. I think that’s very different than how I grew up. When I first came to understand God’s truth more precisely as a young Christian, I was quite a zealot. In fact, you could even say this book on graciousness is really an autobiography in my efforts to cultivate graciousness because I worked in a Christian bookstore and I literally had times where I would bait customers into theological debates. (Both men laughing.) So that I could get into an argument and try to persuade them. I was right, and they were wrong! Honestly, I think, in those early days, I used God’s truth like a club. My wife has often teased that on our tombstones it will say, “They meant well.” (More laughter.) We often meant well, but didn’t really do what we needed to. And so, what I had to do was to say, how can I be a blessing to my brothers and sisters? And yes, I still believe some of these same truths that I believed back in those early days; but, by God’s grace in these years and these decades I hope that there’s been a corresponding kindness related to it.
Sketch out what a local church looks like when a spirit and practice of graciousness prevails.
Well, I certainly think that’s the goal. We want to have churches that maintain a love for truth and a zeal for truth; but we always want to speak God’s truth in love. Love is so important! I think about the case of the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2, where our Lord addresses them directly. I think it was Richard Mayhue that wrote the book, What Does Jesus Think of Your Church? And he went through some of those case studies and would say, this is very similar to your situation, depending upon which church he was looking at, and we can have a very clear perspective. This is what our Lord thinks of your church. And so, when you think of the church at Ephesus – it was passionate for the truth. He said that you hate these false teachings which I also hate. Which is an interesting point – the Lord says he hates false teaching. And yet, he said I have this against you – you’ve left your first love. Now, I think, rightly, we think perhaps they left their love for the Lord and that’s usually where people stop; but the next verse says you need to do the works you did at first. And I think that the works that they did at first were actually works of horizontal love for the brethren. The first love is not just our love for the Lord; I think it’s a love for others as well. And, inasmuch as that’s true, what Jesus is saying to this church – yes, you love the truth, which I commend; yes, you hate false teachers and false teaching, which I agree with; however, if you don’t have love for them, if you don’t have love for God’s people, I’m going to snuff out your lampstand. Which, there’s many things in Revelation and many symbols I don’t understand, and I really appreciate it when the Holy Spirit inspired John to tell us was some of the symbols meant, and he tells us that the lampstand represents the church itself. So, what a shocking thought! That the Lord would say it would be better to have no church in this powerful port city of Ephesus than to have a truth-loving church that has no love for the Lord and for God’s people. So, I really think this is an important topic. I think that it’s something to really pursue. One thing I tried to pursue in the book were lots of different ways, specific ways to cultivate graciousness in our hearts.
In my research, there’s a lot of books that will just affirm the importance of graciousness or the importance of love and kindness, and gentleness; but very few books talk about ways to build that in our hearts. And so that’s certainly one of the things that I am aiming to do in this work.
How might we cultivate graciousness in our own hearts and actions, and even on the corporate level in the church?
There’s a lot of different ways. Some are very obvious. Certainly, as we meditate on the Lord’s dealings with us, that helps us in every possible way. The Lord has been so kind to us, so compassionate, so patient with us, and he bids us again and again to treat others out of the overflow of how we’ve been treated by the Lord himself.
But, I also think you can go to many different other ways, even very earthy ways to consider the outcome. What do you want to happen in the conversation? What are you hoping to be the outcome? Are you just trying to win a debate like I was as a young Christian? Or, are you really trying to see change happen in the lives of the people you are ministering to? Well, the Lord is very clear; the Bible is very clear that sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness. The Bible is very clear that a soft answer turns away wrath. So, if you pause and think, what do I hope will be achieved in this conversation? How can I be a blessing to them? And you can also think of other areas – I know I’m kind of bouncing around – but just the timing of your conversation. Obviously, sometimes the person you’re speaking with would be in a better frame of mind to receive that than others. Boy, back in the Christian bookstore days, a brother from a Navigator background, you know, they are big into Scripture memory. He challenged me to memorize 2 Timothy, chapter 2, verses 24 and following – that’s the passage that speaks about the Lord’s bondservant not being quarrelsome, but kind and patient when wronged. And that passage basically says yes, we still speak God’s truth, but we don’t do it in a quarrelsome way. We are patient, we teach, we correct the opponents with gentleness. And I love the next phrase – God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to the knowledge of the truth that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil after being captured by him to do his will. That says to me that it’s not my job, it’s not my intensity that will win the day; it’s God’s truth, God’s Holy Spirit through his truth that’s going to win the day with my brother or sister, even if I have a debate with them or an opposing viewpoint. And I can trust God to get the result. Therefore, I can be gracious.
One summer I worked on a construction site and boy, I heard a lot of foul language and a lot of very coarse dialogue. I was really encouraged that the foreman I was going to work with on one specific day was a professing Christian and it was just he and I, and I thought at least my ears are not going to be so polluted after today. It turned out he had every bit as foul of a mouth as the other foreman. I actually talked to him in our lunch break and said, “Why are you using these words?” And he said, “I found that if you don’t talk to these guys in these ways, you won’t get any results. You won’t get results if you don’t use profanity.” And I thought, “Wow! That’s absolutely wrong.”
What a clear violation! The exact opposite message of Paul in 2 Timothy 2. You be gentle, you be gracious, you speak the truth clearly, but you let the Lord make the change in people’s hearts. It’s not by raising your voice or being intense or “giving people what they deserve.” It’s we, by God’s grace, speak clearly and speak kindly as we can. Sometimes we have to be firm and direct, like when we’re giving a rebuke or admonition. But even then, our goal is to be a blessing and not to win points for ourselves.
This is enormously important. What a help this would be in a congregation. And much of it is what you mentioned just briefly a minute ago that it is just reflecting of the way that we have been treated from Christ himself. It’s a gospel-shaped kind of virtue. We are called to love as we have been loved; we are called to serve as we have been served; and this is just a reflection of that, isn’t it?
Absolutely. That’s certainly the goal.
You mentioned this might be something of an autobiography. Is there more history behind this book? How did it come about? And what is the specific contribution you hope to make?
Well, certainly it has been a main theme of my walk with the Lord of seeking to cultivate graciousness. And I would even say the Lord actually used some of these theological debates in my life to really help me as a young man to grow in my understanding of his truth and precision and persuasiveness. However, like I said, I just was really lacking the graciousness part. And so, he did a great work in my heart. And then, having been a pastor these 22 years or so here at Faith Bible Church, I’ve seen that there are some tendencies of what I call truth-oriented churches, to have that edge and to use God’s truth like a club. You know, we finally understand some of these wonderful truths and now we can’t imagine that other people don’t get it and so we’re gonna do that. And then over these past 20 years or so it seems like there’s been a great revival of Reformed theology, the rise of the Reformed mega conference, if you will. And even as Collin Hansen identified the young, restless and reformed movement, there’s so many young guys that I just identified with and I relate to. And so, if I could speak to anyone beyond myself, it would be them; and to say, praise God that you’ve come to understand is sovereign grace. Praise God that you come to understand a high view of Scripture and want to teach his word with precision and accuracy. But may it always be that your teaching, young Christian leader, would be following Christ with a graciousness and a gracious intent. And may it be that that would trickle down. Obviously, it’s going to have major impact within the church family, but obviously in our families as well. So, I would say I’m certainly speaking to church leaders, teachers of God’s word, but I think that there is a wonderful, practical benefit that fathers and mothers can have as they interact with their kids as well. And with one another.
We’re talking to Pastor John Crotts, author of the new book, Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love. Everyone you know needs it, and you need it too – just ask your wife! This is enormously important. It’s a wonderful virtue that adorns the gospel well. We encourage you to get several copies and pass them around.
John, great to talk to you. Thanks for your good ministry, and thanks for talking to us about your new book.
It’s my pleasure. Thanks so much for having me, Fred.
Buy the books
Graciousness: Tempering Truth with Love