Perhaps you have caught on to a certain trend in American Christianity that, on its face, is a welcomed breath of fresh air, but often leaves people gasping in its wake. I’m talking about the trend of “being real”. It’s a practice that I’ve participated in where a person leaves almost no filter on his mouth when revealing the graphic nature of his own heart or the horrid effects of sin in the world. This can be a very helpful practice when done in the right context, with the right person, and in moderation, but can be dangerous when left unchecked. It is true that we are called to confess our sins to one another (James 5:16), and often the Bible is extremely explicit when describing and illustrating the nature of sin, but I contest that we must be more discerning when “being real”.
Being real is at first glance an expression of deep humility; a person’s desire to be holy rather than save face, but beneath the surface it often neglects love for one’s neighbor. Let’s say you choose to reveal to a friend the various ways in which you have allowed lust to take root in your life. The guilt is driving you mad and you’ve simply got to tell someone what you’ve been doing, so you unload everything on your friend in specific detail. You may now feel loads better having got that off your chest, but now your friend has information that he didn’t have before, information that is disgusting but seductive at the same time. Using discernment in this case doesn’t mean you don’t confess your sins to your friend, but it does mean that spare certain descriptive details that will prove to be a bigger burden for him to bear.
There’s a principle in Ephesians 4:29 that we often forget, but that holds significance for this issue. The text reads, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.” If we’re going to be real we need to consider the occasion, that is, who you’re talking to, where you are when you have the conversation, the time when you are having the conversation, the nature of your meeting with this person, this person’s current season in life, this person’s struggles and fears, etc.
This principle applies even when you’re not confessing sin. Let’s say I want to talk with my wife about taking certain precautions against the sick realities of kidnapping and child molestation for our children. If I want to love her then I need to use discretion in bringing up this topic. It’s probably not a good idea to discuss it on a date with her. Given the heavy nature of the subject, perhaps I should wait a couple of months to have the discussion when she’s no longer pregnant (a discussion like this one may be an added burden she doesn’t need right now). Furthermore, when I initiate the discussion, there is no need for me to discuss all the details I have read about why we should take such precautions.
Is there such a thing as being too honest? A better question may be, “Does love for others require us to say everything we can say about a certain subject?” The answer to this question is “no”. I’m not asking anyone to lie, I’m simply saying that I believe we are called to love people by what we don’t say just as much as what we do say. In other words, love requires us to protect each other, and depending on the occasion, that means refraining from saying all that we could say.