In the home where I lived as a boy, there was a medicine cabinet that hung on the wall above the sink in the bathroom. That cabinet is where you would find the thermometer and antibiotic cream and other items that relate to health and sickness. In that cabinet were two small bottles that looked very similar. Both had white caps with a hard white stem that you would dip in the medicine and then apply to the cut or abrasion. The medicine in both of those bottles was red and would dye your skin once it was applied. Both were supposed to have antiseptic qualities.
That is where the similarities ended. One of those bottles carried a label that read Mercurochrome™, and the other had a label that read Merthiolate™ (or iodine). They looked the same, but the moment they were applied you quickly realized the difference. The popular nicknames for these two medicines should have been an indication of whether a child should submit to the treatment or run for their lives. Mercurochrome™ (a.k.a. “monkey blood”) went on nice and gentle and caused no trauma to the heart of a young child. Merthiolate™ (a.k.a. “tiger blood”) was much different.
Application of Merthiolate™ to the cut or abrasion instantly turned mothers into perpetrators, and children into victims. As soon as it touched the wound, the torture began. The left eye of the victim would turn radically inward as if trying to look inside of the head, while the right eye began bugging outward as if wanting to escape the writhing body it was harnessed to. The arms would flail, the legs would convulse, and the back would contort into an odd pretzel shape. The victim would then begin to thrash about on the floor as if he were an earthworm marooned on a piece of scalded tin.
Later in life, I decided to look up the ingredients of Merthiolate™. Here is what I discovered: “Alcohol.” Basically, it was rubbing alcohol mixed with red dye. That sounds exactly like something the devil would invent to make kids hate their mothers! Fortunately for me and my little sister, Mom was willing to settle out of court and avoid what would have been an emotional trial. She promised to only use the “monkey blood” on us.
Here is the lesson that I learned early on: when you are injured, you don’t really want someone inflicting unnecessary pain to the area. You need something that will soothe and bring healing to the injury. Maybe that’s what Paul had in mind when, under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he wrote about “speaking the truth in love.” The truth provides the healing, but it is the love that convinces the injured to receive the truth. God intended that truth and love be packaged together because they can only impact in combination. Love without truth is no love at all, and truth without love becomes heartless dogmatism.
In John chapter eight, a woman who had been caught committing adultery was brought to Jesus by the scribes and the Pharisees. Their condemnations were ringing in her ears as they sat her before the Lord. There was no doubt about her guilt, and they were armed to the hilt with truth. She trembled as they pronounced that she should be stoned to death. They mistakenly thought they could force Jesus to choose between truth and love. He chose both.
Jesus did not condone her sin, nor did He lack one iota of truth. In fact, He is the Truth! But He is also Love, and that is exactly what her accusers were void of. The woman went away changed because she was touched by both Truth and Love.
We live in a world that is filled with people who are wounded and scarred by sin. People aren’t expendable, and we need to need to handle them with care. Paul reminded the church at Thessalonica: “But we were gentle among you, even as a nurse cherisheth her children.” Whether it is from our pulpits as preachers, with the neighbor who lives down the street, or with our coworker during lunch break, how we approach them with the truth may very well determine whether they receive it or not. The same scalpel that is used to perform a life-saving surgery, if placed in the hands of the wrong person, can cut someone from ear to ear. Truth, like a hammer, can be used to drive a nail and build a home, or to bludgeon someone to death, but its intended purpose is to set people free—not destroy them.
In my early ministry, I was more concerned with getting the truth out than I was the people I was getting it out to. Looking back, if I had been wise enough to use “monkey blood” instead of “tiger blood,” I think I could have helped some people that I wasn’t able to help.
If Jesus is touched with the feeling of our infirmities, shouldn’t we try to identify with those we minister to? This isn’t a call to compromise our stand on truth, nor is it a suggestion that we water down our preaching and sugar coat our delivery. It is a reminder that we should examine the spirit in which we minister and make sure that truth is delivered in love. I realize that I may lose some people over my position on truth, but I pray I never lose someone because my disposition is abrasive.