Some of us have a natural tendency to be harsh in response to attacks. Like any part of our personality, there's a way for God to use that for good (1 Timothy 4:4Romans 12:4–5). Offense can be a side effect of telling the truth. That's not the same as speaking with the express intent of insulting someone. The distinction only matters when we're actively trying to avoid offense. If we gauge our words with sincerity, then even if they're blunt or difficult, the other person's reaction is a response to truth, not to us. When someone is angered by the truth itself, that's not our problem. To emphasize, however, that means we need to try not to offend (1 Corinthians 10:322 Corinthians 6:3). Overcoming the urge to "scorn" others starts with recognizing our own condition. That's the point of the parable of the unforgiving servant (Matthew 18:23–35).

Consider a doctor speaking to a patient. They might say, "I know it's hard to make changes, but you're carrying an unhealthy amount of weight, and you would feel better if you lost 30 pounds." If that makes the patient angry, is it the doctor's fault? Or is the patient simply angry that truth is not what they prefer? In contrast, imagine the doctor saying, "of course you don't feel good; look at you! Stop being fat and lazy and lose weight or quit complaining." Even if the core point is true, the doctor is deliberately being rude—or at least being extremely careless. If the patient is offended, in that case, the doctor bears blame.

Jesus frequently told people “Offensive" things, of course. It's important to emulate Jesus, but not to impersonate Jesus. He was operating from perfect morality and perfect knowledge. As a parallel, it's great to emulate a sports hero, and to try to be like them. But we need to be aware of our limitations. Just because that athlete can safely perform some stunt doesn't mean we should carelessly attempt it. "Jesus did it" is not a universal excuse to take His words or actions out of context.

Harsh words can still be loving, but only if their harshness cannot be avoided. That's part of the message in this month's spotlight verse (2 Corinthians 2:1–4). Even when Jesus was speaking "harshly," His words were intended to enlighten or to speak truth. He didn't insult just for the sake of cutting people down. Nor did He criticize simply to make other people feel bad. He saw tough talk as a regrettable last resort, not an enjoyable first option.

An English proverb suggests, "when you can't say something nice, say nothing at all." With respect to whomever coined that phrase, "nice" is an awfully vague word. Love might be tough, and some truth is ugly. But there's wisdom in knowing our own limits. There's nothing especially complex or deep about that guideline: when we know we're not motivated by love, or incapable of speaking lovingly, we should probably choose silence (Proverbs 10:1915:1).