George H. Morrison - Devotional Sermons
The Tactfulness of Love
And this I pray, that your love may abound...in all judgment--Phi 1:9
Tact--the Grace of Touching Others Gently
The word that is here used for judgment is a very interesting word. It occurs nowhere else in the New Testament. Its primary signification was perception by any of the senses, but gradually it got specialized into perception by the sense of touch. And so, rising into higher spheres (for words have their own moral history), it came to mean what we describe as tact. Tact is the same word as touch. Tact is the kind of way in which we touch things, but not in a material sense like wood or stone. It is the unseen substance of which life is made with its sensibilities and shrinking, its strange and instantaneous reactions. Such contacts we are forced to make in every period of life. Our years are spent in ceaseless interaction with the lives of other people. And whenever we learn to touch these other lives delicately and understandingly, then we possess the charming grace of tact.
Tact Grows with the Deepening of Love
Now it is notable that Paul connects this grace with the growth and deepening of love. When love abounds, it inevitably blossoms into all kinds of delicate perception. These Philippians to whom he wrote seem, happily, to have been ignorant of heresy. But they were very ready to misunderstand each other; there was a good deal of social bitterness in Philippi. The grace they lacked, sometimes without ever meaning it, was that interior delicacy which would not hurt or irritate another. There are many people who mean well yet are always rubbing others the wrong way. Often they are quite unconscious of it and never dream of the hurt that they are causing. And one can gather from this letter that in Philippi, for all its orthodoxy, there was a good deal of that social unpleasantness. Paul was perfectly aware of that. He had his hand on the pulse of all his churches. He saw how it spoiled the joy and peace and harmony that ought to reign and rule among the saints. And the notable thing is he does not waste his time in exhorting his children to a greater tactfulness--he prays that they may have a greater love. He goes right down to the heart of things. He fixes his attention on the center. Let love have a controlling place, and the touch will become infinitely delicate. What to avoid, what not to say or do, that is not a secret of the intellect; it is always a secret of the heart.
You Are Tactful with What You Love
This tactfulness of love is apparent in many different spheres. Watch a botanist handling a flower--you can tell that he loves it by the way he touches it. Look at a mother with her little baby--her very touch reveals the mother-heart. I can often tell if a young fellow loves books, not by the clever way in which he speaks of them, but by the way in which he handles them. Let a rough, coarse man once love a woman, and it is amazing how tactful he becomes. He begins to divine, by the genius of the heart, the delicate attentions she is longing for. For there are little acts of courtesy and grace that mean far more than any gold or silver to such as may be sensitively inclined. It is always a sure mark that love is dying when tact takes to itself wings and flies away. When the delicate perceptions disappear, it is a token that the heart is hardening. And that is the tragedy of many lives, not the blighting touch of infidelity, but the roughened touch (so rough that it may hurt) which betrays the decadence of love.
Tactfulness Is Different from Diplomacy
In its roots as well as in its fruits, true tact differs from diplomacy. I would venture to say that tact is always spurious when it is not rooted in the soil of love. There is a kind of tact that springs from fear, though no one ever may suspect its origin. It shuns offense, not for the sake of love, but because offending might prove perilous. The eye may be fixed, not on the other person, but on one's own quietness or prosperity, either of which may be endangered by the rough or ill-considered touch. True tact is different from that. It owns no kinship with cowardice at all. It is one of the finest flowerings of love; it is the exquisite perception of the heart. That is why Christian tact so far surpasses anything the world had ever known in any of the religions of antiquity. The gospel has done tremendous service in the education of the heart. Giving it at last a worthy motive, it has released the hidden capacities of loving. And so doing, it has poured a wealth of meaning into the gracious tactfulness of love.
The Tactfulness of Our Lord
Nowhere do we find this tactfulness of love so perfectly revealed as in our Lord. The infinite delicacy of His touch is the measure of His loving heart. When the leper cried for healing, we read that the Lord touched him; it was not alone His hand that touched him, it was a yearning and redeeming love. That lonely, isolated soul got far more than the cleansing of his leprosy: he got the glad assurance of a Friend. Christ had an exquisite way of understanding people, of handling them with unexampled delicacy, of avoiding what might vex or irritate. And all this sprang not from a quick intellect, priding itself on knowing human nature, but from the depth and wonder of His love. That was where Paul learned his lesson. That taught him what to pray for. It was no use praying for a finer tact unless first there was a fuller love. First the roots, and then the fruits. First the deepening, and then the delicacy. First the dew of heaven on the heart--and tactfulness blossoms as the rose.
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