“Instead, speaking the truth in love . . .”
Ephesians 4:15 NIV
I hear it said (or read it) over and over. “I’m just speaking the truth in love.” Just search Twitter. Perhaps I’ve even said it. Maybe you have.
I’ve discovered it pretty much means I disagree with you, and I’m going to tell you why you’re wrong, and it’s okay because I’m just “speaking the truth in love.”
Think about it. Has anyone ever given you a lovely compliment or a hearty agreement with your opinion and then finished with “I’m just speaking the truth in love”? Yeah, me neither.
I’ve been pulling the phrase apart in my head. Let’s start at the end.
What is love?
The dictionary defines it as “tender affection for” and “personal attachment to” someone or something.
Here’s what I realized this week: Love requires a relationship.
You cannot love pizza if you’ve never tasted it. You might love the idea of it, but you don’t love pizza. There have been times I’ve heard children (or adults) say, “Oooh, I love ________” (insert food or place here), only to discover when we ask more questions about their specific love for it, they have no experience with it, no relationship. We chuckle when we realize that; we understand they cannot actually love some place they’ve never been or some food they’ve never tried. They have no experience with it.
You can’t really love someone you have no experience with either, someone you don’t know. A relationship is required. I say I love Colin Firth, but I’ve never met him. What I actually mean is that I love his acting style and his smile and some of the characters he plays (Mr. Darcy, sigh). Those I have experience with. But I don’t know him and therefore I cannot really love him.
So to truthfully say I am “speaking the truth in love” means I am talking with someone I am in relationship with, someone I have a personal attachment to. Correcting someone in a social media post whom I’ve never met in person doesn’t qualify as “speaking the truth in love.” Nor does speaking at someone I do know personally but don’t have a “tender affection for” or “a personal attachment to.”
Look at some other parts of Ephesians 4 where Paul says:
“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace.” (vs. 2–3)
“From him [Jesus] the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.” v. 16
When I “just speak the truth in love,” am I humble in expressing my thoughts, my beliefs? Have I been gentle? Was I patient? Is my goal to keep spiritual unity because we form one body, the body of Christ?
And what about truth?
What is truth? As Christians, we believe what Jesus said in his prayer, speaking to his Father—”Your word is truth” (John 17:17). When I was a kid I was taught to say, “God said it. I believe it. And that settles it for me.” Then someone said to me, “God said it. And that settles it, whether I believe it or not.” That seems truer to me.
But . . .
How do we deal with the fact that people who passionately love Jesus, who believe that his Word is true, differ on a wide variety of biblical interpretations? We spend countless hours—and books, so many books—debating predestination vs. free will; pre-trib, mid-trib, post-trib, or no trib; spiritual gifts and their existence today; Sabbath rest and tithing—required, best choice, or unnecessary?
I grew up not dancing, drinking, or using playing cards—because my church, with all its collective being, believed those restrictions were scriptural. Now, few churches feel the same.
So can we acknowledge that godly people can have some disagreements about certain scriptural subjects because sometimes we can be wrong?
Yes, we believe our interpretation is true. (I saw a Twitter post where someone said, “You think what you believe is right!” The person responded, “Well, of course I do; if I didn’t think it was right, I would no longer believe it!” Truth, there.) But can we also acknowledge we are not God and we can, for all of our trying and dedication and scholarship, get things wrong? (Remember that many churches vehemently supported slavery 150 years ago, quoting Scripture to do so.)
Can’t we express our interpretation of biblical truth and our reasons for believing it to be true while still accepting that sometimes we miss the point?
And can we listen to another person’s interpretation with at least the courtesy to recognize that they too have examined the issue and believe differently?
What if I make a commitment to relationships, to personal conversations, where I get to know, and eventually love, someone? Then, when and if they ask to hear my thoughts, I can share them, knowing we may still disagree, and being okay with that. Because of love.
4 thoughts on “The Key We Need to “Speak the Truth in Love””
Great article and something that I have tried to get people to understand for a long time!
Thanks, Betty! It can be frustrating!
I absolutely loved this article! Thank you!
Thanks, Debra. I want us so much to show Christ’s love to a hurting world, whomever we’re dealing with.