back to Theology main page
On speaking the truth in love
(Compiled from a series of blog posts at my blog: part 2, 3, 4, 5, 6.)
... so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Eph. 4:14-16)
The topic of speaking the truth in love is, I think, an important topic. It has been used in lots of situations in an attempt to tell us to control our tongues and speak to others in love. However, despite its frequent use, I can't seem to find many people who could articulate what this principle means and entails. I would therefore like to explore this topic here, though I freely acknowledge I neither know everything about the subject nor am I known to practice this very well. I will just like to explore what the Bible says about this topic, which is so pertinent to many of us today, as it was and always will be. This would be done by exploring the purposes of speaking the truth in love, the principles of speaking the truth in love, and the practical considerations and steps involved in the act of speaking the truth in love. We would start with the purposes of speaking the truth in love.
Speaking the truth in love: Its Purposes
The expression 'speaking the truth in love' is found in Eph. 4:15. For this passage, in the immediate context, we can see that the purposes of speaking the truth in love is to be:
Before I go on further, I would just like to state that this passage is dealing with issues within the community of believers. For non-believers, the purpose of speaking the truth in love to them is much simpler; to be a faultless witness to them (Titus 2:8) for Christ (Rom. 1:16).
Without further to do, I would now like to start expounding on the first point.
The first point, to be firm in the faith, carries with it the connnotation of being strong despite encountering adversity (Mt. 7:24-25). The concept expressed here is often used in the form of an injunction by the apostles in their epistles (1 Cor. 16:13, 2 Cor. 1:24, Gal. 5:1, Eph. 6:13, Phil. 4:1, 2 Thess. 2:15, 1 Peter 5:12) where Christians are commanded by the Lord to stand firm in the faith. Now, of course, what does this mean? What faith are we talking about here?
The most obvious answer is that we are to stand firm on Christ and our faith in Christ. This is definitely supported by 1 Cor. 16:13, 2 Cor. 1:24, Phil. 4:1 and a surface reading of Eph. 6:13. While this is definitely true, the other passages in which we are asked to stand firm more explicitly focuses on the things which we are to stand firm on.
Now, of course, I am saying this for the anti-intellectual, emotional crowd who name the Name of our Lord Jesus Christ, which have its main adherents in the charismatic circles of modern evangelicalism. This is not to say that other denominations do not produce anti-intellectuals, but the ridiculous mind-manipulating methods and the spurious, unbiblical advice to "just follow the Spirit's guiding" (as if the Spirit works independently of the Word) propogated by such false prophets like Benny Hinn leads to multitudes being taken captive by such unbiblical nonsense. The nonsensical phrase "No creed but Christ" is one such anti-intellectual slogan, as if the word "Christ" means the same thing and refer to the same person to everyone alike, thus showing their utter naivety and foolishness.
So what exactly do we need to stand firm on? What does it mean to be firm in our faith? In 1 Peter 5:12, the Apostle Peter asks us to stand firm on the grace of God which he revealed in the entire epistle. In Eph. 6:13, the context is talking about putting on the armor of God, and therefore standing firm include both the putting on of the various facets of the armor (belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, readiness of the Gospel of peace, shield of faith, helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God) and using it. Without going into an exposition of the Armor of God, which will be indeed very rich for our edification, suffice it is to say for the moment that concerning the topic at hand, this passage teaches us that certain things are essential for us to stand firm. Besides the sword of the Spirit, the other are experential aspects of the Christian life which are found and applied from ... the Word of God, which is also the sword of the Spirit.
And this brings us to the focal point. What is it that we are asked to stand firm on? Answer: The Word of God! Everything taught in the Word of God! In the last passage which we haven't considered yet, 2 Thess. 2:15, we are asked to stand firm on the apostolic traditions which are handed down to us by means of the Word of God. In other words, every single thing which is taught in the Word of God is for us to stand firm on. We as Christians do not have the liberty to pick and choose what we want to believe and what we want to take a stand on. We are to stand firm on our faith in Christ, yes, but that faith and that Christ includes the totality of the entire system of biblical doctrines and teachings found in it.
Since that is the case, as one of the purposes of speaking the truth in love is to be firm in the faith, the aim of speaking the truth in love is to produce believers taking a firm stand on what the Bible teaches, and this extends to all doctrines and teachings found in the Bible.
Closely related to being firm in the faith is the idea of being built up and growing in the faith. How can a person be firm in the faith when he doesn't even know what is the faith to begin with? Thus, another purpose of speaking the truth in love is that the person is to be built up in the faith.
This brings us to the next purpose of speaking the truth in love which is to enable the believer to be growing in the comunity of believers. Growth is to be anchored in Christ, and this is to be done through the Church of Christ which is the body of Christ (Col. 1:24). Today in this individualistic, anarchistic age, some Christians may be convinced that they can grow just by themselves (the me with the Bible in the woods syndrome) without being in the fellowship of believers. This could spawn an entire topic, but I disgress, noting that the Bible clearly tell us that we are to grow in maturity in Christ within the community of believers. Suffice it is to say for the moment that this is what the Bible have in mind for us Christians, and that one of the purposes of speaking the truth in love is to help us grow in such a community.
The next two purposes of speaking the truth in love concentrates on the service side or the practical outworking of this in our works before God. The idea of equipping for service contains the idea that speaking the truth in love would cause us to have 'new' tools to be used for the works which God has prepared beforehand for us to do (Eph. 2:10), while the idea of serving our Lord properly emphasize for those of us who are dense that this equipping must be translated into works which we must do (action thus required). As these are purposes of speaking the truth in love, which we shall see later involve speaking the truth which involve doctrines, this show forth the principle that correct doctrine is the necesary instigator of correct action and good works before God (orthopraxis).
Finally, above all these purposes put on love (Col. 3:14). The final purpose of speaking the truth in love is, not suprisingly, to grow in love for our Lord and for the communion of believers. For most of us modern day Christians who may be fed with ridiculously skewed media versions of what love is, to love God and to love our fellow believers is NOT to do everything possible to please them, but rather to do what is good for them, whether they like it or not. Of course, to please God is to obey His commands, and the Word of God specifies what is pleasing to God and what is best for us and for our fellow believers alike. Therefore, growing in love for God and for fellow believers necessitate that we likewise grow in knowledge of His Word, and then acting it out in love for God and for our brethren in Christ.
Now after covering these purposes of speaking the truth in love, I would like to discuss the principles and then the practical considerations and steps of speaking the truth in love, the practical area in which most people would have trouble applying this biblical injunction.
Speaking the truth in love: Its principles
The principles of speaking the truth in love function as the guidelines which we use to evaluate the practical actions which we do. Now, knowing the purposes of speaking the truth in love, we can now easily discern these principles.
The first principle of speaking the truth in love is to ... speak the truth. Since the first two purposes of speaking the truth in love is to be firm in the faith and to be build up and growing in Christ, speaking the truth is very important, as it helps fulfil these purposes Too often than not, many Christians in this modern era overemphasize Christian unity or love to the extent that they do not want to speak out against or even just to give a gentle rebuke to those who are sinning. This not only shows their fear of Man, but also shows their disobedience to God and their wrong theology. This is because the biblical doctrine of Christian unity DOES not act contrary to the biblical emphasis on truth and of speaking the truth to another person; the Bible does not contradict each other. In fact, unity at all costs or unity above truth is unbiblical. Biblical unity is based on the truth that is in Jesus Christ and the Truth that He is. Therefore, we should always endeavor to speak the truth to others, especially to those in the household of faith.
The second principle of speaking the truth in love is to do it in love. This is definitely the most well-known part of the phrase for modern day Christians. However, I would contend that most of these Christians only pay lip service to this aspect of the speaking the truth in love and in fact do not even know what it means. This is probably because they have imported the popular cultural conception of love into their mindset which, perhaps subconsciously, influence their worldview and their theology. Scripture DOES not in any way promote the idea of love that is non-judging (note that I didn't say non-judgmental), lax on discipline, and an 'accept you no matter what you always do and will continue to do' attitude. Biblical love is said to be not rejoicing at wrongdoing and rejoicing with the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). It is something which wants the best for the other person (1 Cor. 13:7), and that can only be done via God's truth (which brings us back to principle number 1). Thus, biblical love is 'tough' love, wanting the best for the other person and doing whatever it takes, even reproving or criticizing the other person if it is needed, regardless of whether the other person perceives the goodness of it at that particular moment or he/she doesn't perceive it.
Now, of course, when doing this, not only the motive for doing so must be out of love, the action must also be loving. Love is described in the entire passage of 1 Cor. 13:4-7, where it is stated that we must be patient and kind, not envious, not boastful, neither arrogant nor rude, not irritable, not resentful, willing to help another, believing and hoping the best of another, and enduring all things for another. Of course, this is easier said than done, but this is God's standard upon which we must strive towards, and any time we fall short of it, we must confess our sin and turn back to God (1 Jn. 1:9).
In practice, it is oftentimes hard, if not impossible, to apply all these principles in their fullness. Some of us may 'skew' towards the 'truth' side and others towards the 'love' side. Now, I am here not talking about those who in practice seem to apply either one or the other principle exclusively. I am thus not talking about legalistic preachers who just rant and condemn people who sin ('truth' only), nor am I talking about effeminate pastors who can't even affirm the Gospel like Joel Osteen or people who don't want to share Christ for fear that they will offend their friends (so-called 'love' only). People with these two extremes are definitely not 'speaking the truth in love'. What I am talking about are people who struggle to do both simulataneously without compromising one or the other.
Before we carry on, let me clarify that I am not saying that truth and love are two sides on a balance. Scripture does present the two as coexisting and in fact interlinked. This can be seen in 1 Cor. 13:6 where love involves rejoicing in the truth, and obedience to truth is even said to bring forth love as seen in 1 Peter 1:22. The reason why there is such a thesis-antithesis relationship in some of our minds with regards to truth and love is due to our sin nature, whereby we tend to emphasize on one while neglecting the other, thus it seems that we are skewed towards any one side. When we try to emphasize the other, we tend to neglect the one we have previously emphasized, thus leading to us being 'skewed' towards the other side. The solution, therefore, is to emphasize both aspects (truth and love) equally.
However, how exactly are we to do this in our Christian walk? Are there practical steps we can take to help us know and learn how to speak the truth in love?
Speaking the truth in love: Practical steps
We have now seen the principles of speaking the truth in love. Therefore, to practice speaking the truth in love, we are to apply these principles in such a way which would result in our fulfiling the purposes of such speaking the truth in love.
Since this is so, in our daily living, in order to speak the truth in love, we are to ask ourselves the following questions:
In our conversations, are we
1) Speaking the truth?
2) Doing it with a good and loving motivation, which is derived from biblical principles?
3) Doing it with an intent not to cause unnecessary friction?
4) Doing it in a manner which would portray your love and concern for the other person, and not to cause unnecessary friction?
5) With a mind to build up the other person in Christ, both in Word (doctrine) and in life?
6) With a mind to make the other person firm in the faith?
7) With a mind to equip the other person for God's service?
If we can answer in the affirmative for the above questions, then our speeches, encouragements and even admonitions would thus be speaking the truth in love.
I would just like to emphasize questions 1 and 6 again, as in this effeminate climate in which we now live in, these two points are very much neglected. If we neglect these two points, what we have is definitely not speaking the truth in love, no matter how sweet it sounds to perhaps another person. Also, conflict by itself does not necessarily mean that one has not practised speaking the truth in love, as our Lord Jesus Christ who is perfectly loving and righteous instigated quite a lot ot controversy and conflict Himself. In fact, judging by His example, speaking the truth in love would, ironically, create more conflict and strife, as Man is rebellious against God and is resentful when anyone exposes his sins, no matter how loving the other person is.
I would like to close this series by reminding us how do we go about practicing speaking the truth in love. By ourselves, such an activity is difficult, and even more so when it comes down to rebuking or admonishing another person in love. The only way we can go about practicing speaking the truth in love is firstly to know the truth (not only intellectually knowing but a knowing which assimilates the knowledge into one's worldview) as written in the Scriptures, and secondly to know God, who is Love, through spending time with Him and living the Spirit-filled life. Until we do both, this practice would remain ever elusive to us.