This question came in via texting at Sunday’s 11AM worship gathering at Park Community Church (Forest Glen), and it’s another good one. Let’s look at the phrase, “speaking the truth in love,” in context.
What it means to speak the truth in love
In Ephesians 4, Paul describes church leaders as Christ’s gifts to His church. The leaders, especially the pastor-teachers, are given, “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God…” the end result being that “we may no longer be children” easily persuaded by all kinds of false teaching, but that we would “grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”–and while we grow we are to be “speaking the truth in love” (verse 15). That growing up is also a growing together as the various parts of the “body” come together to fulfill their purposes and cause the body to build itself up (verse 16).
So whatever “speaking the truth in love” is, we know that it is a (a) a result of the pastor-teachers’ equipping of the saints for ministry, it is (b) bound up with with the spiritual maturing and unifying process, and it is (c) in contrast to spiritual childishness of being easily swayed by false teaching.
Speaking the truth in love to other believers
Christians speak the truth to one another as a contrast to the lies put forth by those who would use “human cunning” and “craftiness in deceitful schemes” to mislead us. Those who teach false doctrines do so for selfish gain. They don’t encourage and exhort; they flatter in order to beguile. They use people for their own selfish ends; they’re only in it for themselves. This is a sign of spiritual immaturity, and it promotes spiritual childishness in the church. Followers of Jesus are rather to speak truth to one another–not because of what we might get out of it but because it’s what’s right, and it’s what will build others up. Truth spoken for the benefit and building up of others, that’s truth spoken in love.
Speaking the truth in love to unbelievers
Of course, speaking the truth in love isn’t only for our interactions with Christians. It’s not like we suddenly lose our commitment to truth because we’re now interacting with non-Christians.
On the contrary, speaking the truth in love to those who don’t know Jesus is one of the ways we “let our light shine before others” (Matthew 5:16). And the most important truth we can speak is to proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ. That Gospel has implications for every area of life. As we seek to love our neighbors, part of that love will mean unhesitatingly standing upon truth, even when the stream of culture pushes against us.
Speaking the truth for another’s benefit is always the most loving thing to do, even though it won’t always feel that way. There will be push-back. This is why 1 Peter 3:15-16 says Christians must first, “regard Christ the Lord as holy,” while being,
ready at any time to give a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you. Yet do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that when you are accused, those who disparage your good conduct in Christ will be put to shame.
Selfishness will want to keep us from speaking this truth, because after all we don’t want to offend anyone (really we don’t want to lose favor in their eyes!). However, selfless love–the same love that motivated our Lord to die for us–must move us past that concern and fill us with a desire to lovingly, boldly communicate the good news. Easy or hard, speaking the truth in love is to be a central part of the Christian’s daily life.
Speaking the truth in love is something that we all fail to do in many ways. However, as we grow in spiritual maturity and unity, we will find ourselves doing it more and more–both to other believers and to non-Christians. Thank God–the source of all truth–for His incredible grace, which He has lovingly given to inadequate truth-speakers like ourselves. Day by day, he grows us in love and fills us with His truth.