Speaking the Truth in Love
Some of the most challenging questions Christians must answer are these: "How can I present God's Word in a way that will accomplish the most good? Is my disposition regarding truth and my attitude toward others such that the cause of Christ is helped, not hindered?"
Paul's admonition in Ephesians 4:15 provides the key to answering these questions: ". . . But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. . . ." I realize we're interrupting the apostle in mid-sentence, but there are three principal points we need to see in v. 15.
First, Paul says we need to speak the truth. Feeble, arrogant man is often tempted in his own conceit to pose the question which Pilate asked in John 18:38, "What is truth?" Pilate suggests by his question that objective truth is a fairy tale, a wisp of smoke, a flight of fancy. Pilate scoffed at the very concept of absolute truth. By his question, he implies that all things are relative.
Contrary to Pilate's appraisal, Jesus affirms that his teaching was based on objective truth. "Every one that is of the truth heareth my voice" (v. 37). Christ's teachings do not emanate from man's philosophy; they are not the result of personal feelings or prejudice.
The Bible tells us in plain language that it is truth and that man can only be saved by humble obedience to that truth in accordance with God's will. "Sanctify them through thy truth," John 17:17 tells us; "thy word is truth." John 8:32 states plainly, "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." Here truth is used in an absolute sense. For the Christian, the Bible is not just the basis for some doctrine or a doctrine; it is the basis for all doctrine.
So, Pilate, you had it wrong. There is such a thing as absolute, objective truth, and Jesus was speaking the truth. "I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me" (John 14:6).
Since you and I are to speak the truth, that means we must speak from the Bible. "If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God . . ." (I Pet. 4:11). It also means that we may not neglect parts of the Bible in our examination of the truth.
For example, it would be wrong for me to construct an entire theological house on John 3:16 and leave out everything else God's Word has to say about the plan of salvation. If I do, I end up with a perversion such as "Man is saved by faith only." Nor should I focus exclusively on the "love" passages of the Bible and conclude that churches should never withdraw themselves from wayward members. It also would be incorrect for me to
emphasize Paul's admonition for Timothy to use a little wine for his stomach's sake (I Tim. 5:23) to the exclusion of all other passages on the subject, and decide that social drinking is fine.
Paul understood the importance of speaking the truth. In Acts 20:27, when he tells the elders at Ephesus that "I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God," he's saying he told them all the truth. God's Word makes man complete (2 Tim. 3:16-17), so Paul didn't hold back any part of it from them.
Well, John, are you saying that we must preach the whole Bible in every lesson, or else we have lied? No, but like Paul we can resolve to preach only that which is true, and we can endeavor to examine all that God has revealed on a subject to come to an understanding of the truth.
If we neglect part of the truth, if we speak part of the truth as though it were all, or with a view to deceive, we err.
Second, Paul tells us how we are to speak the truth: We are to speak it in love. This describes our attitude in presenting the truth. While love is an abstract noun we often struggle to understand, I find it easiest to think of acting in another person's best interest.
First, as Christians, we remember the love which God and Christ manifested for us. In Rom. 5:8 we read, "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." God loved us enough to send His son to this earth as the only acceptable, perfect sacrifice for sins. Christ loved us enough to suffer the cruelest kind of death to pay the penalty for our sins. Deity acted in our best interest.
With the example of Christ in our minds, then, we act in the best interest of others. We don't speak the truth just to win a fuss fight. We don't use the truth like a hammer to hit someone over the head. Love means we don't look for opportunities to grill someone like a steak or to show the superiority of our knowledge. We don't use the truth like a harsh spotlight to create unnecessary embarrassment in some poor soul.
We speak the truth in love-with a view to saving souls. We speak the truth to uplift and comfort the fainthearted. We speak the truth to restore those who have wandered from God and into sin. We speak the truth to instruct and exhort. We speak the truth to encourage and admonish. We speak the truth to correct and persuade. Always, always, we speak the truth to glorify God.
The third point we need to understand is found in the last part of v. 15. Speaking the truth in love is a mark of a mature Christian. By doing this, Paul says, we ". . . may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ. . . ." Speaking the truth in love is a sign of one who is becoming more Christ-like in his attitude and actions.
Ephesians 4:15 is not a verse which is difficult to understand, but it is a challenge to practice! I'm going to work on it. I'm sure going to pray about it. I'm going to ask God to grant me spiritual wisdom that I may apply it correctly.
May I humbly suggest that it's a special challenge for each one of us as we wrestle with some of the difficult problems of our day. As we struggle with such issues as marriage and divorce, church discipline, and the deity of Christ, let us remember to speak the truth in love.
Let us remember that it's not genuine love if we refuse to speak the truth. Oftentimes I'm afraid we use love for brethren as an excuse not to deal directly with a problem. Also, let us remember that it's not truth as God would have it expressed if love is absent. The mature Christian heeds Paul's full admonition. He speaks the truth in love.
Please don't misunderstand my message here. I'm not saying that love must validate truth. In Phil. 1:15-18, for example, Paul describes a situation where some taught truth from the wrong motives. He disapproved of their attitude, but he rejoiced that Christ was preached.
The point is, there's a way Christians are to proclaim the truth. Our attitude should reflect the fact that we want to help, not hinder.
Is there a time to deal directly, plainly, even forcefully with a problem? Absolutely! In Titus 3:10 Paul instructs Titus to "Reject a factious man after a first and second warning" (NASB). That's plain, isn't it! Paul says if you get a fellow who's a divisive and factious element within a congregation, you don't tap dance around like you're tiptoeing on jacks. You get after it and deal with the problem. Show some starch, some backbone, before more harm is done!
But, love for all the brethren and love for God should be a Christian's attitude of life, even when we are pressed to make firm stands on difficult matters. Our speech can be direct and bold, with courage and conviction, even as we maintain a Christian's character.
As we labor with fellow saints in a local church of Christ, let our attitude be one of loving the truth and loving one another. Let us prefer brother and sister above self (Phil. 2:3-4). Let us labor together in the kingdom of our Lord.
By John N. Evans
From Expository Files 4.6; June 1997