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What's "Speaking the Truth in Love" Anyway?

Across the table

By speaking the truth in love, we fight the lies of the enemy in each other’s lives and offer hope in Christ. We all need brothers and sisters who know us, know our struggles, and know how to speak truth into them.

Until recently I thought “speaking the truth in love” was just delivering an otherwise offensive message in the friendliest tone possible. This phrase from Ephesians 4:15 came to mind in situations when it would have been easier to tell people what they wanted to hear to preserve harmony in the relationship. I felt if I was willing to put my people-pleasing aside and say the hard thing then I was fulfilling the scriptural call to speak the truth in love.

Recently, I saw this particular verse’s context in Ephesians and I realized I missed something all of these years. Speaking the truth in love is so much more than kindly correcting someone’s error. As we see in Ephesians 4, speaking the truth in love is how we come alongside individual members of the body of Christ to implant gospel truth as well as how we promote unity and proper functioning throughout the church.

Into the Chaos

In Ephesians 4, Paul uses the phrase “speaking the truth in love” as he discusses how the body of Christ matures against false teaching. He pictures immature believers being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (v. 14).

This verse describes the storm-like chaos we experience as we succumb to the latest trends in doctrine, the fear of man, and evil around us. As we believe lies passed on through false teaching, misguided friends and family, and the enemy himself, we remain “as children” (v. 14) and are unable to “attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood” (v. 13). We fall prey to lies that our pursuit of the things of this world ultimately will fill our souls’ cravings or that our sin disqualifies us from using our gifts within the church. When we believe these lies, we lack peace in our souls and miss out on the life Christ intended for us within the body.

Love Against Lies

How then do we seek “to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,” who “when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love?” (v. 15-16). We do this through “speaking the truth in love” with one another. Within this context of promoting Christian maturity and unity within the body of Christ, speaking the truth is more than simply speaking what’s true: it’s combatting the lies of the enemy and implanting the truth of God’s Word into each other’s lives.

Our motivation for speaking the truth is anchored in our love for God, love for his truth, love for one another, and love for the church. When we speak the truth in love, we seek to help each other become mature in Christ and to encourage one another to use our gifts for unity in the church. Gloria Furman calls this process “truthing with each other,” and goes on to summarize: “Solid doctrine is our material, love is our disposition, and maturity in Christ is our aim” [1].

Speaking the truth in love requires intentionality and willingness to get involved in the lives of others. In cultivating a loving context for speaking truth, there is great wisdom in being “quick to hear and slow to speak” (James 1:19). Often when we’re listening to others, we’re actually impatiently waiting for an opportunity to share our own wisdom and experiences. These typical advice-giving interactions fail to accomplish the aim of speaking the truth in love—which is maturity in Christ and unity in the body.

Not Just Correction

Our human wisdom and advice offer us little hope when we face a storm. Human wisdom has already failed us and we need to be pointed to God’s truth. As we listen to others, we should prayerfully consider the lies they believe that stunt their growth in Christ and prevent them from experiencing life in the body as Christ intended.

As the Spirit leads, we can then seek opportunities to pour truth into our brother or sister’s heart. We are not aiming simply to point out where they’re wrong, but rather to instill the gospel—our only hope for experiencing true life—into the lives of others. The most impactful interactions we have with one another happen when we implant the hope of the gospel amidst the trials of life and point each other to our ultimate hopeful future in Christ.

What’s the Big Difference?

Recently I talked with a friend who was struggling in a relationship. Instead of simply correcting misconceptions about dating in general, which was consistent with my former view of speaking the truth in love, I instead saw an opportunity to go beyond what she said to remind her of who she is in Christ and her infinite worth in him.

Speaking the truth of God’s Word into her life is far more beneficial than offering my personal experiences and opinions when it comes to combatting lies. In pointing her to the gospel, she began to experience freedom from needing approval from her boyfriend and to instead re-engage in the life of the church, because she was no longer defeated by her feelings of worthlessness.

By speaking the truth in love, we fight the lies of the enemy in each other’s lives and offer hope in Christ. We all need brothers and sisters who know us, know our struggles, and know how to speak truth into them. We cannot turn a blind eye as fellow members of the body of Christ are tormented by storms of false beliefs and unengaged in the life of the church. Motivated by love and armed with the gospel, we get to see our brothers and sisters restored to the freedom that comes from walking in the truth. As we walk in truth, we are able to grow in Christ and be a part of building up the body of Christ for his glory.

 

[1] Furman, Gloria. Alive in Him: How Being Embraced by the Love of Christ Changes Everything (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2017), 116-7.