Speak the truth in love. If you have been around Christian churches for just a year or so, there is a good chance you will hear this phrase. It is a biblical concept, but after many years in ministry, I think that some people don’t really understand what that means.
An Example of “Speak the Truth in Love” That Was Not Good.
The couple was living together and they weren’t married. He had been a convict, and she had many family problems, neither had jobs. They were hurting economically and spiritually. I suspected drug abuse. He told me about his temper. They often hurt each other by the words they said. But as their pastor I loved them. They came to one of our small group settings and both opened up to the group, she with the ladies, he with me and at least one other man. We had spoken truth as we always do, tenderly, lovingly, understanding their level of commitment to Christ, and where they were at spiritually. She had been raised in church. Her parents were Christians. She knew it was wrong to be in this relationship. He had read the entire Bible through while in solitary confinement in prison. They were coming to bible study, praying, and attending church. I knew it was only a matter of time until God’s Spirit would succeed in wooing them to fully surrender.
Then the day every pastor dreads happened. A new lady in the church, much to my horror, cornered the young lady in the parking lot and let her have it. Yep. Finger wagging. Anger. Truth blasted in her ear from someone she didn’t know. Warnings giving in a proud way. Shaming used as motivation. Ugly. Mud thrown from someone who thought it their job to straighten out the situation. She was told, don’t come to church if you are living with him, you are acting like a whore, you’ll be pregnant, he will leave, you will be alone, you are going to hell, and you will burn there forever. Was it truth? Some of it. Was this young lady right with God? I doubt it. Had she died that night would she have been right? Only God knows.
Was this lady right to do as she put it and “Speak the truth in love?” Absolutely not. It was truth, but there was no love.
All I know is that this situation didn’t help this young woman spiritually. It hurt her. And the lady who did all the truth telling, that day she decided our church wasn’t holy enough and off she went to the church down the street. [I was relieved she did.] And I am sure she told her husband, “I had to speak the truth in love as they went home from church that Sunday.”
The good new is that we were able to put the fire out.
Let’s Be Careful About What We Say!
James describes the tongue. The Bob Millsaps paraphrase is as follows: Your tongue is like a flame thrower. You can set your world on fire by what you say. You can set those around you on fire and burn them up. Death and life are in the power of the tongue. You can set your family on fire to the degree it all burns down to the ground. Your tongue can be used of the devil.
James 3:5-6 “Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! 6 And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell.”
I have some good advice from your grandmother: “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” Offences come when people think that they have the right to walk around correcting everybody. Well That is my job and calling in the body of Christ. You are absolutely wrong. Your job is to build up your brother and sister in Christ, not tear them down.
Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.”
What is good for their edification means that after you talk to them they are built up, not torn down. People get enough harsh critical words out there in the world, when someone comes to church they ought to be lifted, encouraged, and loved.
That doesn’t mean that we NEVER speak the truth in love. I have some thoughts that will help you as a Christian to be more effective in speaking the truth in love. Remember this please. The same Holy Spirit that was active in bringing then to Christ will also be active in their lives to bring them further along in their spiritual walk.
What “Speak the Truth in Love” is and is not:
Speaking the truth in love is not…
- Publicly embarrassing someone
That is not usually done anywhere. There may be a few small companies with an ignorant boss who tries to bully people into subjection. But most of the time, even in the world, they pull people aside to say something to them. Don’t embarrass people in Christ’s name.
Speaking the truth in love is not…
2. Trying to correct someone you don’t hardly know
We don’t have the right to bring words of correction to people that we don’t even know. When Paul spoke of “speaking the truth in love” in Ephesians. The letter was written to a close-knit community of believers in Ephesus. There is no way that what Paul wrote could ever be construed to give us a license to sharp words of correction to people. We may not even know their spiritual condition. There is a great saying, “people don’t care about how much you know, until they know how much you care.” Love is kind. Get to know people first.
Speaking the truth in love is…
3. More effective if you earnestly pray for them first
Many times as we see something we are bothered about it. It is always better to take these things to the Lord. Earnestly pray for them. Ask God to give you tears over the situation. Pray earnestly for those around you to be changed. Sometimes we have to get our spirit right before we say something to someone.
Speaking the truth in love is not…
4. Treating them any old way. Treat them like you want to be treated!
If you are going to talk to someone, don’t forget the golden rule. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Would you like to be spoken to in a loud voice? Would you like an email sent to you ALL IN CAPITAL LETTERS? Would you like to be beat over the head with the Bible?
I have had people speak the truth in love to me. I am grateful. Other times I have had instances when someone was so angry about things that I wondered if the person was actually going to hit me. How different from the one who had tears in his eyes and who cared deeply about me.
Paul always used the sandwich method. He put the truth sandwiched between telling the people how much he loved them and how much they meant to him and what they did right. It is not what you say sometimes but how you say it.
Speaking the truth in love…
5. Is not your privilege because you are higher or better or more knowledgeable than they are.
With authority comes responsibility. Let’s remember that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. We are all sinners. We are all in need of grace. We are all growing to maturity.
Lastly, speaking the truth in love is not…
6. A good idea if you are angry at the moment.
can’t tell you how many times people use this phrase to justify a quick knee jerk reaction that was really more about their anger. They are actually wanting to blame their temper on the Lord.
How do I relate to my brother and sister? First you put away all your own bitterness and anger. Ephesians 4:31-32 “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you.”