Eph 4:14-16 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. (15) Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, (16) 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.
Recently, and many times in the past, I have had to confront a professing Christian about their sin. It’s my job and really it is the job of every Christian. Generally, there is no possible way to do this so that the person confronted is happy about it. Very often they will criticize you for the way you told them. Long ago I gave up trying to sort out a way that is painless.
But something else often happens when I have had to admonish someone and then others hear about it (often from the one admonished!). These people come back at me and say something like this common mantra – “you should have spoken the truth in love.” The implication of course is that they are quoting Scripture.
Speaking the truth in love has become a catch phrase that really means “keep quiet.” Just love the person, whatever that means. It has morphed into a synonymous phrase with “don’t judge.”
Now, if you are or have been the target of a domestic abuser or other brand of verbal abuser (the Bible calls them “revilers”), then you no doubt have had this speak the truth in love missile launched at you. Perhaps you go to a pastor and share with him what is really going on behind closed doors in your home. He listens, and then says “well, we are all sinners. We must be patient and forgiving. We must love one another. Be sure that you speak the truth in love.” POW! Your gut churns and you think “Ok, we’re done here.”
My recent case involved quite a bit of backstory. Numbers of genuine Christians as well as myself spoke to the person privately. More than once. No good. Hard heart. And the sin was no small thing – it was damaging many naive people. Ultimately, as the sin continued, we did a public confrontation. And sure enough, it wasn’t long before I received the missile email – “what you did I suppose was needed, but you should have done it in love.”
Let me translate that for you – “Even though I see there is sin in this case, you should not have said anything about it to the person. You should have just been patient, been silent, and prayed about it.” No matter how many people were being harmed.
So to such people, “love” trumps speaking truth. And I submit to you then that whatever such a non-speaking the truth course is, it is most certainly not love. Consider for instance the example Christ set for us. (I’m pretty sure that He correctly exercised speaking truth and practicing love).
Mat 15:12-14 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?” (13) He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. (14) Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Joh 8:43-45 Why do you not understand what I say? It is because you cannot bear to hear my word. (44) You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. (45) But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.
Those are just two of many examples I could give. So many people today who claim to be Christians would even tell Jesus that he was too harsh and failed to speak truth in love. Christ, in other words, was not a very good Christian!
I won’t take time in this post to go back through the context of Paul’s statement in Ephesians 4:15, but if you look over the flow of his argument you will see that in fact “speaking the truth in love” is speaking truth in such a way as to expose evil:
“…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…”
Speaking the truth is love because it exposes false doctrine, human cunning, craftiness and deceit! Words that fail to do so cannot be construed to be statements that show the real love of Christ.
When someone – a counselor, a pastor, an author, a friend – lays this “speak the truth in love” business upon you with the intention of telling you to just keep quiet about the evil and let it continue, you can confidently reject what they are telling you. Speaking the truth is loving. Speaking the truth requires speaking. Love that is silent in the face of false teaching, cunning, craftiness, and deceit may be something, but be assured, it is not the love of Christ.
“So many people today who claim to be Christians would even tell Jesus that he was too harsh and failed to speak truth in love. Christ, in other words, was not a very good Christian!”
This is so true. Jesus flipped the money-changers table. Fashioned a whip, too. Called out the Pharisees. “Brood of vipers”.
Indeed, “speaking the truth in love” has become a catch phrase for those who want to tsk-tsk and critique truth-tellers and silence them, or otherwise water down their speech until it’s rather meaningless.
“Judge not”, that’s a whole can of worms in itself. Choice phrase of abusers and abuser-apologists everywhere.
Thank you for this. Still working through and processing my own mess within my family and this was helpful. It’s so hard as I don’t want to be unkind, but there were things that had to be said that no matter HOW I said them they were going to be tough to hear, I also know that I could always do better so the accusations and rejection hit home. I’m having to rest that I stand or fall before my Lord as I tried to do the right thing, but this has come at such a high cost that it’s been devastating and makes me question myself all the time.
There is never any way to tell evil people truth so they will like it. It is the norm for them to make the accusation “you weren’t speaking in love.” Often I have found this to be a tactic for shifting attention from their sin back you you and trying to blame you.