"Speaking the Truth in Love"
God selected preaching to save and edify man (I Cor. 1: 18-21). Hence, throughout the history book of the New Testament (Acts), we read of the preachers "speaking" and the audience "hearing" (cp. Acts 2: 7, 14; 37). The "seed of the kingdom" is the word and the word is truth (Lk. 8: 11; Jn. 17: 17). With these matters in mind, please consider Paul's statement to the Christians at Ephesus:
"But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ" (Eph. 4: 15).
In verses eleven through sixteen, Paul presents the means of spiritual growth. The early church in the absence of the complete word (New Testament) had miraculous gifts (vs. 10, 11). These gifts had a uniform goal, "For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ " (vs. 12). The word that was directly supplied in connection with these gifts was to stabilize the early Christians and guard them against error (vs. 14). There was anticipation regarding the coming of the "unity of the faith," which was the totality of God's revealed will for man, the New Testament (I Cor. 13: 8-10, Jas. 1: 25). When the full word was delivered and made available to man, these miraculous influences would cease (vs. 13). "Speaking the truth in love" is part of God's plan and provision for spiritual growth (vs. 15). Notice that "truth" is objective and "in love" is subjective. Truth, then, is tangible while the motive for speaking the truth, love, is not as apparent. Let us now turn our attention to examining the matter of "speaking the truth in love."
What speaking the truth in love is not. There is no small amount of confusion as to what constitutes speaking the truth in love. In fact, there are so many misunderstandings that in some situations it is impossible to speak the truth in love.
Speaking the truth in love, first of all, is not holding back parts of the truth. Paul said, "For I have not shunned to declare unto you all the counsel of God" (Acts 20: 27). Paul appreciated the truth to the point of allowing it to make those whom he loved his enemies (Gal. 4: 16). Notwithstanding, I have had people say to me, "Don, you do not have to teach on all matters, in fact, if you love people, you will spare them the truth on especially painful subjects." One man who is today a preacher himself once told me relative to his parents who were members where I preached, "If you have love, you will not teach on divorce and remarriage because you know my parents have both been married to others!" Therefore, he demanded that part of the truth be withheld and used "speaking the truth in love" as his authority (see Matthew 19: 9). Love rather than causing one to withhold what is needed and applicable will actually precipitate "declaring the whole counsel of God" (cp. Prov. 13: 24).
Speaking the truth in love is not watering down the truth. Some seek to dilute and weaken the truth (I Pet. 2: 1, 2). "Preacher, tone down your preaching," we hear and, "Do not rock the boat." The same writer who penned, " speaking the truth in love" also wrote, "Preach the word: be instant in season, out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort with all longsuffering and doctrine" (2 Tim. 4: 2).
Speaking the truth in love is not being so obscure that the hearers do not understand. Some preachers are skilled in circumlocution. After patiently listening to them, you realize that what they have said cannot really be decisively understood. Spirit led preachers who spoke the truth in love were clear and precise in their preaching (cp. Acts 2: 37, 38-41).
What speaking the truth in love is. The way to determine what speaking the truth in love constitutes is by considering approved examples.
The examples of speaking the truth in love clearly exemplify boldness. Jesus' teaching was "open" and "plain" (Mk. 8: 32; Jn. 10: 24, 11). One descriptive word used by the Holy Spirit to describe the preaching of the apostles is the Greek parresia, which is often translated "boldness" (Acts 4: 13, 29, 31). To the same people to whom Paul wrote " speaking the truth in love," he later wrote in soliciting their prayers, "And for me, that utterance may be given unto me, that I may open my mouth boldly, to make known the mystery of the gospel" (Eph. 6: 19).
Speaking the truth in love necessitates the use of both the positive and negative. Modern man in his education has often come to believe that preaching must be positive. The Positive Movement even in some churches of Christ has precluded New Testament preaching and actually speaking the truth in love. The New Testament is replete with what to do (positive) and what not to do (negative). The word encourages good (positive) and exposes and condemns evil (negative, 3 Jn. 5-12).
Speaking the truth in love entails the presentation of all that God has said. What some do not realize who hold views that circumvent and prevent speaking the truth in love is that the truth sets free and saves (Jn. 8: 32, Jas. 1: 18ff.). Therefore, if one truly loves others, he will deliver the "whole counsel of God" (Acts 20: 27). Also, the word is designed to often be punitive in order that correction and repentance will follow (2 Tim. 4: 2, Heb. 12: 5ff.).
What to expect when there exists speaking the truth in love. First, spiritual growth should be expected and realized (Eph. 4: 15, see context). Christians should increase in spirituality and vitality and the lost should come to a knowledge of the truth. The church is God's arrangement to effect spiritual growth and spiritual increase is predicated on the presentation and reception of the truth.
One should also expect some adverse reactions to the matter of speaking the truth in love. Jesus' speaking the truth in love caused some of his disciples to " walked no more with him" and even resulted in division among his Jewish brethren (Jn. 6: 66; 7: 43). Speaking the truth in love resulted in Stephen being murdered by a mad mob (Acts 7).
In closing our examination of " speaking the truth in love," I might point out that the hearer should primarily focus attention on the word being spoken, whether it is the truth (cp. Acts 17: 11). This is what John called " trying the spirits whether they are of God" (I Jn. 4: 1). I say this because the hearer cannot immediately ascertain the subjective part of Ephesians 4: 15, "in love." It behooves all preachers to speak the truth and to speak it in love. Hence, there is the constant need not only for making sure what is taught is the truth (book, chapter, and verse, I Thes. 5: 21), but also that the motivation for speaking it is love. Still, there will usually be those present who do not agree with the truth and seek to find fault with the speaker by charging, " you are not speaking the truth in love!" By thus charging, they think that they have avoided the consequences of opposing the truth and have shifted guilt to the presenter of the truth. Paul spoke the truth in love, yet, he was relevant, cogent, plain, and often rebuking (cp. 2 Cor. 12: 20, 21). Speaking the truth in love, this is the constant challenge and worth while goal that is before us. (For related reading, click on "Bible Love.") (A complimentary article would be, "Plainness of Speech")