Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Speaking the Truth in Love

By Mark Larson


“But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ” (Eph. 4:15, NASB). What does it mean to speak the truth in love? Is it just a matter of speaking in a loving manner in which our voice sounds “loving” to the human ear? Some have simplified it to mean that whenever we speak the truth then we are in effect showing love. Others have explained it to mean that whenever we speak in a loving way then we in effect stand for the truth. There are differences of opinion to be sure, yet what does the Bible say how we shall “speak the truth in love”?

What Is the Truth?

The context of Ephesians 4:15 reveals that “the truth” is “the one faith” (Eph. 4:4-5) or “the faith” (Eph. 4:13). “The faith” stands for the Gospel (Phil. 1:27), the Gospel stands for the truth (Eph. 1:13), and the truth stands for the word of God (John 17:17). Therefore, to “speak the truth” is to speak that which is true or correct, namely the word of God, instead of false doctrine (Eph. 4:14) or that which is contrary to God’s word. Our speech should always be truthful and honest (Eph. 4:25; Col. 3:9), yet “speaking the truth” in Ephesians 4:15 has to do with our speaking the word of God.

What Is Love?

Love in Accordance to Truth: To speak the truth in love, we ought to know what love is. The love we practice should be in agreement to the truth we speak. “And this I pray, that your love may abound still more and more in real knowledge and all discernment” (Phil. 1:9). The love we are to abound in is not mere excitement or sentimental emotion. We are to love according to “real knowledge” of the will of God. We love intelligently using proper judgment or “all discernment.”

Seeking the Highest Good for Others: The word “love” (Eph. 4:15; Phil. 1:9) comes from the Greek word agape. Agape is love that seeks the highest good for others, only doing what is good and best for each person. Thus, love is about helping others, not harming them (Rom. 13:9b-10). Love involves serving others (Gal. 5:13) and making personal sacrifices for them (John 15:13). Certainly, to speak “the truth” to our neighbors is to love them, for the truth or the Gospel has the power for salvation for everyone who believes! (Rom. 1:16).

Not a Worldly Kind of Love: Let us not confuse love with the concept the world has of love. The world tends to think of love merely as a “warm-fuzzy” feeling or affectionate gesture. The world teaches that when you are made to feel good, then you are being loved. Yet, from a biblical standpoint, that isn’t always the case! “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but deceitful are the kisses of an enemy” (Prov. 27:6). To be made to feel good, to be comforted, or to receive affection by another isn’t always being loved. “Kisses” or feel good sayings may be comforting and pleasurable for the moment, but may in fact be deceitful. An enemy will tell you what you want to hear and not what you need to hear (the truth). False teachers, no matter how sincere they may be, are in effect “enemies” who hand out “kisses” when you need to be “wounded” instead. They aim to entertain and “tickle your ears” instead of preach the whole truth (2 Tim. 4:2-5). In contrast, a true friend is willing to “wound” you by speaking the truth: Wound your pride, admonish you, correct you, even reprove or rebuke you if necessary in order to help you grow spiritually and overcome your sin. That is true love! It is not always easy to speak the truth, yet if we truly love our neighbor as ourselves, we will not condone their sin, but instead teach them the truth so that they might be saved: “[Love] does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth” (1 Cor. 13:6).

How Do We Speak the Truth in Love?

Speak the Truth from the Motive of Love: “Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Cor. 16:14). Speaking the truth is no exception! Just because a person speaks the truth does not mean that his or her motive is good and right. For instance, Paul did not rejoice over the envy and strife of certain preachers, but only in the fact that they preached the truth or “Christ” (Phil. 1:12-18).

Our motives for what we do are very important to God. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Mat. 5:8; e.g., Mat. 6:1-6). Speaking the truth should not be done out of pride, bitter jealousy, or selfish ambition (James 3:13-14). The truth should not be spoken from unfeeling, unloving harsh critics and judges who merely enjoy making people feel bad. Instead, we speak the truth because we truly love the people we are speaking to and care about the salvation of their souls, much like the apostle Paul and his love for the brethren at Corinth: “For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote to you with many tears; not that you should be made sorrowful, but that you might know the love which I have especially for you” (2 Cor. 2:4). Speaking the truth from the motive of love is absolutely essential to pleasing the Lord (1 Cor. 13:1-3).

Speaking the Truth Appropriately: “Speaking the truth in love” requires speaking His word in the proper manner. Namely, our speech should “always be with grace” (Col. 4:6). To speak with grace is to speak graciously meaning with kindness, courtesy, and compassion. The way we speak ought to reflect the fact that we are Christians! (Col. 3:12-14). Truth spoken with grace can be effective in persuading and teaching others the will of God. “The wise in heart will be called discerning, and sweetness of speech increases persuasiveness” (Prov. 16:21; cf. 16:24). Love is not only about what we say (the truth), but how we say it!

Speech “with grace” also means to give grace to those who hear us speak (Col. 4:6). This means that what we say should benefit them spiritually. When we speak the truth, we should strive to meet the spiritual needs of each particular person (Eph. 4:29). To accomplish this, timeliness or tact should also be used. Wise discretion and consideration of others is important in determining when the most appropriate time to speak the truth is. “Like apples of gold in settings of silver is a word spoken in right circumstances” (Prov. 25:11).

As God’s children, let us commit ourselves to accomplishing His will by “speaking the truth in love” as He commands (Eph. 4:15).

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