I used to think that to, “Speak the truth in love,” meant to bring a correction to a person.
You know what I mean. Give a person a loving spiritual smack-down. A spiritual suplex if you will.
A person is in sin and I speak the truth in love, correcting them for their sin and bringing them to repentance. If someone didn’t like the correction, I could simply point to the Bible and say, “I’m just speaking the truth in love.”
But I’ve changed my mind regarding what it means to lovingly speak the truth to someone. Well, not completely. I still believe there’s a place to lovingly, gently correct a person who has fallen into sin.
After all, Scripture calls us to restore those who have been caught in sin.
But I’m increasingly convinced that speaking the truth in love has much less to do with correction and much more to do with encouragement.
Speak The Truth In Love
In order to understand what it really means to lovingly speak truth to one another, we need to look at the entire context of the passage.
Ephesians 4:15-16 says:
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 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.
There are a few really important things to note about this passage if we’re going to understand what it means to speak the truth in love.
First, the purpose is so that all of us may grow up into Christ. In other words, to become spiritually mature. To no longer act as spiritual kids who are thrown about by every wave of doctrine.
In this context, the purpose of speaking truth is not correction. Rather, the purpose is to strengthen, encourage, and help a person mature in Christ.
We are to speak words to each other that will build each other up and help each other pursue Christ more passionately. We are to speak words that will help others love Jesus more, delight more in his word, and worship him more passionately.
Our words should help kindle affections for Jesus in others.
Here’s a sobering question: do my words help others grow more to be like Jesus?
Second, when we speak the truth in love to one another, we protect each other. We are to speak words of truth to each other so that we aren’t easily led astray by the schemes of Satan.
John Calvin says this:
The truth of God ought to have such a firm hold of us, that all the contrivances and attacks of Satan shall not draw us from our course; and yet, as we have not hitherto attained full and complete strength, we must make progress until death.
Speaking the truth in love is a way of protecting one another. We are all tempted by Satan and tempted to embrace ideas and beliefs that are contrary to Scripture. When we speak the truth to one another, it helps us to hold firm against the attacks of Satan.
In other words, our words can help shield a person from Satan himself.
Isn’t that an incredibly powerful truth? The words we speak to one another really do have the potential to protect each other from the fiery attacks of Satan. This is one reason it’s so essential that we regularly fellowship with one another.
If we fail to speak the truth (and hear it from others), we are vulnerable to be, “…tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes” (Ephesians 4:14.)
Every Person Must Speak
Paul doesn’t assume that only pastors, teachers, and preachers will be speaking the truth in love. He assumes (and commands!) all of us to speak life to each other.
As he says Ephesians 4:16, “…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.”
The whole body of Christ is to be constantly speaking wondrous, glorious truth to each other. To be encouraging one another. To be helping each other pursue Jesus.
When the whole body speaks the truth in love to one another, it binds us together in unity. It also equips us to do good works for Jesus and to love one another more deeply.
Did you catch that? This is an essential truth we can’t afford to miss.
The words you speak can actually create unity within the body of Christ. Your words can serve to equip other Christians to follow Jesus more zealously. When you speak the truth in love, it really can help other believers to love one another more deeply.
Warren Wiersbe puts it this way:
…as members of the one body and a local body, we belong to each other, we affect each other, and we need each other. Each believer, no matter how insignificant he may appear, has a ministry to other believers. The body grows as the individual members grow, and they grow as they feed on the Word and minister to each other.
Our words are so incredibly powerful, aren’t they? Our words help each other grow, which in turn helps the church grow, which then brings glory and honor to Jesus Christ.
How Do We Speak The Truth In Love?
So how exactly do we speak the truth in love?
I really don’t think it’s that complicated. We bring loving truth to one another when we:
- Pray for one another
- Encourage one another
- Bear each other’s burdens
- Remind each other of Scripture
- Honor one another
- Point people to Jesus as their only hope
- Give each other encouraging resources (books, sermons, blogs, etc.)
Ultimately, our goal is simply to point people to God with our words. As Paul says in Ephesians 4:29, “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”
The goal of our words is to give grace to those who hear. To connect the hearer to God himself. To point the hearer to the abundant grace available in God.
Are there times when we need to correct each other? Of course. But that shouldn’t be the dominant theme when we talk with other believers.
The dominant theme should be the glory of God, the beauty of Christ, the sweetness of the Holy Spirit, the delights found in the word of God, etc. In other words, our speech should be constantly flavored with the things of God.