Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…
—Ephesians 4:15 ESV
It’s one thing to speak truth. Any dimestore prophet standing on a streetcorner in an urban jungle can speak truth. That deranged guy shoving his poetry—only $2.00—in your face as you walk down the sidewalk can spout truth. A club-tie-wearing teacher commanding the front of a pasty-white classroom in an exclusive private school in Chevy Chase, Maryland, can instill truth. That young Hispanic lieutenant who saw the military as his way out of the barrio can yell truth at his soldiers.
You, me, our children—any of us can spew, whisper, and scream truth.
But only Christians speak truth in love. Because we know Love.
Which is why there’s no excuse for Christians to speak unlovingly to anyone. We do not speak fear, because in love, there is no fear.
God ordains that love be the envelope that holds His treasured words when we speak truth to others. When we preach, our message is love and our delivery is, too.
And when we confront error, it is not in anger, but in love. We rebuke lovingly, humbly, and gently:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
—Galatians 6:1 ESV
Lest you too be tempted. Because we are dust.
The mature understand this. The immature rail and accuse, showing no love, no humility. No image of Christ, into whom we are to grow.
For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, watch out that you are not consumed by one another.
—Galatians 5:13-15 ESV
How easily we fall into biting and devouring. Even now ministries composed of misguided people gnash and consume in an attempt to one-up each other in their mastery of what they believe to be truth. And it brings disgrace upon the name of Christ. Because there is no love in it at all. One side may very well be correct in their understanding, while the other succumbs to mistaken notions. However, everyone is at fault when love gets trampled underfoot, because love is the ultimate expression of what it means to walk in Christian maturity:
His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
—2 Peter 1:3-8 ESV
The culmination of a God-pleasing lifestyle? Love. All those other godly traits serve as the bedrock upon which love rests.
I knew a man unlike any I’ve met. Gifts of the Spirit flowed out of him like water. But more than the power by which he ministered in Christ’s name, he loved. No person he encountered proved unworthy of his love. He gave love to everyone, no matter how small or important. And because his love flowed so readily into other people’s love-starved lives, when he spoke truth, people listened. He’d earned the right to be heard because he led with love. Even when he corrected others, they listened and obeyed because he’d already won their respect and admiration because he loved before all else.
When someone speaks hard-to-bear truth to you, would you rather they lead with love or lead with accusations?
I believe one of the most under-lived truths of the Scriptures today comes from an all too familiar Scripture:
And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
—Luke 6:31 ESV
When we must hear truth, how do we wish it delivered? If we say, “With love,” do we speak truth to others the same way? Or do we bludgeon sinners and opponents, only to expect they use kid gloves with us?
It feels miserable to be on the receiving end of a tirade, doesn’t it? Tongue-lashings hurt, but they’re simple to yell, aren’t they? Any loudmouth can shout truth in our faces.
But to deliver a message in love isn’t easy. It demands we actually care in tangible ways for the people we speak truth to. It costs us something. It asks for genuine relationship. It means reaching out as one human to another.
And the greater truth of speaking the truth in love is the only person fully qualified to speak truth to another person is the one who fulfills this Scripture:
Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends.
—John 15:13 ESV
If we’re not prepared to die for the people we speak truth to, then we should let others less infatuated with their own lives speak it instead.
Humbling. Speaking the truth comes with a price. When we fail to love before we speak truth, we come under the condemnation of the Golden Rule. We have not loved, therefore we should not expect love in return:
For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you.
—Matthew 7:2 ESV
Angry accusations beget angry replies. Biting. Devouring. And our anger burns hotter.
Here is truth:
We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And this commandment we have from him: whoever loves God must also love his brother.
—1 John 4:19-21 ESV
Nothing we do in the name of Christ comes apart from Him. Without Him we can do nothing. So when we minister out of any spirit other than love, we minister out of the flesh. The words we then speak scorch like strange fire, not the sweet, life-giving warmth of the Spirit. We Christians cannot say we love God if we do not love our brothers and sisters. Loving them means speaking truth. And the only way to speak truth is in love.
It’s costly. It’s demanding. It takes work. It asks the Spirit to blast away our easy, fleshly responses. Yet it speaks life, the very Spirit of our Lord.