November 12: Speaking the truth in love needs to be understood and practiced. It can be a hallmark of a civility that holds and shares it’s own convictions while upholding the dignity of another person.
Ephesians 4:14 & 15, “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the head, that is, Christ.”
I have heard the phrase “speaking the truth in love” all my life around churches and Christians. Almost without exception, it’s been used to justify a concept of “tough love” that we have brought from our culture into our faith. It’s been my experience that we have used the phrase to justify harshness and judgmental attitudes, all in the name of how much we love someone. It’s not been a comforting phrase for me or many others.
That’s a real shame. In the context of the passage, it’s love that is setting us in contrast to deceit and “craftiness.” It’s also set in a contrast between being infantile and being grown up, mature. The love part of our speaking the truth is not a justification for harshness or incivility in speaking the truth, it’s the part of us that is caring for and protecting the one to whom we speak. I don’t think we need to order the two, placing truth over love, or love over truth… let them go hand in hand, side by side. Neither is more important, but they both are incredibly needed and sacred.
Just to put it out there, I’m not necessarily saying that there’s never a time for what we might call “tough love.” I am saying that we need to stop abusing this verse. This verse is a call to love and to truth, both. Maybe we need a reminder of what love is and what love looks like among us, with a piece of 1 Corinthians 13…
4 Love is patient, love is kind, it isn’t jealous, it doesn’t brag, it isn’t arrogant, 5 it isn’t rude, it doesn’t seek its own advantage, it isn’t irritable, it doesn’t keep a record of complaints, 6 it isn’t happy with injustice, but it is happy with the truth. 7 Love puts up with all things, trusts in all things, hopes for all things, endures all things. 8 Love never fails.
I know we like that passage for weddings, and it does fit very nicely in a wedding service. But the passage is a daily life passage, a me and you passage, a community passage. That is a picture of the love that is speaking truth in the Ephesians passage… it’s kind, patient, without jealousy, humble, encouraging (instead of bragging), in no way is it rude, selfish or self-centered. It’s hopeful, trusting, enduring and unfailing.
Can we be truthful and civil? Absolutely we can. If fact we can and should be both truthful and loving. Forget the craftiness and deceit of trying to be anything else, especially untruthful or unloving. Holding the two, truth and love, in tandem might be difficult, but it’s more than a worthy pursuit, it’s a necessity. I’m asking you to help me with it. Let’s grow up into Christ together.