“Love” is a word that has become muddled thanks to cultural slogans and idioms. This includes “free love” and “love wins,” but also “tough love,” the sentiment behind the similar idea of “telling it like it is.” How can we navigate all of these in telling the truth in love?
Speak the Truth
“Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ” – Eph. 4:15
Ephesians actually has quite a bit to say about how we talk. The centerpiece of chapters 4-6 is truth itself. 4:1 refers to walking according to our calling, and that is based on the truth of the gospel, contrasted with the falsehood of secularism and idolatry (4:14, 18, 21, 25, and so on).
This is why it is so critical that speaking the truth in itself does happen; we cannot shy away from spiritual discussions because they are uncomfortable – verse 25 makes this point especially clear: “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another.” Just as it’s wrong to speak truth out of a motivation of anger or bitterness, it’s wrong to keep silent out of cowardice or apathy.
But the reason here doesn’t get enough attention – “for we are members one of another.” This is a far cry from the motivation of merely “telling it like it is.” Ephesians itself tells us what Paul means by this – without anger (26), building up (29), with compassion (31), and sacrificially (5:1).
With this in mind, we ought to examine what exactly we mean, and intend, when we say that we’re saying X the way we’re saying because we love the recipient. Are we speaking out of anger? Is this building up or tearing down? Is our approach compassionate? Are we showing a willingness to sacrifice in some way? Sometimes we say hurtful things out of a desire to get something off of our own chest at another’s expense, then paint a good intentions over it ad hoc.
This requires injecting intention into our conversations. It requires asking whether certain debates are worth engaging in, and how we approach difficult or controversial topics. Applying this rubric to personal relationships as well as evangelism is a must for Christians.
In short, ask “will saying this bring this person closer to the truth, or am I just saying this because I want to be right?” In all of our communication, whether it be social media, texting, email, a public forum, or a private conversation, we ought to consider the intention of our words, their likely effect, and how both of those represent Christ in the world.
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil.” –