More than ever, we are living in a time when dealing in truth and in love seem to be moving further apart. We find that being truthful often means being course, abrupt, inconsiderate and even downright insulting.
Conversely, engaging others in love can mean we don’t question or challenge, even lovingly. Political correctness and a desire to avoid conflict or disagreement at all costs, results in a lack of meaningful dialogue and learning. Truth becomes relative.
In Ephesians 4:15, Paul tells us that we should be “speaking the truth in love…”. But what does that mean and how does it work? Are we to speak truth, but walk softly, beating around the bush so as not to offend. This might minimize our risk of confrontation, but likely results in the truth never actually coming into play.
Do we simply blurt it out knowing that, since our doctrine is sound and our beliefs correct, they must receive it as truth and in their receiving, we can feel confident that we’ve loved them? Certainly this approach could result in the hearer reaching an epiphany one day, but more likely it will push them further from you and more importantly, further from God.
Perhaps we just show love and let God use someone else, or some other mechanism to show them truth. We absolutely should seek God before sharing a truth that might be uncomfortable. He may want to use someone else, or may be aligning the proper time for us to share, that will result in greater receptivity. So, while this may in some cases be the right approach, in Galatians 6:1, Paul gives this instruction to believers: “Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently…” (emphasis mine).
In addition, Jesus gives us specific instruction on dealing with wrong behaviors within the body of believers. In Matthew 18:15-17, He tells us to point out their fault to them, and continues with what to do if they aren’t receptive.
So what then, is our role and how do we know what telling the truth in love looks like?
First, be sure that the truth you may be called to share, is really “the” truth and not your truth. God may speak to you on an issue, and that’s awesome when He does. But be sure that what you’re hearing lines up with the Bible…the whole Bible, not just a particular passage that fits with your personal passion, paradigm or politics.
Now that you’ve got that squared away, a good question to ask is, “am I in relationship with this person? Do I have permission to speak into their lives?” This can make all the difference in how your sharing of truth is received.
“So, I can’t share truth in love if I don’t have a relationship with someone?” No, you can. Questions to ask in this case could include things like, “have they asked me a question” or “do they seem to be seeking something”. In these cases, even folks you’ve just encountered, may well be open to hearing some truth.
“OK, but what about the love part, is that about how I say it?” Well, partially, but it’s actually simpler than that and this is the key. Telling the truth in love requires that you first, love. Do you love the person you are sharing truth with? If you have relationship with them, the likely answer is yes. But what if you barely know them…or don’t know them at all? Do you love them just the same? As you look across your local Walmart, your church worship center…your city, do you love those people? Does your heart ache along with God’s for those that are hurting, struggling or far from Him?
If you can truly, deep in your soul answer yes to that, then telling the truth in love should not be difficult. Love is less about the approach and more about the heart. If the heart is filled with love for your fellow man, then the truth you tell will be in love. It will be the only way you’ll know how to tell it. You’ll be mindful of the fact that God gave you two ears and one mouth for a reason. Your communication will be filled with care, grief, and an overflowing heart; not anger, judgement or condemnation. And you’ll ask as many questions as you’ll offer answers.
So, as you contemplate how to tell the truth in love, understand that it’s not a formula, but a natural out flowing from your heart that happens when, before sharing truth, you first love.