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One of the Most Urgent Biblical Commands for Our Day

One of the Most Urgent Biblical Commands for Our Day

One of the most urgent biblical commands for our day—and perhaps for any day—is to speak the truth in love. Different people at different times tend to overemphasize one of the two factors and underemphasize the other so that some lean away from truth while others lean away from love. But the Lord expects that we will do both without competition or contradiction. “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way…” he says (4:15). This verse tells us that there is a thing we must do and a way we must do it. There is both an action and an attitude.

The thing we must do is speak truth, or maybe a little sharper, we must confess truth. Paul has just written about “the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God,” and this tells us that what we need to confess is what is true about Christ. He—his person, his work, his gospel—is to be the content of our speech, of our confession. We need to know it, believe it, guard it, and speak it to each other.

The way we must do it is in love, which means we need to acknowledge that truth can be spoken well or badly. We can confess what’s true, yet in a way that brings harm instead of blessing. We can say what is true, yet still sin as we say it. And so our calling is to speak truth in love or, to turn it around, to lovingly speak what is true.

As is so often the case in the Christian life, there is peril on both sides. On one side we can be all about the truth, but cruel and unkind. We can derive joy from fighting and busting others down. On the other side, we can be all about love, but spineless and weak. We can refuse to address even the greatest weakness or sin. Neither extreme will do and neither extreme is superior to the other. Nothing but the divine balance pleases God.

To speak truth in love means taking the time to know other people and to understand them. It means taking the time to know where they are at in their lives and in their spiritual maturity. It means taking the time to ask good questions, to listen carefully, and to prayerfully consider the right truth for the right time.

The way you speak truth in love to a person who has been a Christian for weeks may be very different from a person who has been a Christian for decades. The way you speak truth in love to a person who has just lost their job may be very different from a person who has just gotten a big raise. The way you speak truth in love to someone who has just committed an offense in ignorance may be very different from a person who has committed an offense in full knowledge of their sin. All truth is true, but truth can be spoken in ways that are appropriate or inappropriate, fitting or unsuitable, in ways that build up or in ways that tear down. So much depends on circumstance.

Maybe someone has exhibited a sinful behavior and you are frustrated and angry about it, so you hastily quote a Bible passage that calls them to repent. But you don’t account for them being a new Christian or being in a time of deep grief. That doesn’t excuse their sin, but it might explain it. What you said might be true, but you have said it out of anger instead of love. You have added your sin to their sin. “Do you see a man hasty in his words?,” asks Solomon. “There is more hope for a fool than for him.”

Or maybe someone tells you, “This week I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder.” And you pipe up to say, “But the Bible says ‘do not be anxious about anything.’” Those words are true, but it is unloving to offer a trite solution to a complex problem. It is unloving to speak harsh truth to a heavy heart. Solomon says, “A word fitly spoken is like apples of gold in a setting of silver.”

The challenge ever and always is to hold truth and love together and never to emphasize one at the expense of the other. We trust this is possible because God is truth and God is love. He is the source of both, and in him there is never the least competition or contradiction between the two. Our calling, then, is to imitate him, to be equally truthful and loving, to regard the two as the closest of companions and the best of friends.

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