You may have heard someone use the phrase “speaking the truth in love” before, perhaps while encouraging someone to share how they’ve been hurt or challenging a friend to trust and follow the Bible’s teaching. But what exactly does it mean?
Speaking the truth in love is about more than encouraging honesty; it’s a rich experience of the new way of life that Jesus offers. A life where followers of Jesus are marked by the power of His life, death and resurrection. This power helps them have loving, unified relationships that bring growth and maturity. That includes sharing difficult things with love.
The command to “speak the truth in love” comes from the Book of Ephesians when Paul, a follower of Jesus who wrote much of the New Testament, addressed believers in Ephesus. This letter is about how Jesus’ life, death and resurrection transformed his followers into a new humanity. Jesus gave them a new identity, the task and power to live like He did and a new family that includes all other followers of Jesus, no matter how different they are. Today, His followers are invited into the same transforming way of life.
In chapter 4, Paul begins to share how the gospel story (how Jesus redeems people and reunites them with God) can practically affect every area of life.
“And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…” (Ephesians 4:11-15, New International Version, emphases added)
The goal of speaking the truth in love is for Christians to grow together into a community shaped by the truth shown in the gospel — like the fact that you can be truly known, flaws and all, and still be loved by God and others. Sharing your concerns, telling someone they hurt you or being brave enough to help someone see how they can apply God’s Word to their situation becomes an opportunity for everyone involved to experience the tangible love of God and be changed by it.
Telling someone they hurt you becomes a chance for you to grow in showing grace, which is undeserved kindness. For them, it’s a chance to grow in humility as they admit wrong. Both parties get to experience the forgiveness and reconciliation that Jesus’ death bought on the cross.
When communities prioritize communicating God’s truth to one another in a safe space marked by humility and love, they allow each person’s truest self to be affected and changed by the life and love of Jesus. This is how you help others grow.
Telling a friend that they are believing a lie about God or that they hurt you isn’t easy. It requires overcoming fear of rejection, putting aside your desire to please others and stepping out in faith. Here are a few tips to help you along the way.
The Bible tells us that Jesus is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14, NIV). He spoke the truth in love to a woman by a well in John 4. Just by starting a conversation with her and asking for a drink of water, Jesus broke social norms of race and gender that would prevent a Jewish man from even talking to a Samaritan woman. Then he, after pointing out intimate details of unhealthy patterns she had, offered her hope and true satisfaction through a relationship with Him by faith.
Jesus offers love and acceptance alongside truth. Remember that your goal in speaking is to help others see how Jesus’ death and resurrection gives them a greater life than what the world offers.
The Holy Spirit is God’s power and presence living within believers. Pray to God and talk to Him about your conversation. Ask Him to give you the words to say, to lead the conversation and speak through you. Ask Him to fill you with the Holy Spirit and to help you surrender to His lead by putting His desires above your own and being sensitive to how He might want you to respond.
It can be easy to trust in ourselves and our experiences when giving advice, but this can easily come from a place of arrogance instead of humility. The Holy Spirit reminds us of the truth of Christ and the truth of our own need for supernatural patience and grace for conversations.
Setting can be the difference between honoring or shaming the person you want to share with. Bringing something up in an argument can lead to defensiveness and regret, sending a text is a recipe for misunderstanding and sharing in a group can cause embarrassment. Instead, talk in person when possible, one-on-one and in a space where you can both listen and process what the other person is saying.
Whether it’s judging a problem before letting someone explain or telling a hurting person something they already know — quickly sharing the truth can do more harm than good. By asking questions and listening closely, you can avoid judging your friend or jumping to conclusions. Remember: love sees the other person.
You can’t make someone see where you are coming from or make them change. Be aware that the conversation might not end where you want it to. But this is also part of loving and showing grace to someone: accepting them as they are while being brave enough to challenge them to grow.
Jesus wants His people to be like Him. Christians should be known for the way that they lovingly communicate the truth, both with each other and with outsiders. As we do this, we are able to live the genuine and abundant life that Jesus offers us. Whether you are sharing the gospel with a friend, reminding someone of Jesus’ character or challenging them to obey God’s word, each day believers can grow together as they speak the truth in love.
Check out and learn more about how the Holy Spirit enables Christians to live like Jesus.
What is a relationship in your life that could grow by speaking the truth in love? Take time today to pray and ask Jesus what he would have you say.
During COVID-19 it might seem easy to sit at home and fear all the unknowns. But what if you took time to reflect Jesus to others? Join the movement of #ReflectJesusWithMe.
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