We have all witnessed when someone speaks the truth in a way that is more damaging than beneficial. It is these occasions that make us hesitate to do it ourselves. However, Christianity is not a solo activity. Following Christ means we are part of a body – we are brothers and sisters with our fellow believers – we are in this together. For this reason, we should be actively encouraging one another and pointing one another towards the truth.
We’ve been talking about how Christians should deal with conflict lately, and one of the things you have heard is to “speak the truth in love” to help resolve conflicts. If you are unsure of what this means, let’s look at it more closely.
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body
of him who is the head, that is, Christ. – Ephesians 4:15
What Speaking the Truth is Not
Unfortunately, in our sinful nature, we can use Ephesians 4:15 for our own selfish motives. If we use the verse to speak in a prideful manner, we are not doing what the Bible calls us to do. Speaking the truth in love is not arrogant, harsh, demeaning, or judgmental. If speaking the truth is a way to appear “holier than thou,” then you have missed the point.
Ultimately, speaking the truth in love is about holding one another accountable. It is not about pointing out someone’s sins just because you can “in the name of truth.” It is not putting someone in their place or winning an argument. Speaking the truth in love is a heart issue – your heart and the individual’s heart you are speaking to.
What Speaking the Truth in Love Looks Like
Instead, speaking the truth in love should look like Jesus. Jesus spoke the truth in the Gospels, but He did so in way to reconcile people to God. His words drew people to Him – they did not push people away.
Speaking the truth in love places emphasis on both truth and love. Look at 1 Corinthians 13:4-6.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It
does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of
wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.
Love rejoices with the truth. When it comes to searching your motives when dealing with conflict, look at these verses. Will you speak the truth using kindness, humility, sensitivity, gentleness, and grace?
Further along in Ephesians, Paul writes, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen” (Ephesians 4:29). When we deal with conflict and addressing difficult truths, it is important to remember that the purpose should be beneficial. Our truthful words should point towards reconciliation.
Consider Your Closest Relationships
Before you approach someone to “speak the truth in love,” you must consider your relationship with the individual. For the truth to be heard and received, you must have a relationship with the person. Strangers are not nearly as receptive to someone pointing out their sins as someone you are in a relationship with.
For example, think about your closest relationships. Who has earned the right to speak to you this way? Why? Usually, these are people you know love you and respect you. These people want the best for you. When they speak, you do not feel attacked. While they may tell you something that is hard to hear, you will be more willing to listen to them because you trust their intentions.
These types of relationships are God-given. In this same way, you should also follow the command to speak the truth in love when someone you are close to is struggling. As Proverbs 27:17 tells us, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.”
How to Speak the Truth in Love When the Time Comes
When the time comes, here are a few ways to deal with this part of a conflict:
- Pray for wisdom. Ask God to give you guidance and the right words to speak. Pray that He reveals any selfish motives you may have before you approach the individual.
- Remember that according to Matthew 18:15, you should try to have this conversation privately between the two of you. Additionally, you should choose an appropriate environment where you will not be overheard.
- Check your tone. Your tone of voice can make someone tune you out without even hearing what truth you have to speak.
- Finally, make sure your intentions of pointing towards reconciliation with Jesus are evident. Throughout the conversation, point back to Jesus’ love and mercy.
Too often, Christians misunderstand or misuse this verse in Ephesians placing emphasis on either truth or love. But, these two words work together. Warren Wiersbe says, “If truth and love contradict each other, something is amiss (p. 24).” He’s certainly right about that! You can’t have one without the other. Thankfully, we can ask the Spirit to guide us and lead us through these complicated conversations.
Wiersbe, W. W. (2007). On Being a Servant of God. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.