What is speaking the truth in love? It is a question that I seem to ask to myself incessantly, for there are many who take offense to many of the things that I write and speak, and there are many who claim that I do not write and speak in love. It is a question that judges me whenever I hear of the offenses and the hostilities that some of my writings raise, and it is one that causes to me to examine every topic that I address and every word that I use to address them. It is a question that haunts my soul and my very purpose for existence, and one that causes me to question the very path that I have walked thus far. And being such a reoccurring question, I have addressed it before in my soul and in my writings and will likely address it for the rest of my life.
What then is speaking the truth in love? If you were to take a random survey of people in our country, you would likely receive a host of different answers. If you were to ask the question of a person of a postmodern persuasion, you would likely get an answer similar to, “Speaking the truth in love is not speaking at all, for truth is relative to the individual, and to force one’s opinion of truth upon another is offensive and intolerant and therefore unloving.” If you were to ask it of another, you might get the answer, “Speaking the truth in love is sharing what is true in such a way that it presents one’s view of truth as an opinion thereby making compliance to it optional and thus making it inoffensive.” If you were to ask it of one who professes to be a Christian, you might get an answer like, “Speaking the truth in love is sharing the truth of God’s Word in a way that is not judgmental and that withholds matters that might offend a person and turn them away from a church or the Faith.”
And though you obviously might get other answers if you were to speak to others, there is a common thread that runs through most of the answers that you would receive, namely, you are not to be offensive in what you speak. It is the common thread of American morality and individualism–that each person is entitled to his own beliefs and opinions and to question one’s opinion is intolerant and unloving. According to this morality, the highest expression of love is to let one be himself and not to stifle that which makes him a special individual. Therefore, the highest expression of love is, first, to love and to esteem one’s self, and, second, to allow others to love and to esteem themselves in the same way that one esteems himself. Therefore, one must look upon himself as his own end, and his truth is not to transcend himself so as to impose it upon others.
This type of morality is simply self-idolatry, for one’s chief end is himself and his expressions of truth and love do not transcend himself. It is self-worship, and its influence has not been contained to the secular culture. In the church, it is demonstrated in the gross individualization of God’s Word–the Word of Truth that by its Authors transcends all. It is seen in such questions raised of God’s Word as, “What does this passage mean to you?” and it is seen in the consumer mentality that imbues the American church: “How do you like the church you attend?” “How is the music?” “Do the services move you?” “Is the preacher a good speaker?” “Are the seats comfortable?” “What clothes are you allowed to wear?”–and on the questions go that demonstrate that even we who claim to worship Christ claim to worship him with the real end of worshiping ourselves. We, by and large, do not go to church to worship Christ and to build up his Body, but we go to church to edify ourselves and ourselves alone. Thus when something happens in a church that offends us or hinders our self-worship, we pack our bags and leave to find another church that will allow us to worship ourselves unhindered.
How our self-worship affects speaking the truth in love is undeniable, for we in our present moral mindset seek to speak the truth in a manner that does not ruffle another’s feathers so that we in turn might not have our feathers ruffled. We do not care so much that there is Truth that is to be adhered to or holiness that is to be pursued, but we care that there be a place and fellowship maintained that will allow us to continue in our self-centered religion. We might study God’s Word in our services and Sunday school classes, but there is no room for corporate accountability and discipline, and there is no room for Truth that transcends the individual. Thus God’s Word becomes merely a matter of personal opinion even in the church, and to challenge one’s personal opinion or conviction on the Word of God is to speak the truth in an unloving way.
Presuming for a moment that this view of speaking the truth in love is not the correct view, what then is the correct view of speaking the truth in love?
1. Speaking the Truth in Love is To Worship God Alone
Before we can rightly answer the question, “What is speaking the truth in love?” we must first understand that all people exist for the sole purpose of worshiping God and that all things exist for sole purpose of glorifying God. Not to understand this most basic of all truths is to misunderstand everything. It is through this lens that we must judge all of reality, and it is through this lens that we must answer our present question. Any philosophy or notion of truth that does not find its end in the worship and the glory of God is false and cannot properly answer the question of speaking the truth in love. Therefore, when we ask the question in the church, “What is speaking the truth in love?” we must ask does our present answer to the question find its end in the worship of God, or does it find its end in the worship of ourselves?
Therefore we must ask the question, “What does God ask of us to worship and to glorify him alone?” This question immediately removes us from the self-idolatry that is so common in the American church, and it places our lives in the balance of God’s glory alone. And what does God require of his people to worship him properly? We find the answer to this question in those whom God predestined before the foundation of the world, namely they are “to be conformed to image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn of many brothers” (Rm. 8:29). Therefore, for those who are called to be saints, their worship of God finds its greatest expression in becoming like Jesus Christ. This is expressed elsewhere as being “holy in all your conduct” (1Pet. 1:15; cf. 1Pet. 1:13-21), obeying God’s commandments (cf. Jn. 14:15; Rm. 6:15-23; 1Jn. 5:2), and loving God with all our being (cf. Deut. 6:5; Mt. 22:37), for this is the manner in which Christ perfectly conducted himself while he walked upon this earth.
Therefore, speaking the truth in love must have the end of glorifying God through holiness, obedience, and loving God, for this is the manner in which God has called his saints to worship him. Any notion of speaking the truth in love that does not have this end is a false notion of speaking the truth in love.
2. Speaking the Truth in Love Must Understand the Truth of God
It seems to be a most obvious statement that before one can speak the truth in love he must understand the truth, but how much of our lives do we invest in knowing the truth of God? If our calling in this life is to holiness, to obedience, and to loving God as he prescribes, how are we to do these things unless we know what God has spoken? The answer is simply that we cannot, and it is for this reason that God instructed Joshua to “meditate on [the Law] day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all is written in it,” and why David spoke, saying, “I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you” (Ps. 119:11). Our worship of God therefore is contingent upon our knowledge of his Word, and therefore our speaking the truth in love is contingent upon our knowledge of his Word as well.
3. Speaking the Truth in Love Must Build up the Body of Christ
Being that God has ordained that he would call a people to himself, and that that people would be a fellowship of God’s people existing for the mutual edification of one another in holiness, speaking the truth in love must exist to build up the church in holiness. The apostle Paul puts it this way:
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, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love (Eph. 4:11-16).
This passage of the apostle is the fullest exposition of speaking the truth in love, and it would be helpful to understand in its entirety. First, we see that God has ordained that there would be offices in the church that would exist for the purpose of the building up the body of Christ so that the church would attain the unity of faith and of the knowledge of Christ in order that the church would grow into the fullness of Christ. These offices were ordained so that men could guide the church to glorify God by becoming holy and obedient through the knowledge of God’s Word. Second, this building up of the church by the prescribed offices were done also to prevent the church from being “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, and by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” In other words, there is a proper manner by which the church is to live that is prescribed by God, and an improper one that is devised by men and demons. Therefore, the offices that God has ordained exist, one, to build up the church in Knowledge and, two, to prevent the church from being deceived by false doctrine.
Third, these two things, i.e. growing into the fullness of Christ through the unity of faith / the knowledge of Christ and the dispelling of the false doctrines of men and demons, are called “speaking the truth in love.” We know this is so, because, one, the “truth” spoken of is called earlier, “the knowledge of the Son of God,” and the “love” has the purpose of growing the church into Christ (“fullness of Christ” from earlier), of holding and joining it with that which is equipped (“to equip the saints for the work of ministry” from earlier), and for its working together properly in the building up in love (“the unity of faith” from earlier). Therefore, the “speaking the truth in love” is not so much the means in which the truth is spoken, but it is the end for which it is spoken, namely the building up of the church into the fullness of Christ. However, the end of love does indeed dictate the means, for the fullness of Christ is dictated by what was called earlier, “the unity of faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.”
Therefore, speaking the truth in love is done in seeking the unity of faith and the unity of the knowledge of Christ. When one speaks the truth in love he must it do so for the sake of the unity of the one Faith. And while there are many notions of unity, most of which center upon the capitulation of doctrine and truth and upon tolerance, the unity of which the apostle speaks is the particular unity of faith or belief. It is, in the context, not the capitulation of doctrine, but it is the teaching of doctrine. And it is for this reason that God has established church offices, so that the church might be taught rightly and be united under proper doctrine. And being that there is only one Faith, unity must be established under that Faith alone. Likewise, there is one Lord, Jesus Christ, and we are called to united under him alone through the knowledge of him alone. And it is for this reason that the apostle wrote earlier, “There is one body and one Spirit–just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call–one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all” (vv. 4:4-6). Therefore, speaking the truth in love is done for the sake of unity–a unity that is bound by sound doctrine under the one Faith and Lord to which God calls and draws men.
4. Speaking the Truth in Love Must Seek the Good of him to Whom it is Spoken
Though when the apostle speaks of speaking the truth in love he is speaking particularly of the edification of the church, oftentimes speaking the truth in love must be done to individuals in particular instances. Therefore when the speaking the truth to individuals is done, it must be done in love. What then is loving to an individual? Taking into account that which we have already determined, loving an individual is desiring that they glorify and worship God alone, that they know the Truth, in order that they might be equipped for ministry in the church. Any desire to speak the truth outside of these ends is not to speak the truth in love.
Also, speaking the truth in love to individuals must be done in such a manner that those ends are evinced. For while one might inwardly desire to speak the truth to a soul so that he might glorify God by knowing the truth so that he might serve well in the Body, not demonstrating that by tone and declaration can prove to be futile. For speaking the truth to an individual will, more often than not, incite animosity and offense in the one to whom it is spoken, therefore it must be clearly demonstrated that the end of such truth-speaking is loving that person as God desires us to love one another. And though we can count on resistance to the truth even when spoken in love, we must do so in faith that the Spirit of God will take that which was spoken in truth and love and will use it to unify the Body in the proper knowledge of Christ.
From this brief survey, what is speaking the truth in love? It is, in short, the speaking of truth for the end of glorifying God through its proclamation so that individuals in the church might be called together in the unity of the knowledge of Christ in order that the church might be equipped for ministry. It is the loving of God and of others to such an extent that we are willing to sacrifice ourselves and our esteem by men by boldly speaking that which God has spoken. For the proper loving of men is done through the proclamation of truth, and the proper proclamation of truth is done through loving men. Neither can be done without the other to the glory of God.