Ephesians 4:15 tells us that we are to speak the truth in love. The trouble is, we tend to focus more on “truth” than on “love.”
Why is this a problem? Because it has destroyed the way we express our Christianity! Today, I want to reclaim the actual meaning of “speaking the truth in love.” Hopefully you’ll discover something new as you read…
Imagine you’re building an oil rig out in the ocean. If all you focus on is the structural soundness shown in the blueprints, you’re going to fail. Why? Because you must also account for the conditions of the ocean. The structural soundness may be perfect, but if you don’t realize that you’re building it in the ocean, then you will show up with the wrong equipment, use the wrong methods, and ultimately wind up in a disaster before the rig is even built. If you’re building an oil rig in the ocean, then your success and safety require you to focus more on the ocean than on re-hashing the plans that have already been drawn up.
Likewise, if you’re speaking the truth in love, then your effectiveness hinges on how focused you are on love. The truth has already been established, but you can’t do anything effective with it unless you are “in” love. Speaking the truth “in love” is very much like building an oil rig “in the ocean.” The context is key.
You see, the plans for the oil rig already work because engineers have studied them, and all the equations line up. Enough oil rigs have been built for us to trust that the design will work. Likewise, truth already “works” because truth has been established and proven throughout eternity as being summed up in Christ. We don’t need to tweak truth, and we don’t need to tweak the plans for the oil rig. What we do need to tweak is how we build the oil rig given the changing conditions of the ocean.
In other words, while the ocean cannot in any way alter the blueprint, itdoes dictate the day-to-day decisions of the work-crew. In the same way, our attempt at “love” cannot in any way alter the truth; but true love does influence the ways in which we implement that truth. The oil rig is built “IN” the ocean, and truth must be spoken “IN” love.
When we focus on truth over love, the message becomes the priority. When we focus on love over truth, the people become the priority. If the message is the priority, then it doesn’t matter to you how the people receive it; you simply want to be right. But if people are the priority, then you will go to great lengths–even grave personal risks–to persuade them toward that truth (not for your sake, but for theirs).
Either way, if you’re on the side of truth, then you’re right. But one focus leads to more meaningful relationships while the other tears down those relationships. One focus leads toward conversions while the other builds walls. This is why I believe it is so important that we re-callibrate our understanding of love.
What often happens is that we have a message we want to convey (truth), and then we think about how to say it in a loving way. That’s not love. Love is self-sacrifice for the sake of another. Love focuses on the needs and desires of another person; not simply on a message you want to tell them.
My wife knows I love her–not because I preach to her all day, but because I sacrifice so often for her. I put her needs and desires ahead of my own. As a result, she respects what I have to say.
But when it comes to the world, we do the opposite. We get all excited about our message and then try to figure out how to tweak that message so that it sounds more loving. That’s a problem. The message can’t be tweaked. If my house is on fire, I’m not going to gently wake up my wife with a whisper: “Sweetheart, I know you’re getting some much needed rest, but can I possibly persuade you to sneak silently outside with me?” No way! I would probably pick her up and carry her out in a flurry of emotion–no questions asked. Flames are flames, and we can’t compromise the truth!
Love is not about making people more comfortable. And it’s not necessarily about gentleness (although that may be called for from time to time). Love is about self-sacrifice for the sake of another. If my wife trusts my love based on experience, then she trusts my actions. She gives me access to a part of her life that allows for a rude awakening in the middle of the night. If she knows through my regular actions that I love her, then I don’t need to cushion my message in a way that “makes her feel loved.”
Do you see the issue? Far too often, we have focused so significantly on the message that we’ve overlooked what it really means to love. Our Bible colleges, seminaries, and even churches adequately train us to articulate the message, but they cannot impart the supernatural love that comes only from God. As a result the world perceives one of two things: either that our beliefs are hateful or wishy-washy. We’re either unpalatably harsh or we’re meaninglessly vague.
There is a better way.
The world cares more about what you do than what you say. I can tell my wife that I love her all day long, but she won’t really feel loved until I do the dishes or take her out to dinner. And you can preach the truth to the world all day long, but they won’t know you love them until you humble yourself to be their servant.
Isn’t that what Jesus did? (See Philippians 2:5-8.)
In Psalm 26:2-3, David opens himself up to the scrutiny of the Lord, saying, “your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth.” You can’t have one without the other and still be “right” before God. If all you do is speak truth without the necessary context of love, then you’re worthless. (See 1 Corinthians 13:1-2.) And if all you do is sacrifice for people but there’s no message to accompany it, then you’re not leading anyone to Jesus.
We must have both. The world needs both. And thankfully, our God isboth. Jesus said, “I am the…truth…” (See John 14:6.) And John taught us that “God is love.” (See 1 John 4:8,16.) Seek unity with the Lord, and you will be able to express Him in love and truth.
What does this love look like? Well, it’s not simply self-sacrifice for the sake of “doing the right thing.” That’s called “law.” In fact, Paul taught us, “If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.” (See 1 Corinthians 13:3.) It is possible to self-sacrifice without loving, but it is impossible to love without self-sacrificing. As Jesus taught, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (See John 15:13.) Value others ahead of your own desires, and you’ll find that they will grant you a voice in their lives.
Ask God to give you a heart for the world. Look for their felt-needs. That’s where ministries like feeding and clothing the poor, blessing the discouraged, and healing the sick become so vital. Love first, and the right message will flow out of that. You cannot separate the two, but you can prioritize one over the other.