As a biblical counselor, there is a phrase I have often used with those I counsel. The phrase is: “Speak the truth in love.” It might be the answer I give to a wife who doesn’t know how to confront her husband or her child; to a church member who doesn’t know how to confront a fellow church member; to an employee who doesn’t know how to speak to a boss; to a family member who doesn’t know how to speak truth to another family member; or to a customer who is dealing with a business that is demonstrating a lack of integrity.
We must admit that speaking the truth in love in a post-truth world is at times difficult, even as a child of God. We are often thought of as archaic, judgmental, profiling, and not relevant to society. Too often, we find ourselves speaking lies instead of truth, appealing to people’s emotions rather than their intellect, and being friends of the world rather than friends of Christ.
What is Speaking the Truth in Love?
When I counsel someone to speak the truth in love, what exactly am I calling them to do? The phrase “speak the truth in love” comes from Ephesians 4:15. To understand that verse’s context, please read Ephesians 4:11-16.
Speaking the truth in love is speaking that which is doctrinally correct and that which proceeds from a biblically committed life to a person who is in need of correction. It is done in love for the benefit of one who needs some adjustment to their attitudes or their actions.
Why Must We Speak the Truth in Love?
Perhaps you’re thinking, “I have enough problems in my own life and I certainly don’t need to be creating more of them.” We must remember, this is not about us; it is about the spiritual welfare of others. We also do this is because it is a command, as seen in Ephesians 4, Matthew 18:15-17, and James 5:19-20.
From these passages, we would say that we have a responsibility to speak the truth in love not only because it is a command, but also for the purity of the church. When we don’t confront a sinning brother, we weaken the resolve of the whole church.
Also, saving a soul from death, helping him to turn from the error of his way, is a worthy reason for doing this. We also cover a multitude of sins, which means that the sinning stops instead of it continuing and being exposed before others.
Why Don’t We Speak the Truth in Love?
The first reason we don’t speak the truth in love is fear of man. We are afraid of losing friendships or straining relationships. Unfortunately, this just compounds our own sin. In Galatians 1:10, Paul warns us that if we are man-pleasers, we are not servants of Christ.
Another reason we don’t speak to others when it is needed is because of fear of rejection. It’s possible that we’ll be labeled as judgmental or self-righteous. When this happens, we can take great comfort in 1 Peter 2:21-24.
A further reason we don’t speak the truth in love is because we fear not knowing what to say. While this concern is legitimate, it’s one that can be easily remedied by being prepared. Paul is clear in Romans 15:14 that all believers are able to help each other, and in 2 Timothy 2:15 Paul tells us how to be ready for this task. We are competent to counsel, but we must know what the Word of God says so that we know how to address each situation.
Where Do We Speak the Truth in Love?
- We must speak the truth in love to our own hearts. Proverbs 27:19 says, “As in water face reflects a face, so a man’s heart reveals the man.” How can we help someone else if we aren’t being honest with ourselves first? Are we seeing clearly or are we clouded by bitterness or resentment? (See Matthew 7:1-5).
- We must speak the truth in love in our homes.This certainly does not mean that I have to speak my mind on every subject that comes up in a given day. But it does mean that if a child or a spouse or anyone else living in the home has an ongoing pattern of wrong attitudes or actions, then I am to address it.
- We must speak the truth in love in our houses of worship.This would include anyone who belongs to Christ. We have cited Matthew 18 already, so suffice it to say that when there is an offense, we have a responsibility to go to that person, and then make sure we follow through the steps if there is no repentance.
- We must speak the truth in love in our hostile world.Please know that practicing this will no doubt incur persecution and hatred. Jesus has given us full warning of this in John 15:18-25.
How Do We Speak the Truth in Love?
We should pray before, during, and after our conversation with them. Pray that God would open their heart to hear truth, pray while you’re speaking that your words would not fall on deaf ears or a hard heart, and pray afterward that the dear Holy Spirit would do the work of conviction of sin and lead them to repentance.
Coupled with prayer is patience, as Paul says in 1 Thessalonians 5:14.
What is the Result of Speaking the Truth in Love?
Paul gives us several results in 2 Timothy 2:25-26. The first fruit mentioned is repentance, which is a turning from sin. Paul mentions another result is that the person we’re speaking to may come to their senses. This means to change their thinking like one awakened out of a deep sleep. Another result is to escape the snare of the devil. This is a reference to his tricks. Many do not realize they are being held captive by the evil one.
“Speaking the truth in love” is a popular phrase which is used often in Christian circles, but are we actually doing it effectively for the glory of God? Speaking the truth in love in a post-truth world is challenging, but a wise Christian will remember the wisdom of Solomon’s words in Proverbs 8:7, “For my mouth will speak truth; wickedness is an abomination to my lips.”
This material is taken from a longer work published by Focus Publishing; Speaking the Truth in Love in A Post Truth World. (Focus Publishing, Bemidji, 2020)