“I’m just being honest.” Often, I’ve found that short phrase comes after a biting comment. As if “being honest” absolves the speaker of any pain caused by the words spoken. Just being honest is not enough for disciples of Jesus Christ. Ours is a higher standard: We are to speak the truth in love. Nonetheless, on the occasions when a fellow believer has prefaced their soon-to-be-expressed sentiments with something like, “I need to speak the truth in love to you,” I’ve braced myself. Rarely did the truth expressed to me feel enveloped in love. Mostly it felt like a convenient way to pass unilateral judgment about my theology or life choices.
If that’s the case, what constitutes speaking the truth in love? How do we in all good faith share feelings and opinions that may be both difficult to say and hard to hear? Particularly in a season fraught with heightened division and the tension that brings, what does it look like for Christians to speak the truth in love to one another and to those beyond our communities of faith?
Remembering the context in which this short phrase is found would be useful. The mandate comes in the middle of a long set of instructions about how followers of Jesus Christ should conduct themselves, interact with each other and live in the world. Ephesians 4 begins with the writer of the letter begging the readers to “live a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called.” Such a life is marked by humility, gentleness, bearing with one another in love and doing everything in our power to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. This is no flippant honesty, this is a demanding discipline of intentional community. Speaking the truth in love that makes for a life worthy of the calling to which we have been called comes within the confines of relationships characterized by a trust earned from time, patience and care.
Speaking truth in love emerges from an ever-maturing relationship with Christ that forms our relationships with one another. Not a flippant remark. Not a clever tweet. Not a scorching comment, nor just being honest. Conversations that build up the Body of Christ – and subsequently the world around it – are shaped by an ongoing, intentional grounding in the Word made flesh. A commitment to remaining connected first to Christ and then to one another allows us to better discern the truth and voice it in love. Patience, humility and maturity all require time. As much as we may want to fast-forward healing, reconciliation and shalom, we cannot. Such tender mercies come as a gift of the Spirit through long seasons of a committed life together. The question for us is this: Are we willing to endure the discomfort, the pain and the hurt inherent in being in community until the loving truth emerges?
An Outlook board member recently noted that we live in a like – not a love – culture. We “like” something readily because liking requires nothing from us. Love, agape love, demands our investment of time, attention and resources. Love makes us vulnerable. Expressing an opinion and “just being honest” allows us to distance ourselves from any fallout caused by our words. Speaking the truth in love exposes our true selves and invites others to receive them, bear with them, share their own in return. No wonder such exchanges are rare. They need time and tenderness infrequently found in our world of instant gratification and social media curated lives.
Our Christian call in this current climate of blithe honesty and voluminous opinions entails taking the time to invest in relationships — first with Jesus Christ and then with each other. Before we speak any word, we should abide in the Word, listen, pray and seek to practice humility and patience. Could we, in a culture that unfriends with ease, practice an unwavering commitment to demonstrate the unity won for us in Jesus Christ by refusing to replace the love that bears all things with the poor substitute of our honesty that often is unreflective of God’s truth? Maybe we should start by studying Ephesians 4 together, the entire chapter, not just selective phrases.
Grace and peace,