Speaking the Truth in Love
February 24, 2019
Sometimes it is hard to do two things at the same time. Sometimes it is hard to have the best of both worlds.
Spouses and parents might struggle to find a good balance between work life and family life. College students learn that studying with a bunch of your friends and having a productive and efficient time usually don’t go well together. And it is rare to come across a meal that is both super tasty and super healthy, or a piece of clothing that is both great in quality and great in price, or a fantasy bastketball player that has both an elite field goal percentage and an elite free throw percentage.
Sometimes it is hard for people to hold things together. And oftentimes it is hard for believers in Christ to speak the truth in love.
We are commanded by our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ to speak the truth in love. This is the will of the king. This is part of his big picture blueprint plan. Jesus ministers his word to us. And he ministers his word to us through his gifts of pastors and elders and shepherds and teachers. And his word is talked about and applied in the regular lives of all the members of the church. Not all of us in the church may be ministers of God’s word. But all of us in the church must be doers of God’s word. All of us who believe in Christ and love him are called by him to speak the truth in love.
This is huge. When we speak the truth in love, we grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ. This is healthy. When we speak the truth in love, we are less and less tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. This is meaningful. When we speak the truth in love, we strive for the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God. This is important. When we speak the truth in love, Jesus is honored and glorified. When we do not speak the truth in love, the body shrinks in sickness, the truth of the gospel and the law is exchanged for lies, churches can fight and split and brothers and sisters can be hurt and damaged, and Jesus is not honored and glorified. The stakes are very, very high. This command is huge.
Let us be mindful then of speaking the truth in love. Sometimes it is hard to have these two things at the same time. When we do our relationships, when we speak to one another, when we do church together, it is not easy to balance the two: truth and love. But we must have both. And we can have both. For our Good Shepherd commands us to do so, and we are able to do so because of the Holy Spirit who dwells in us.
This is what speaking the truth in love looks like.
When we need to talk about our sinfulness and the punishment of death and how we deserve God’s judgment and hell, let us not be afraid to do so in a serious manner and with heavy hearts. But at the same time, let us not forget to talk about the righteousness of Christ and the gift of life and how we receive God’s grace and a home in the new heavens and new earth. Let us be eager to do so in a joyful manner and with loving hearts. Mary Poppins was onto something when she sang how a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. But better is God’s word (which is practially perfect in every way). Proverbs 16:24 reads like this: “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.” Do you need to bring the truth? That’s fine. Just don’t forget to bring the love.
If you need to talk to someone about a wrong that he or she has done, be gentle with that person. Try to understand him. Show that you care for her. Don’t be harsh with that person. Don’t lecture him. Don’t be impatient with her. In other words, have love. But at the same time, remember to be honest with that person. Try to get him to understand what was wrong about what they did. Show her what is written in the Bible. Don’t just accept them for who they are. Don’t just be nice. Don’t just be on their side. In other words, speak the truth. Yes, a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down. But if you’re all sugar and no medicine, then you are actually no help at all. Proverbs 27:5-6 reads like this: “Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Faithful are the wounds of a friend….” Do you need to bring the love? That’s fine. Just don’t forget to bring the truth.
So we need both truth and love. And we need a balance of both truth and love. We need to hear this because most of us have a tendency to lean one way or another. If we are more interested in people loving us, then we might downplay the truth. If we are more interested in being right, then we might downplay the love. And so we end up being too extreme. In the words of a favorite pastor of mine (Kevin DeYoung), “Some Christians are limp noodles. Others are trigger happy.” There are those of us who like to bring stuff up with people… and do it often. Trigger happy people. And there are those of us who are scared to bring stuff up with people… and never do it. Limp noodle people. There are those of us who have a fear of confrontation and just don’t want to hurt people’s feelings. Limp noodle people. There are those of us who want to give tough love and just let people have it. Trigger happy people. And then there are those of us who are both. Which is funny and ironic. We are good at holding limp noodleness and trigger happiness together, but we are not good at holding truth and love together. Instead of being extreme, we need to be balanced.
Truth without love is barbaric. Love without truth is cruel. Truth without love is just dogmatism. Love without truth is just sentimentality. If you have good content but bad intent, then you are in danger of becoming noisy (1 Corinthians 13:1). If you have good intent but bad content, then you are in danger of becoming useless (1 Corinthians 13:6).
This is hard. And this is why we need wisdom if we want to obey the command of our king. Speaking the truth in love is really a principle, a concept, that can play out differently with different people and in different situations. And so while in one sense we always want to be balanced and always have both truth and love, in another sense it is sometimes actually good and necessary to lean one way or another. It’s not easy to get it right all the time. But we need to try our best to get it right all the time. So if you want to do this well, then you’re going to need wisdom.
There is so much that can be said here. And there are so many applications that can be mentioned here. But I will just mention a few things worth remembering.
First, it is true that sin is sin. All sin is without a doubt offense against God. But different sins might call for different approaches. For example, if your friend is being impatient one day at a Starbucks because the service is too slow, he or she probably does not need to be approached by the session and considered for excommunication. But if your friend is destroying his or her marriage, then the situation probably calls for a good rebuke: a strong word of truth with a heavy dose of love. Different sins might call for different approaches. Think about this the next time you need to speak the truth in love. We need to be wise.
Second, it’s not a good idea to speak the truth in love when you are angry or emotional. God’s word in James 1:19-20 says this: “… let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger; for the anger of man does not produce the righteousness of God.” Your anger or your emotion might be warranted. But if you bring anger or emotion into the equation, there is a risk of making the situation worse. Check yourself before you wreck yourself. And check yourself before you wreck others. We need to be wise.
Third, timing is important. If you are with a friend who just lost a loved one, you may be tempted to speak the truth in love. But when someone you care deeply about is crying at the funeral, don’t worry about giving him truth. And, I dare say, don’t even worry about giving her love. Instead, when someone you care deeply about is crying at the funeral, cry. Just cry beside them. And let the Lord Jesus Christ be the first one to give truth and love. Be wise.
It might be hard for us to speak the truth in love. And we need a lot of wisdom in order to do so. But praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ. He speaks his truth. And he speaks his truth in his love.
The woman at the well asked Jesus about his living water (John 4:1-30). She said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I will not be thirsty or have to come here to draw water.” And the Lord Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come here.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Our God speaks the truth in love.
The rich young ruler asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life (Mark 10:17-22). The Lord gave him a list of commandments: Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother. The rich young ruler said, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Our God speaks the truth in love.
Dear Highland, let us speak the truth in love. God has spoken to you about your sin. God has spoken to you about his salvation. God has spoken to you his truth. And God has spoken his truth to you in his great love.
Summary of Sermon
Our Lord Jesus Christ commands us to speak the truth in love. Not all of us are called to be ministers of God’s word. But all of us are called to be doers of God’s word. And when we speak the truth for the sake of the growth and unity of the body of Christ, we are to speak the truth in love.
Speaking the truth in love is important, meaningful, healthy, and honoring to Christ. This command is huge.
We must have both truth and love. If you need to bring the truth, don’t forget to bring the love. If you need to bring the love, don’t forget to bring the truth.
We must balance truth and love. Most of us tend to lean one way or the other.
We need wisdom to speak the truth in love and keep the two together and balanced. But sometimes it is good and necessary to lean one way or the other.
Remember that different sins might call for different approaches to speaking the truth in love. Remember that it is generally not a good idea to attempt to speak the truth in love when one is angry or emotional. Remember that timing can be very important when speaking the truth in love.
Praise be to our Lord Jesus Christ! He speaks his truth. And he speaks his truth in his love.
Consider his truth and love before the woman at the well (John 4:1-30). Consider his truth and love before the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-22).
And consider how the Lord has spoken his truth to us in his love.
Questions for Discussion & Sharing
The Lord has spoken his truth to us. And he has spoken his truth to us in his love. In what ways in your life has the Lord spoken his truth in his love to you?
It is not easy to speak the truth in love. In what ways do you see yourself personally obedient to the Lord’s command? In what ways might you need to grow in obedience to him?