Truth in Love
Today we have a special guest blogger, my friend Kevin Burgess. I saw this post online and it resonated with my heart, so I asked Kevin if I could post it here as well. This is the second time I have posted his musings here.
A tree grows stronger in the wind, but grows weak and brittle where it is sheltered from the storm.
Before I get into the nitty-gritty of this, I just want to say that this is directed inward, as much as it is outward. It’s a bit long, so I apologize, but I think it’s important for us to think through, because it is something that we can do great harm with, if we don’t have a good grasp of it. I share this, not to gain agreement, nor to intentionally stir up disagreement. If something resounds with you, praise God! If something really disagrees with you, praise God! If you encounter things that sound different than what you’ve learned, I pray it leads you to seek deeper understanding from God.
Speaking the Truth in Love
When issues arise in society that Christians feel are an affront to God’s holiness, or standards, we often hear the phrase, “we need to speak the truth in love.” Having grown up in the church, I learned this, too, and have said this many times, myself. It does seem logical. We know what sin is, and sin is bad, so it seems to make sense to warn others that sin is bad too, right? As long as it’s done in love, of course. Is it true, though? Does God instruct, or even encourage us to take a vocal stance against sin by “speaking the truth in love?” Do we read this in the Bible, or is this a concept we’ve developed, combining our knowledge of sin and powers of logic? The truth is, the Bible never does instruct us to “speak the truth in love.” Not in such terms, anyway.
The phrase “speaking the truth in love” is found once in the Bible, but as with anything we read in the Bible, taking it at face value can lead us down a path that the author never intended. It’s always important to consider a few things about the text, before we add it to our repertoire. Things like who is this being written to? Why was it written, and what is the big picture? Additionally, it’s helpful to ask; is this instructive for us, today? If so, what is our application? The phrase in question is found in Ephesians 4:15…
Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. ~Paul, Ephesians 4:15
There you have it. “speaking the truth in love.” Is Paul saying the same thing we are, when we say it, though? I’m not so sure.
Who was Paul writing to?
I think it’s helpful to know who a text is written to, because not everything in the Bible is directly applicable for all people, for all time. In some cases, it is clear that the words being spoken, or written are for a specific people/person, for a specific purpose. Not understanding this can lead to devastating results. History bares the scars for it. In this case, Paul opens his letter by saying, “
From Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, to the saints [in Ephesus], the faithful in Christ Jesus. ~Ephesians 1:1
Clearly, Paul was writing to Christians in Ephesus. I do believe, however, that Paul’s words could have been written to the Church anywhere in the world and are applicable for us, today, just as they were for the early church in Ephesus.
Why did Paul write this?
I think the answer is really found within the verse under consideration. Immediately after saying “we will speak the truth in love” Paul says, “growing in every way more and more like Christ”. Not only was Paul writing TO the Church, he was writing for those IN the Church,for the benefit OF the Church. He wanted to see the Church grow “in every way more and more like Christ.”
What was Paul trying to accomplish?
Perhaps the most important, but least obvious aspect of Paul’s letter is what he was trying to accomplish in writing it. Oftentimes, we have to examine a text, not so much for the words that are said, but for what the author is hoping to accomplish in writing them. While Paul’s letter does have a lot of practical advice, his goal isn’t simply to give Ephesian believers a page to add to their rule book for living the Christian life. Paul, by the leading of Christ, was building something; building relationships, building community, building the Church. Paul had established a relationship with these people and was encouraging them to continue working and fertilizing the soil in which they had been planted. His words were discipling, rather than evangelistic. They were aimed inward at the heart of the Church,rather than outward at the heart of the world. We often get this backwards.
What did Paul mean by “truth?”
To Paul, “truth” revolved entirely around our lives with God, His position toward us, and His love for us. Throughout his letter, he’s speaking about all things pertaining to our relationship with God and how our lives are lived out, as a result. His focus is on the things that encourage and build up the Body. He reminds us of God’s love and encourages us to keep our hearts and minds focused on Him, as we live in this world that has yet to receive a revelation of His love. He gives a loving caution not to get caught up in the petty ways and issues of man, but to stay true to what we have been convinced of; believing that God is truly in control and will be faithful to work out His plan in the world. He encourages us to learn to walk humbly and with humility, wholly in God’s way, by God’s leading. Again, Paul’s message is to the body, for the body, for the benefit of the body.
Speaking isn’t necessarily “speaking”
For as good a job as the translators did with the Bible, there are some times when the limitations of language make it difficult to convey the author’s original intent. This is perhaps one of those times. The Greek word for “and speaking truth” is alētheuō. My friend, Christopher Kirk (www.notesfromthebridge.wordpress.com), helped blow my understanding wide open on this. Chris has been educated in the Koine Greek and was able to help me dig beneath the surface of this word. Regarding the word alētheuō, he says…
In the Greek the word ‘speaking’ is not at all involved in the text. Really the only way to translate it is………‘truthing in love’ and that requires our whole being to accomplish. Everything we say or do is to be done in truthful love. It is not a reaction to the behavior of others, it is a proactive force in our lives to benefit the Body of Christ in all we do.
The Young’s Literal Translation seems to affirm Chris’s statement by saying, “and being true in love…”. The New English Translation takes a similar approach saying, “but practicing the truth in love.” These both suggest that Paul was talking about truth that is “spoken” in our entire being, rather than in verbal expressions.
What does this mean for us?
That is a question that really has to be answered between each of us and God. Here are some things I do know. It’s difficult for us that, as much as we’d like, truth can’t be boiled down to a list of bullet points to be ckecked off. Focusing on specific social, or sin issues is to misunderstand truth (alētheuō), altogether. Truth is about being; it is an outworking oflove, in love, rather than a series of dos and don’ts to hold ourselves, or others to. As we look outward to an unbelieving world, our position needs to be that of God’s. What is that position? As Wayne Jacobsen puts it so well, “God’s position toward us and toward the world is one of invitation, not intimidation.” Sadly, the Church so often takes a position of intimidation before the world, “speaking truth,” not as an invitation, and not truly in love, but in intimidation and with threats of punishment for non-compliance. This is not the message God sent in Christ. His message was one of reconciliation and invitation. As for us, whether within the body, or outside the body, we have only been asked to love. Loving requires self sacrifice, though, and self sacrifice is something we have not done well, as a whole.
This one is for me, big time! Paul’s entire letter was written in the context of relationship. Our relationship to God and each other.Truth is displayed in the context of relationship, not in isolated social media posts fired off into the nameless, faceless interweb, where one has little control over who it hits and what damage it may do.
Ultimately, for truth to be displayed in us, it has to be freed in us. I am convinced that we really have no idea just how much control we hold back from God. So often, we think we are doing the work of God, when we are truly doing the work of our own flesh. Displaying truth isn’t something we can create, or conjur up, though. No amount of effort on our part will bring it to fruition. Just the opposite is needed. It is only in our trust and resting in the good work of God within us, that truth and love can take root. As this takes place, we are freed, yes freed, to love as Jesus loves. As this occurs, the matters of this world that we get so easily tangled up in will fade into the background. There will be a sense of sorrow when we see people hurting as a result of sin, I’m sure, but the utter repulsion we feel and the desire to shout “truth” from the roof tops will be no more. Instead, we will actually feel drawn to the sin (not to sin), drawn toward the person; not in a spirit of admonishing and correcting them, but with a self sacrificial love that can’t bare seeing a fellow human being suffer, even if it’s by their own doing. This is the kind of love Jesus came to reveal to us. This is the love God has for all, believer and unbeliever, alike.
As His love takes root in us, our lives will “speak” the truth in love, because our lives will be a perfect reflection of truth and love as we grow in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
Peace, my friends.