And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the
evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of
ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity
of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the
measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be
children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of
doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to
grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole
body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when
each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up
in love. Eph 4:11-16.
2) How do we speak the truth in love?
Paul here is dealing with the way in which we are to speak to one another as believers in the church, and correct errors that may appear among us. This is the DNA of fellowship in the church of Christ. It is on this foundation that people are nurtured from spiritual childhood, to spiritual maturity leading to the unity in the church.
The opposite of speaking the truth in love applies mainly to false teachers, to those whom Paul describes as, ‘having a form of godliness but denying its power’ Jude describes as, ‘having crept in unawares’, yet among ourselves, in the church of Christ, we are to speak the truth in love.
It means that we must never be hard or too rigid and legalistic or self-righteous. We must never behave in such a manner to give the impression that our primary concern is to prove that we are right and everyone is wrong. We must never do so merely to win an argument or a dispute. Many of us have to plead guilty on this.
Party spirit and divisiveness is always wrong. Labels like, 'we are reformed' or 'we are Pentecostals' or 'we are Anglicans' or 'we are Catholics' as opposed to everyone else has a potential for danger. Instead, why not employ biblical terms? The basis of a meaningful fellowship is not tag or a label, it is the truth of God. Unless any group is interested in the truth, there is no way, tangible spiritual unity can be forged.
Do not approach any passage in a merely intellectual manner. Do not be governed by prejudice in your speaking – beginning by denouncing others. Speaking in love is speaking clearly in a manner that will lift up the truth higher than your own voice (the manner), and in a manner that portrays love, not prejudice.
It is speaking in humility and to be careful that we do not wrest the Scriptures or in any way misinterpret or misapply them. Rather we are to rightly handle the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15). Seek to persuade from the position that they may be ignorant. Do not imagine that they are obstinate in their error. Sympathize with the person in error and win him over to the truth… the Lord had compassion on the crowd and saw them like sheep without a shepherd. Remember that though you speak with the tongues of angels but lack love, you become a sounding gong or cymbal.
However, we must never compromise truth – hold the truth always in love. But love itself is caring. Look at how Paul spoke to the Galatians in his letter. Consider how he writes in chapter 4 and particularly in v. 19.
Basically it is by dealing with each individual on the basis of the truths of Scripture, motivated by love. This is the what the Apostle Paul is talking about in 1 Thessalonians:
And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all. See that no one repays anyone evil for evil, but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. 1 Thess. 5:14-15.
Each person’s need is addressed paying attention to their state and composition. There are those who need admonition, there are those who need encouragement, there are those who need help, but we need to be patient with them all. Why are we to do this, because, the idle have to be forced into immediate action, the fainthearted have already been working hard but say, out of meager result, they are discouraged, they need encouragement; the weak are needy already and their means are insufficient and so have to be helped.
We are to avoid blanket categories. Once you hear that this from this background, without even giving the person a fair hearing, you imagine that they are like the way you know the group - this is a common fallacy that we must avoid, if we will be effective agents of speaking the truth in love. In stead, deal with each person individually, bearing in mind that this is the way the Spirit of God works in grace. He administers grace each person at a time!
In dealing with them all differently, you are showing the measure of Christ’s love in you. Consider how Christ dealt with different people:
3) What is the example?
From the Lord:
Nicodemus – John 3
v See His forthrightness in truth (v. 3)
The Lord did not mince words in diagnosing and stating Nicodemus' problem of being unregenerate - "... You must be born again." Speaking the truth in love, is first and foremost, speaking the truth. The content or the matter and the reason for opening up the mouth is in order to communicate the truth. This must never be lost even when we are trying to work on the mode and the manner of transmission of this truth. The method must not take away from it. The Lord is also so clear that the truth cannot be mistaken.
v See Christ’s patience with Nicodemus (vv. 5-8).
The truth is repeated, illustrated and emphasized. Do not be quick to give up on a person. Rather speak the truth and insist on it by reiterating the truth. The Lord also added more flesh or content to the initial statement of v.2. He did admonish him for his ignorance at this point.
v See Christ’s love (vv. 11--21)
In the preceding verses, there is a very long explanation that is distinctively marked by the love of God for the world that made send His only Son, as well as the love of the Son in coming so that the world may be saved through Him. In stating the love of God, He also clearly describes the wrath and judgment of God. It is love that also unmasks the dangers and the consequences of disobedience. Many people regard this as threatening - not it is not, it is simply stating the obvious repercussion to motivate obedience and hence the good being promised. It would be unloving to not tell the whole truth.