Thursday, October 13, 2005

Truth in Love

“Speaking the truth in love,
may grow up in all things into Him who is the head—Christ.”

(Ephesians 4:15)

Rabbi Joseph Telushkin comments: Over the past decade, whenever I have lectured throughout the country on the powerful, and often negative, impact of words, I have asked audiences if they can go for twenty-four hours without saying any unkind words about, or to, anybody. Invariably, a minority of listeners raise their hands signifying yes, some laugh, and quite a large number call out, no! I respond by saying, "Those who can't answer yes must recognize that you have a serious problem. If you cannot go for twenty-four hours without smoking, you are addicted to nicotine. If you cannot go twenty-four hours without a drink, you're most likely an alcoholic. Similarly, if you cannot go for twenty-four hours without saying unkind words about others, then you have lost control over your tongue."[i]

“He who guards his lips guards his life,
but he who speaks rashly will come to ruin.”
(Proverbs 13:3 NIV)
Ephesians 4:15 is loaded with power. The first part of it uses the word “speaking.” Speaking and words have tremendous power. We are told on countless occasions throughout Scripture that our words have the power of life and of death, of blessing and of cursing. The can infuse one with strength or defeat. We have all experienced each of these in one form or another. Unfortunately, many of us, have experienced the destructive aspects of word far more than we have the life-infusing power of them.

Our culture and experiences have trained us well to find faults and be self-proclaimed expert critics. “As much as 77% of everything we think is negative and counterproductive and works against us,” reported Shad Helmstetter. “People who grow up in an average household hear “No” or are told what they can’t do more than 148,000 times by the time they reach age 18.” The end result is unintentional negative programming. Words have tremendous power.

The second component Paul uses is the idea of “truth.” Truth is another powerful element. Truth appropriately used, is one of the most constructive elements in the universe. Truth misused, like words, is one of the most destructive. Paul understands this very well. Thus, as a master wordsmith, he begins to pull the two elements together in the context of how healthy communities of people relate to one-another.

There are many people who can speak out. And there are many who know how to throw around stuff that’s true. But, few are those who can do both together in unison and in love. Paul says, to speak the truth in love. To do less is more than unbeneficial – it’s destructive, even deadly.

Calvin Miller recalls a woman in his former church who became angry because he wouldn’t let her son sing more solos in church. She jotted down in a notebook every instance in her contact with Miller in which he did things “that were not in the spirit of Christ.” Several months later she showed him all he had done that was offensive to her. Miller says, “What amazed me was that her list was mostly true. She didn’t say anything that was untrue, but what she said was unkind.”

Speaking the truth without love can serve the cause of evil, whether preaching or teaching God’s Word, rebuking a believer, or disciplining our children. Truth can be devastating. When clothed in love, however, it eliminates error, builds trust, and promotes the good of others. Calvin Miller states,

Malicious truth gloats like a conqueror.

Loving truth mourns that it must confront and show a brother his error.

Malicious truth struts at its power.

Loving truth weeps to find that the correction it inspires may for a while cause great pain.

Malicious truth cries ‘Checkmate, you are beaten!’

Loving truth whispers, ‘I correct you with the same pain you feel. But when the pain is over, we shall rejoice that honesty and love have been served.’”[ii]

Furthermore, it should also be noted that not speaking the truth in love is also unbeneficial and destructive. For many of us, the way we deal with anger and frustration with others is simply to not say anything to them. Days go by, weeks go by, months, even years, all the while, we remain silent – we never speak the truth to them and the life we’re living, no matter how courteous we may be towards them, is anything but love. Our silence in regards to speaking truth, is in effect, discharging false peace, disunity and often times even subversive hate. Can you spell E-L-E-P-H-A-N-T.

“To allow or contribute to disunity in this fellowship
is to be fundamentally at odds with the purpose of God in human history.
It may be common in our world,
but it is not normal in God’s eyes.”
(John Ortberg)

The Apostle Paul says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit” (Ephesians 4:3). Paul doesn’t instruct us to create unity. This is not a mere human project, but a mandate from Heaven. Unity and community is a divine reality that has existed even long before the dawn of creation. God, Himself, is a community of One – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Paul is only reinforcing that mandate with a great sense of urgency. Markus Barth writes that the sense of this command is, “Yours is the initiative! Do it now! Pay any price! Spare no pain! You are to do it! I mean it!”[iii]

We are commanded to speak to those who are apart of our community. We are to let that which we speak be truth. And we are always be sure that it is saturated in love. In Christian communities there is often a tolerated divorce between speaking the truth and love. Speaking the truth to one another and it being done so in love were never meant to be separated, but in eternal-divine matrimonial union – the two were to ever be one. To be effective elephant hunters, we must kill the elephant that spews or swallows, explodes or implodes, say all or says nothing. There is a time for speaking and a time for silence, but whichever the time it is – it is always the time for it to be done so in love.

“You must live with people to know their problems,
and live with God in order to solve them.”
Peter T. Forsyth

Honest Conversations

q Do you tend to speak out or remain silent in times of relational conflict, frustration, etc.

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

q How would you rate yourself on speaking the truth in love?

0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10
Low on the love…………....half full….………………over flowing

q Growing up, was your family more expressive, with everything openly on the table – with anything a possible subject for discussion? Or, was your family more closed, reserved, with some subjects that just, for whatever reason never made it to the conversation? (How so…?)

q What are the practical implications of Ephesians 4:15?

q And, are there any current situations where this verse needs to be applied?

“Truth carries with it confrontation.
Truth demands confrontations: loving confrontation,
but confrontation nevertheless.
If our reflex action is always accommodation
regardless of the centrality of the truth involved,
there is something wrong.”

Francis Scheffer
The Great Evangelical Disaster

[i] Rabbi Josepb Telushkin. Shared in a presentation was delivered during the September 1995 Center for Constructive Alternatives seminar, "Fiction and Faith. "
[ii] Calvin Miller, Moody Monthly, “To Be Perfectly Honest”, March, 1987.
[iii] Markus Barth, Ephesians 4-6, Anchor Bible, vol 34A (New York: Doubleday, 1974), 67.

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