Doing Church, Part 10 – Ephesians 4:15
In part 9 of this series, we considered how important speaking biblical truth is for growth in spiritual maturity. In today’s post, we consider how to speak biblical truth to one another.
Ephesians 4:15 begins:
but speaking the truth in love…
Being Clear about the Truth is an Act of Love
How Paul lays out speaking the truth in love is in contrast to how false teachers speak. In reference to these false teachers Paul writes in verse 14: by craftiness in deceitful scheming. As we saw in part 7, these false teachers are ready to do anything according to a “whatever works” standard. But Paul teaches a different framework for speaking. Not only is it speaking the truth, which counters the deceitfulness and scheming of the false teachers, but it also counters how they speak. They speak according to a whatever works mentality that’s grounded in deceit and trickery. Christians are to speak the truth according to a mentality of love.
So the point here is that the methods of the false teachers, designed to keep believers locked in a perpetual state of spiritual infancy, are completely at odds with these divinely instituted methods that Paul lays out for churches to practice in order to grow in spiritual maturity.
What we should understand about how to speak the truth is that being clear about the truth is an act of love. To be clear, this is not simply hammering people over the head with biblical truth. Instead this addresses our motivations.
How Did Paul Practice Speaking the Truth in Love?
One example of how this works in practice is found in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. What we know about Paul’s relationship with the Corinthians reveals difficulty and hardship. He experienced many trials with them, even going so far that someone openly insulted him during his “sorrowful visit” (2 Cor 2:1, 5)!
However, the way that he treated them in return was to speak the truth in love. He wrote a letter to them (2 Col 2:3) writing with tears about how they wronged him but that he still loved them (2 Col 2:4). And what follows over the next 5 chapters is how Paul explains that claim. The short of his explanation is that his new covenant ministry, grounded in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ, and fueled by the ongoing work of the Holy Spirit in peoples’ lives results in transformed people through straightforward clarity about the truth.
So, 2 Corinthians is an extended example of Paul’s application of Ephesians 4:15. We speak the truth in love because that is the nature of the ministry we’ve received.
Of course, how we do this requires wisdom beyond us, but not beyond God’s wisdom! But practicing speaking the truth in love always takes into account two people. First, there is the person we’re talking to. Speaking the truth in love means listening to that person attentively and patiently walking him or her through how the truth of God’s word connects the issue under discussion.
Second, there is God, whose truth we are speaking to one another. Speaking God’s truth in love needs to be considered an act of love for God. This means that we don’t edit God. We may not say everything that could be said from God’s word in a given conversation. But if we love God, we won’t misdirect people because we prefer a certain perspective of God over another, or because we don’t think that truth about God will be receive by this person.
Speaking the truth in love is one of the perquisites for a church that is growing in spiritual maturity. In the next post we’ll consider how Ephesians 4:11-16 works together to bring about the “body life” that Paul envisions for every church.