Speaking The Truth In Love

Ephesians 4:15 NRSV (all)
…speaking the truth in love…

I always thought of this as synonymous with “tough love”. Which would be something like pointing out someone’s fault(s)–something they might not want to hear, but doing it with an attitude of love. This is the only way I’ve heard anyone use this phrase.

Is that what Paul means here?

First, the immediate context:

Ephesians 4:14-15
We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. 15 But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,

Paul is speaking about doctrine or teaching here.

Edit: Quotes from O’Brien’s commentary:

A sharp contrast…is drawn between the final words of v. 14 and this opening clause of v. 15. Over against the ‘crafty scheming’ stands the expression in love (a key phrase in the letter), while speaking the truth is set in opposition to the words ‘of error’. Thus, speaking the truth in love lays out a twofold contrast with the false teachers: the latter were presenting false doctrine in a deceptive manner, but over against this God’s people are to grow through proclaiming the truth in love.

…the apostle is not exhorting his readers to truthfulness in general or speaking honestly with one another, however appropriate or important this may be. Rather, he wants all of them to be members of a ‘confessing’ church, with the content of their testimony to be ‘the word of truth’, the gospel of their salvation.

What is the truth?

Colossians 1:5
You have heard of this hope before in the word of the truth, the gospel

Galatians 2:5
we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you.

Galatians 2:14
But when I saw that they were not acting consistently with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?”

Ephesians 1:13
In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit;

A passage that is similar to Ephesians 4:14-15:

Philippians 1:15-17
Some proclaim Christ from envy and rivalry, but others from goodwill. 16 These proclaim Christ out of love, knowing that I have been put here for the defense of the gospel; 17 the others proclaim Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely but intending to increase my suffering in my imprisonment.

By proclaiming the truth and speaking sound doctrine (Titus 1:9, Titus 2:10) to each other “we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,”.

Normally I would stop there and smugly think that now I know that speaking the truth in love isn’t about rebuking someone (edit: related to their own personal faults and unrelated to doctrine or the gospel). But the in love part is important and shouldn’t be overlooked.

When talking about doctrine to a fellow brother or sister, or proclaiming the gospel, it should be out of love. I don’t think I would ever do these things deceitfully, but selfish ambition of some sort is definitely a possibility. I could try to get somebody to come over to “my side”, convince them to have the same doctrine as me, show them how much knowledge I think I have about something etc. My attitude should be to have their best interests in mind (Philippians 2:4, Ephesians 4:29) out of love for them and most of all to glorify God.

Romans 15:5-6
May the God of steadfastness and encouragement grant you to live in harmony with one another, in accordance with Christ Jesus, 6 so that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

8 Responses to “Speaking The Truth In Love”

  1. 1 Nathan Stitt

    Your post reminds me of the Nooma video I recently watched call Bullhorn (I think). It is narrated by Rob Bell and is part of his whole short video series and is worth watching if you can find a copy. Basically it addresses the whole street corner witnessing where you are yelling at people to ‘repent for the kingdom is at hand.’ By addresses I mean that it demonstrates the futility and dare I say idiocy of the practice, and how the good news should be shared in a spirit of love.

  2. 2 Scripture Zealot

    I’m not into Rob Bell but I see what you’re saying.

    If I wasn’t a Christian and someone said “repent for the kingdom is at hand” I would have no idea what they’re talking about. In fact as a Christian I don’t know what “at hand” means.

  3. 3 TC

    “Speaking the truth in love” is a type of tough love. Paul was consumed by the truth of the Gospel. Consider his bold confrontation with Peter in Gal 2.

  4. 4 Scripture Zealot

    TC, you’re right in regards to Galatians 2:14 as an example. The way I’ve seen it used is to point out people’s personal faults unrelated to the gospel or doctrine. I probably should have been more clear in my post.

  5. 5 Scripture Zealot

    I made some edits to the post.

  6. 6 TCR

    Jeff, I like that O’Brien quote. Yes, we need to take that verse in context, but I guess we can make a general application.

  7. 7 KMS

    Christ is the Truth and He is Grace. I would agree with you that this is not about judgement or about pointing our fingers, but about showing Grace just as Jesus does. He showed sinners grace and they changed just as Zacchaeus did. And I appreciate how you said “Normally I would stop there and smugly think that now I know that speaking the truth in love isn’t about rebuking someone”. That would be leaving the Love out.
    Definitely worth the repeat!

  8. 8 Scripture Zealot
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