Ephesians 4: 14-15
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
2 Corinthians 7: 8-9 (NLT)
I am not sorry that I sent that severe letter to you, though I was sorry at first, for I know it was painful to you for a little while. Now I am glad I sent it, not because it hurt you, but because the pain caused you to repent and change your ways.
"The truth will set you free, but not until it is finished with you." (David Foster Wallace)
We saw yesterday that speaking truth in love, while never easy, is sometimes necessary if we are to grow as individuals and relationally with others. However, if speaking the truth is difficult, receiving the truth from someone else, however lovingly it is communicated, can be especially hard for us to accept. We are all fairly sensitive beings and none of us, no matter how thick skinned we may be, likes to be told where we are going wrong or to have any personal weakness or deficiency brought to our attention. Our immediate reaction will often be to feel wounded, even unfairly attacked, as all of our insecurities come to the surface. We may get defensive and feel offended. However, hopefully upon reflection, we will see that the other person really did have our interests at heart and that their motives were pure.
The Apostle Paul faced this exact situation with the church in Corinth. They were a community prone to extremes and morality issues, which Paul had to address in pretty strong terms. Their immediate reaction was deep hurt. However, over time, his loving and honest rebuke did lead to repentance and changed behaviour.
A few helpful principles for speaking the truth in love are:
(i) It is relational: You can't speak 'in love' if you don't genuinely love and care deeply for the well-being of the other person. Matthew 18: 15 tells us: "If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you.” You don't need to bring a committee for moral support. Simply sit down face to face, look them in the eyes and express your heart. Proverbs 27: 6 says: "Wounds from a sincere friend are better than many kisses from an enemy."
(ii) It is reciprocal: This is not one person telling everyone else where they are going wrong. Permission is given to those we trust. They are invited to speak truth into our lives and, in the healthiest relationships, this permission is two-way.
(iii) The motive is pure: Speaking any sort of correction to another is something that is done with a heavy-heart, always with the goal of healing and restoration. Again the Apostle Paul expressed this well to the Corinthians:
“For I wrote to you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.” (2 Cor 2: 4)
If you enjoy correcting others, or if you are speaking from anger, irritation or resentment, it would be better to say nothing. As Proverbs 29: 11 counsels: "Fools vent their anger, but the wise quietly hold it back."
If we speak from a place where we ourselves are vulnerable, humble, honest and transparent we will have a much better chance of being heard than if we communicate with a sense of condemnation or judgement.
However difficult, there will be times in all our relationships when the most loving thing we can do for another person is to tell them the truth in love. Jesus, our example, was full of grace and truth (John 1:14). He never lied and always loved. In fact he said: “I am....the truth.” (John 14:6) And so, as his followers, we are people who speak His truth but always wrapped up in tender grace and loving kindness.