Posts Tagged ‘Ephesians 4’

Speaking the Truth in Love

I’m thankful I am a part of a church community that takes sin, holiness and accountability seriously.  We try, as much as possible, to foster a community that facilitates confession of sin, as well as gently confronting someone when a persistent sinful pattern or attitude has been observed.  I know I’ve been helped greatly by others hearing my confessions, as well as calling me out when I’m getting off track.  It’s part of what the body of Christ is supposed to do.

One of the biblical phrases most often quoted in our church regarding this topic is “speaking the truth in love,” from Ephesians 4:15.  The point often made is that it’s important to speak truthfully to others, but we must do so lovingly.  We don’t dangle someone’s sin over them, we don’t rejoice that we’ve caught them in the act.  We try to love as Christ does, not overlooking sin but not condemning someone with it either.  “Speaking the truth in love” is a good phrase to sum up what we teach in these situations.

But once in a while, I run across these phrases or verses in their context, and I realize that we might not be using it properly.  This happens all the time, all of us have done it at one point or another (how many times have you heard “where two or more are gathered, Jesus is there” at the beginning of prayer or worship?).  More often than not, it’s no big deal and we’re not in danger of slipping into some heresy. 

Let’s look at the phrase in its immediate context:

14 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. 15 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. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

In its original context, this phrase really isn’t speaking about accountability and personal sin.  Notice the contrast between v14 and v15.  “Speaking the truth in love” is the opposite of “cunning,” “craftiness,” and “deceitful scheming.”  The point is that there are always deceitful people infiltrating the body of Christ, spreading their false teaching in a cunning manner.  But rather than speaking lies in a deceitful way, Christians are to speak truth in love.  Lovingly proclaiming truth combats the lies that are spread throughout the body of Christ.  Those who are caught up in deceit are like little infants.  But when truth is spoken in love, the body of Christ grows strong and mature.

So this phrase is not really about personal accountability.  It’s about how we combat lies in the church.  I suppose it could overlap with the area of sin and repentance, but that’s not the heart of the matter.  Truth vs lie- that’s what we’re dealing with here.

This would be an example of what is sometimes called the “right doctrine from the wrong text.”  It is, of course, important that when we confront someone caught in sin, we do so lovingly- with an extra stress on lovingly.  I guess Ephesians 4:15 just shouldn’t be our go-to verse to make that point.  We can, however, refer to Galatians 6:1, “if someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently.”  Either way, I hope we apply both of these points faithfully in our lives and churches.

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