What does it mean to speak the truth in love (Ephesians 4:15)?
Ephesians 4:15–16 says: "Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." It is from these verses that we get the concept of "speaking the truth in love." When people use the phrase "speaking the truth in love," often they use it to refer to times when difficult truths must be conveyed; the phrase is a reminder to communicate with kindness, even in touchy situations. While this may be a good perspective, the phrase means even more when we look at the verses leading up to it.
Throughout Ephesians 4, Paul is writing about unity in the church and exhorting the believers to "walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called" (Ephesians 4:1). He talks about the body of Christ functioning as a singular body made up of many parts and many roles, all given by God (Ephesians 1:4–7, 11–12). The body of Christ is designed to work together to help each other grow into spiritual maturity. When we are spiritually mature, we are no longer easily deceived by false doctrine or scheming people (Ephesians 4:13–14).
So, when we look at Ephesians 4:15–16, we see that speaking the truth in love is an important part of our spiritual maturing process. We are to speak truth—the truths of the gospel, the truths of God's character, and the truths of what He has called believers to. We should speak God's Word to each other, even the parts that bring correction or discomfort. All of this is to be motivated by love for one another and a mutual desire that we may progressively become more spiritually mature. When we are speaking the truth to someone, our goal should always be that it will ultimately build them. Just several sentences later, Paul says: "Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear" (Ephesians 4:29). The truth can be painful to hear, but it will bear good fruit in the life of one who hears it and responds.
Part of the spiritual maturing process involves getting rid of "your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another" (Ephesians 4:22–25). The Devil is a liar and deceiver, so our old selves are bound to be trapped in his lies. Jesus brings truth, so in Him, as we continue to love, seek, and speak the truth, we walk in greater levels of maturity and true freedom in Christ. Love and truth go hand-in-hand (1 Corinthians 13:6). If we truly love, we will want to share truth. If we know the truth, we know we are to love others.
Jesus came "from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:14), and we also should exemplify grace and truth to others. As people of God, we show others that we are His children and that He is at work in our lives by our love (John 13:34–35; 15:1–17). Because we know God and His truth, we love others. Because we love others, we speak the truth to them. This includes speaking the truth in love to those who do now know Jesus; we should share the truth of the gospel with them (1 Peter 3:15; Matthew 28:19). Without Jesus Christ, we are all dead in our sins and fated to eternity in hell (John 3:16–18; Romans 6:23); but through Christ, we become born again into a new life and will have eternity with Him (Romans 10:9–15; 2 Corinthians 5:17). We share the truth of the gospel because we love people and we know that Jesus died for theirs sins, not just ours. God's love compels us to share His truth and love with others (1 John 4:7–12).
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