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. – Ephesians 4:15-16 ESV
Some Christians thoroughly enjoy speaking the truth. They get a sort of perverse sense of joy out of correcting others and showing them they’re wrong. These kinds of people can use the Bible like a baseball bat to pound the truth into the lives of those with whom they disagree or deem errant in their views. And while the Scriptures are “profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16 ESV), they are not meant to be wielded like a weapon. Yes, Paul will later on in this same letter describe the Word of God as “the sword of the Spirit” (Ephesians 6:17 ESV), he intended it to be used against “the schemes of the devil”, not one another.
The truth is vital to the life of the church. In fact, Paul told his young protege, Timothy, “I hope to come to you soon, but I am writing these things to you so that, if I delay, you may know how one ought to behave in the household of God, which is the church of the living God, a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Timothy 3:14-15 ESV). The church of God is to be a defender and champion of the truth. In a world mired in relativity and immersed in the lies of the enemy, the church is to be the bastion of truth, based on the Word of God. It was Jesus who said, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32 ESV). The truth as it pertains to sin can be painful and difficult to hear. But God has revealed the antidote or remedy to mankind’s sin problem: Jesus. The Bible reveals the truth about man, sin, God, and the means of being justified with Him. As the church, we have the truth regarding God’s plan of salvation wrapped up in the gospel of Jesus Christ. And we have the Scriptures, which contain all the truth we need regarding everything from how we got here to where we are going. It is the sole source of truth regarding life and death, sin and salvation, God and man, meaning and hopelessness, right and wrong, and every other issue relevant to our existence as human beings.
But the truth must always be accompanied by love. Truth without love can be hurtful and harmful. One of my favorite passages in the Scriptures is found in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church. He told them, “Be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong. Let all that you do be done in love” (1 Corinthians 16:13-14 ESV). For years, I only focused on verse 13. I loved its blunt, direct way of commanding men to step up and act like men. It was an in-your-face sort of verse that had a testosterone-laden feel to it. Then one day I happened to notice verse 14: “Let all that you do be done in love.” Oops. I had conveniently overlooked that vital part of Paul’s command. If I attempt to stand firm in the faith without love, I will tend to come across as dogmatic and prideful. I will care more about how I am perceived by others than how much I care for others.
I love how The Message paraphrases 1 Corinthians 13, Paul’s great chapter on love:
If I speak with human eloquence and angelic ecstasy but don’t love, I’m nothing but the creaking of a rusty gate. If I speak God’s Word with power, revealing all his mysteries and making everything plain as day, and if I have faith that says to a mountain, “Jump,” and it jumps, but I don’t love, I’m nothing. If I give everything I own to the poor and even go to the stake to be burned as a martyr, but I don’t love, I’ve gotten nowhere. So, no matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. – 1 Corinthians 13:1-3 MSG
Even good and seemingly godly things, done without love, are worthless. Which is why Peter warned, “Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8 ESV). Telling someone who is lost that they are a sinner might be true, but it could also be harmful and hurtful. Revealing their sinful state without lovingly introducing them to the hope of the Savior would be nothing short of cruel. In the body of Christ, we are to speak truth to one another, but always in love. Our motivation should not just be for conviction and correction, but redemption and restoration. Which is why Paul told the Galatian believers, “Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path” (Galatians 6:1 NLT).
Paul’s goal for the churches to which he ministered was their growth – not just numerical growth, but spiritual. Certainly, he wanted to see more and more people come to faith in Christ, but he also wanted to see all those who did so grow in their knowledge of and relationship to Christ. And there is really no way for a believer to grow outside the context of the body of Christ. It is together that we make up the body of Christ, with Him as our head. And Paul emphasized that when each part of the body is working properly, according to the Spirit’s gifting, the body grows and builds itself up in love. Love isn’t a feeling. It’s an attitude. It is a relationally-based, God-given power to impact the life and spiritual well-being of another person. Neither truth or love are relative or subjective. God has not left either one up to us to define. We are to speak His truth, not ours. We are to love according to His terms, not our own. And when we blend His truth with His kind of love, the body of Christ grows. Like sun and rain, truth and love are vital to the spiritual well-being of the church.