Have you heard the saying “speak the truth in love”? It appears quite often as a heading in blog posts that have titles such as ‘Seven top principles for using social media’. The phrase is normally used to mean something like “say true things in a charitable way”. The idea is this: sometimes you have to say hard and challenging things; when you do, make sure you’re using a gracious tone.
But do you know where the saying comes from? It’s from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. And when it appears in Ephesians 4:15, the saying doesn’t just mean “say true things in a charitable way”. That would just be one small application of its meaning. Speaking the truth in love has a much deeper significance than that. In fact, if you get what this saying really means, it affects everything about your life.
In the original language of Ephesians 4:15, the phrase “speaking the truth in love” is literally “truthing in love”. Of course, ‘truthing’ isn’t an actual English word. But let’s pretend it is for a moment; it’ll help us understand the phrase better. First we’ll look at truthing, and then we’ll look at “in love”.
What does truthing mean? It’s not just referring to true things in general. In Ephesians, Paul is talking about a specific truth. Early in the letter, he talks about the “word of truth, the gospel” (Eph 1:13). What is the gospel? It’s a message about salvation for all those who believe in Jesus. Ephesians 2:1-10 spells this out further. The gospel is about being rescued from the futile life of this world, from our sins, from God’s wrath, from the control of the powers-that-be. We’ve been forgiven through Jesus Christ’s death for us. We’ve also been given a new life, which is secure, because we’re with the risen and victorious Jesus Christ. And we’ve been given a whole new life to live, to honour God, to walk and talk in new ways. Truth in Ephesians means this gospel message and its implications for our lives (see also Eph 4:21, 24, 5:9, 6:14).
So truthing involves speaking this truth: speaking the gospel, speaking about the implications of the gospel, speaking in a gospel-shaped way. This of course will involve saying true things. It will also involve saying challenging things. But it means so much more. It means speech that flows from the gospel.
What does “in love” mean? Again, it’s not just referring to acting in a charitable way. In Ephesians, there is a particular, and amazing, kind of love in view: God’s love. God’s love undergirds his eternal plans for us (Eph 1:4-5). God’s love stands behind his mercy in rescuing us and raising us with Christ (Eph 2:4-6). Christ himself loved us when he sacrificed himself for us, dying for our sins (Eph 5:2). This love of Christ should change everything about our lives. When we grasp how wide and long and high and deep this love is, it provides an anchor and grounding for our lives (Eph 3:17-19). Love should characterize our lives as God’s children (Eph 5:1). Knowing the love of Christ causes us to live lives of love for others, because we’re secure in his love. And as Ephesians 4 tells us, God’s love brings us into a whole new sphere of loving relationships—the body of Christ, the church—where we live out that sacrificial and costly love with others (Eph 4:15-16).
So what is truthing in love, according to Eph 4:15? It’s about the gospel of Jesus Christ, and it’s about relationships. It means speaking the gospel, speaking the implications of the gospel, and speaking in a gospel-shaped way within the whole network of loving relationships characterized by God’s love for us in Jesus. It’s the opposite to being carried away by false teachings which point us away from Jesus (Eph 4:13-14). Instead of false teaching, we’re to build one another up with the truth of the gospel (Eph 4:15-16).
So does truthing in love have anything to do with using social media? Of course it does! Social media involves using words in the context of relationships with others (even though social media can do weird things to the way we relate). That means we can and should apply the principle of truthing in love to our online interactions with people. When you’re online, try asking yourself two questions:
Firstly, are you truthing? That is, is what you’re saying informed by the gospel of Jesus Christ, shaped by the gospel of Jesus Christ, undergirded by the security you have been given in Jesus Christ? Does what you say promote unhelpful, false teachings that might lead people away from Jesus Christ, or is it helping to commend the gospel truth about Jesus Christ?
Secondly, is your interaction “in love”? That is, are you acting in a way that affirms your relationships with others, or are you acting as if you are an isolated individual with your own personal agenda? Are you being sacrificial, like Jesus: not saying things with the primary aim to build yourself up, but with the primary aim of building others up (Eph 4:29)?
Of course, all that includes the idea of “saying true things in a charitable way”. Keep doing that. But realise that speaking the truth in love is, in fact, so much bigger.