To The Person Who Struggles With Speaking The Truth in Love
Posted on 30 Oct 2020 by May Ling Wong
The Reformation is not “just history”
The reformation used to be just history to me, if you know what I mean! I knew a little about it as general knowledge, but it didn’t mean much to me. This changed about 7 years ago when I really learnt what it was about. So if we go to the core of what Luther, Jan Hus and our other “sifus” of the Reformation fought for, it’s really about the truth of the gospel, as God graciously revealed through His Word.
It’s a very clear truth, which essentially is about a very glorious God who deserves all honour and praise, and how we relate to Him and each other.
So to me, the reformation is really about standing up for this clear truth, and everything that comes with it. So what does this have to do with speaking the truth in love?The truth of the gospel is true love
When we talk about Christians speaking the truth in love, I think we are primarily talking about the truth of the gospel — which is exactly what the Reformers’ stood for. When you see Paul refer to “speaking the truth in love” in Ephesians 4:15, you have to read Ephesians 1-3 to understand what truth Paul is referring to.
Ephesians 4:15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.
We’re not just saying “if one must tell the truth, one must tell it lovingly” — as if the truth must be dependent on the way it is said, nor is it merely about “any truth”, like “what I really think of your outfit”.
It’s about what the gospel is, and if this is what saves, then this is what we must talk about to encourage, teach, train or build up someone into Christ à la Ephesians 4:15, and this involves all aspects of speech: the matter (or content), the manner and the method. It’s quite a lot to think about, because how we speak is contextual to the situation, but it is firstly truth-based. If I can do a quick reference, Pastor Robin covered this in CERC when we did our sermon series on Matthew, where we looked at John the Baptist’s ministry in Matthew 3:1-17 here. When John the Baptist rebuked the Pharisees, he called them a “brood of vipers”, utilising strong language that would likely be offensive to people even today. Yet he found it necessary to call them to repentance, in light of the serious reality of their hypocrisy and blindness towards God’s truths.
This task applies to all Christians, so we all have to do it if we belong to Christ and are part of His church. It’s so important because it’s about the people of God being built up into Christ our head.
The struggle is real
There’s a God-oriented goal to this speaking truth in love. It’s not about speaking truth just for the sake of it, or because it’s a good virtue to have. Speaking the truth in love is really about speaking God’s truths to each other so that we mature as the people of God. The goal makes all the difference.
Speaking the truth in love is every Christian’s duty, and it’s one aspect of my Christian life that I have always struggled with because:
- It is not easy to speak the truth, even to a brother/sister in Christ who shares the same source of truth as me.
- I am struggling with sin just as much as the person I want to speak the truth to, and I either feel like a hypocrite, or have to also deal with my own pride/whatever stops me from the part of speaking in love.
- This might be particular to me, but I have been told or it has been implied since I was in primary school that I have a face that looks angry/unfriendly/too serious naturally! That’s the feedback that I have received from various people who have been recipients of my attempts to speak the truth in love. Disclaimer: It’s not like I don’t try to look more friendly, sigh, but it’s true to a certain extent I guess, and note some of it is my own failures, as per the second point above.
It’s been about 7 years since I joined CERC, and so that marks how long I’ve been struggling with, and continue to struggle with this. So some of the things I’ve learnt — and I hope there’s some encouragement for any person struggling like I do, are:
- All Christians struggle with speaking the truth in love, if they’re trying to carry out faithful gospel work. Firstly because this is how God builds His church, so you cannot opt out of this task, but also because it is no easy task. But it helps knowing you’re not alone in this! 😃
- To speak the truth in love, you need to be well-rooted in God’s Word. Think about it: you need to be able to relate the truth you’ve understood to different circumstances and people, and you also need to battle your own sin that stops you from loving others rightly. Then maybe you also have to learn to improve your communication skills so your truth gets delivered properly, and don’t forget the time and effort needed to be put into the task itself, which can be quite emotionally and physically draining — especially for an introvert like myself! Phew! Definitely a difficult task indeed.
- So the lesson here is: You need to keep growing yourself into the image of Christ as you learn to do it, and being rooted in the Word is vital and fully sufficient for the task at hand (2 Tim 3:16).
- Yes, it will feel horrible. Your words may not come out right, you might have been a little arrogant when you said something and you hate yourself for it, the person may not understand your loving intentions, and someone might even leave the church as a result. Which brings me to my next lesson:
- The truth is not naturally pleasing to the ears (1 Cor 1:18) and this applies not just to non-believers, but also extends to regenerate but struggling Christians (Gal 6:1). Thankfully, this is something God has made me appreciate through the pain (2 Cor 4:17), and it teaches me to trust not in my own words or persuasive power ultimately, but in God who works through His Spirit in people. It’s not that we don’t try to improve — in fact we must because it’s a God-given task —but ultimately the work, the glory, the credit — if someone hears the truth and rejoices with it — is God’s.
SOLIDD is a booklet put together to help new Christians understand the essence of Christianity
As such, this has also been part of the Christian experience that has humbled me greatly. I still think I am a prideful person (and I pray by the Spirit’s help that He will continue to help me put my pride to death), but I think the full range of experiences — dealing with my own sin, feeling a little hopeless and sad from repeated failures, taking a break (rightly or wrongly so), being lovingly rebuked by a friend who noticed my lack of love, trusting God, continuing to minister to others when I think I don’t deserve to, to apologise when I have wronged someone — has all been good for me.
I have grown to realise how deeply rooted sin is in me (though I am no longer enslaved to it, thanks be to God), how I fail to love others and need to change, how much I desire applause from man rather than God (seen in being overly nice for fear of offending people but compromising the truth), the list goes on. And so, as much as it will continue to be painful…I want to keep doing this with the opportunities God gives me.
- Finally, speaking the truth in love needs to come from a love for God, first and foremost. Without a concern for GOD’s truth, and God’s glory that the world naturally does not agree with (again refer to 1 Cor 1-2), our best attempts will fail even if people accept what you say.
A good test to whether you’ve done a good job speaking the truth in love is: what made that person accept what you said? If it was because GOD’s glory was upheld, then yes my friend, you’ve succeeded. If it was because you were just trying to be persuasive rather than letting God’s Word speak to that person, then my friend, I’m sorry but that’s a failure, because it is more important that God was pleased with you upholding His truth.We are doing God’s work, not our own
To end this bit I’ve shared, I would like to say to the brother/sister in Christ who is struggling as I am: don’t give up! God has given us His glorious gospel when we were undeserved sinners, and we now have the Spirit who fights for us, and enables us to persevere in a life of pleasing Him. When you’re really discouraged, pray to God about your failures and trust Him to work His will in both your life and the other person’s. Talk to someone about it who might be able to offer insights, and I pray that this person also loves God and is willing to tell you the truth that will truly help you.
Also, be open to accept that you may be wrong, don’t react to your failures being exposed, but consider the advice you get, and if it’s true that you were wrong, apologise. I know it’s not easy, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that we’re doing GOD’s work, not our own. Let’s keep having the mindset of a servant faithfully carrying out his duties regardless of whether people are watching — as the servant in Matthew 24:45-51, as we look forward to our Lord Jesus’s return.
May Ling is a member of CERC and is an Assistant Growth Group leader in Bandar Sri Damansara GG. She enjoys reading Christian literature across various topics, but admits that she doesn’t spend nearly enough time reading. She loves discipling others and herself while getting to know how people think, learn and what learning itself involves. She hopes for the church to be united in upholding the gospel truths fought for in the Reformation — from leaders in large congregations to lay people in the smallest of churches — such that Christ’s light will shine forth as a bright beacon in our sinful, needy world.