The Gospel Necessity of Speaking The Truth in Love
Posted on 30 Oct 2020 by Zack Tan
Looking back, the most impactful moments in my life have always been when people spoke the truth in love to me. One of the biggest turning points for me was when my Tertiary Growth Group (TGG) leader and current Pastor-in-Training Daniel Lu lovingly called me out and warned me against the way I was living. I don’t recall the exact words he said, but it woke me to realise that I was that Romans 1:18-23 person who has been suppressing God’s truth and living life my way.
From that moment on, I could no longer lie to myself. I began finally confronting, struggling, and even at times doubting my own standing before God, which was a hard but necessary process. Ultimately, I realised I was still holding onto a faulty understanding of sin and the Gospel even though the church was preaching faithfully. Nevertheless, Daniel lovingly continued to speak the truth to me, asking me tough questions that I needed to confront and guided me to the Gospel and the Word. So what is speaking the truth in love about and why is it so important?
Speaking the truth in love has to do with our identity before God
Speaking the truth in love is about kingdom building for God’s glory. The goal of speaking the truth in love is for God to be glorified in His kingdom.
This kingdom is being built by His people speaking His truths to one another so that we may grow into Christ-likeness and continue living a life which glorifies Him — a life that is in accordance to His truths and not our own falsehoods i.e. Ephesians 4:1-16, Romans 1:18-32. This desire for God to be glorified in everything is the outcome of the Gospel working in the lives of God’s people and as such, it is impossible for one to desire this without God having first transformed us in Christ through the Gospel being preached to us.
So, to speak the truth in love is nothing more and nothing less than being consistent with our identity as a transformed-in-Christ people who love and fear God, and therefore are concerned for the church to grow into being like Christ. Subsequently, the church is able to stand against corruption and falsehood. This happens through the preaching of the Word, over Bible studies, over mamak sessions where we share, reflect, remind, admonish, rebuke, correct, teach and encourage one another. This is the way God is glorified — through us encouraging one another to press on in the faith for God’s glory alone.
Why is speaking the truth important? What about love?
The truth, the Gospel is everything – it is the reason why we who we were once enemies of God are now Christians, why we are standing as Christians, and why we will remain Christians till the end, provided we hold fast to it.
Let me try to elaborate on how the Gospel is everything. The Gospel creates a new people in Christ. Nothing else is more powerful against a totally depraved humanity than the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus. It is this Gospel that regenerates sinners who have dead-hard hearts and produces true saving faith in us so that we are no longer dead in sin but alive in Christ, living our lives for the King and not for ourselves. Then, just as we are created by the Gospel, so also are we being matured into Christ by the Gospel. And finally, it is also the same Gospel that sustains us to continue being Christian and building His kingdom.
Even though we have already been transformed into a new creation and are no longer under sin, we are still more deceitful and sinful than we think we are. This is why we constantly need God’s truth to warn and rebuke us when we are inconsistent with our identity as God’s church, and to encourage and remind us of the hope of the Gospel when we are in suffering. All this so that God’s people can all rejoice and sing ‘Soli Deo Gloria’ as we wait for Christ to return.
However, speaking the truth will be in vain if it is without love. Rather than building the church up, we are only dividing and destroying God’s church as we speak not for the sake of the person’s holiness and life but for our own benefit and personal sake. 1 Corinthians 8 gives us a clear picture of how speaking the truth without love does divide the church. Without love, we destroy and divide the church and without truth, we also destroy and divide the church. What will happen then? On Judgment Day, God will destroy us for destroying His church cf. 1 Corinthians 3:16-17.
The sinner I am prefers a man-centred love over a God-centred love
Yet, speaking the truth in love is difficult. We are sinful. I am sinful. It becomes hard when we are not convicted by the Gospel such that we are man-centred rather than God-centred. It manifests itself in a fear of not wanting to offend people because we elevate feelings above truth. We are tempted to water down the truth because we seek approval, want to be accepted, don’t want to hurt someone, or don’t want to be rejected. As a result, we compromise on the truth. Telling someone while studying Romans 1:18-23 that God is angry at them for their rebellion against Him is not easy as calling out someone for their sin requires a lot of patience and love.
What also makes it hard is our understanding of love is strongly influenced by culture. We want unconditional love and yet we impose our own conditions on people. “Love me for who I am or go away”. We also commonly hear sayings like “don’t judge other people, learn to accept them for who they are”, “doctrine divides, love unites”. I think at the end of the day, it’s just expressive individualism manifesting itself in how we “love”.
I’ve encountered many personal challenges in speaking the truth in love. Many of my Tertiary Growth Group (TGG) members have openly confessed that they disliked me before. Usually, I speak the truth forgetting that I am a sinner and no different than the brother I am rebuking/calling out. Rather than just speaking out of love, I spoke out of pride. As such, it often came out in an impatient and top-down tone. Apart from that, I used to avoid understanding where the person is coming from and insist on my own point because I think I am always right. Others have also mentioned that I am too straightforward. I have much to work on, and none other than the Lord Jesus to look to for a right understanding of how to speak the truth in love.
We look to Christ to understand the challenge and necessity of speaking the truth in love
Jesus was a truth speaker, and he always spoke truth in love. Now, the average person might not like being told of their sin and impending judgment, but Jesus did just that, and will most certainly do so when He comes on the final day. Would you say to Jesus on Judgment Day that he was offensive and insensitive? I mean, He called a Canaanite woman “a dog” (Mt 15). He rebuked Peter, calling him “Satan” (Mt 16). He also called people not to be like the Pharisees.
His apostles and prophets were the same (Mt 6, Mt 23). Paul the Apostle himself strongly rebuked the Corinthian church, calling them “babies/immature” (1 Cor 3). And he strongly warned them that if they destroy God’s church, God will destroy them in turn (1 Cor 3). In fact, Paul calls the church to exercise discipline over a church member who persists in sin (1 Cor 5).
Classical reformers – Martin Luther, John Calvin, Zwingli and many others were zealous for God’s truth such that they were willing to give up their life defending the truth of the Gospel against corruption in the church by false doctrines and teachings. They stood for the truth in love for God and for His people. Ultimately, what drove this attitude lies at the heart of the 5 solas – for God’s glory alone.
In all these examples, their manner is informed by theology and the truth and a desire to love God and therefore His people. Humanly speaking alone, if a person is running towards the edge of a cliff because he believes it’s not a cliff, would you not yell, shout at and warn the person to your fullest ability? Or would you keep silent and not judge the person?
So really, we are most dangerous to individuals and the church when we are not speaking the truth in love. To put it very bluntly, if you see someone getting raped, are you going to stay quiet and not do anything about it? So then, why do we allow the church to be raped by wolves who perpetuate false gospels, false teachings, and liberalism – to name just a few of the things that plague our churches today?
Christians today need to speak the truth in love in our everyday, personal and corporate ministries
In Christ Evangelical Reformed Church (CERC), we uphold these values from the pulpit to GGs, to SOCMs, to 1-on-1s, to dinner/mamak sessions. The preachers in CERC do not compromise in proclaiming the truths of the Gospel and I am so thankful to God for that.
I used to hold onto a faulty view of sin. Rather than seeing the true problem of sin, I often treated the symptoms of sin and believed in myself to fix sins. I could never clearly define why certain things are wrong apart from “it makes me feel bad/ God says do this and I disobeyed/ this wastes time”. I had a moralistic understanding of sin. In fact, I had a therapeutic view of God too, that He was my butler to serve my needs and will always love me no matter what I did.
But through the preaching of God’s Word, by God’s grace, I came to realise who I really am – a sinner before a holy God who is for Himself, and not just someone who has done bad things and is trying to do good before a butler God who is helping me to be better.
By grace, I came to see myself as a sinner who has gone against the King in defining for myself what is good and bad for my life and living life my way and for myself. And by grace, I came to see that what I rightly deserve before the Holy God is judgment. And by His grace, I came to understand penal substitutionary atonement as seen in Isaiah when David preached a Wait…What talk based on Isaiah.
Pastor-in-Training Jerome’s Wait…What? talk on Jeremiah also helped me see clearly that apart from a legal declaration from God, the Gospel involves transformation of God’s people from dead to life through the giving of a new heart and new spirit in Christ. God’s grace is amazing, and I am eternally grateful to God and CERC for proclaiming these truths and liberating me from deadness in sin to a life to God. For a taste of what I tried to convey earlier, I encourage you to check out this 1-minute clip by Pastor Robin.
Apart from the preaching on the pulpit, just this last Sunday, my TGG leaders were lovingly reminding and warning us to root ourselves in the Word and know who God is, lest we be led astray by the world and temptations, especially once we enter the workforce. Both Pastor-in-Training Daniel and Winnie, our TGG leaders patiently taught us to see that God is the main character of the Bible, not us. Their words have been a rebuke to our attitude towards God and His Word.
While I want the world to centre around me, God speaks his truth to me and makes it clear that the world centres around Him and His Son, not me.
CERC’s social media too constantly speaks the truth in love that we need every day to remind ourselves of the reality of the Gospel.
If you don’t speak the truth in love, you need to do a heart checkup
For those of us who are not that great at speaking the truth in love, tend to speak the truth without love or tend to try to love without speaking the truth, etc., let me give you some words of encouragement. First, check your heart. You’ve got to ask yourself why this is the case for you. Most of the time, the way we treat others is a reflection of how we treat ourselves. If you struggle to do so, it might be because you don’t do it to yourself too. This is one of the key lessons I learnt from Pastor Daniel.
I’ll always be thankful to friends who have spoken the truth in love to me. I still remember fondly John Miller, another old TGG friend of mine who brought me out to a café at night in spite of his busy schedule to talk about my sins and struggles. He knew how deceitful I am because he rightly understood total depravity and so, he often challenged the words I said and patiently helped me see what was really in my heart, hoping that I would be humbled before God and rightly repent from it – even though we probably have had the same conversation more than 3 times!
So of course, be truthful to your fellow Christians and leaders with what exactly you are struggling with. And may the truths from Scripture encourage you and remind you to be faithful to God in speaking the truth in love to one another and not compromise. I pray that you will be God-centred and constantly remind yourself that these people do not belong to you but to Christ and you too are under Jesus’ lordship.
In light of all this, our hope and perseverance lies in God and His steadfast love. As we remember how God has been faithful in the past as seen in the Reformation, it gives us hope and perseverance in the present to be faithful to Him. God is for His truths and His Gospel, which is why we can continue hoping and persevering today and forevermore.
Zack Tan is a member candidate of CERC. He is committed to the growth of Reformed theology in Malaysia and admires Pastor Robin Gan for his faithfulness to Christ and His gospel seen in his commitment to God’s Kingdom being built in Malaysia. He hopes for the church to remain faithful to Christ and not compromise in the truth for God’s glory alone.