Lately, I’ve been hearing some talk of “speaking the truth in love.” It is, as many know, a phrase taken – often out of context – from the book of Ephesians (4:15) where Paul is encouraging the Church to grow into the likeness of Christ and uses the phrase “speaking the truth in love” as a way of telling his readers to pursue unity in the body of the Church by letting love guide everything we do. However, this phrase is often misused in our everyday conversations as a “point-and-shoot” tactic to rationalize our harsh words to another.

So, I thought I’d share a few random thoughts on what “speaking the truth in love” is and is not. Let me begin with what it is not:

Speaking the truth in love is not:

    • simply speaking the truth

    • speaking truth to make your point

    • speaking to denigrate/shame/bully/blame the other

    • speaking to prove the wrong of the other

Way too often, we use this phrase thinking it justifies our mean-spirited words to another person, even if they are true words. We say to our victim, “Hey, I’m just speaking the truth with love here” never considering the harm or damage we leave behind. It’s a justification that makes us feel better about what we’ve said.

When we speak these words in such a way, we almost always denigrate the other person, causing him or her to feel shame and unworthy of respect. Not at all what Paul had in mind when he first penned these words. Such talk is not “speaking in love.”

One way to test if our words were spoken in love is to ask ourselves questions like:

  • Did I truly encourage the other person?

  • Did I honestly listen to and respect the other person?

  • Did I feel good about what I shared? Did it serve to bring out the best in him/her?

So, what does it mean to “speak the truth in love”? I have a few thoughts on that as well…certainly not an exhaustive explanation, but I hope it gets us to thinking more clearly.

Speaking the truth in love is:

  • speaking to build up the other, even though it may be painful at first

  • speaking to open oneself to the same scrutiny and truth

  • speaking to bring to light what needs addressing and correcting

The fact is, choosing not to speak the truth in love reveals our own insecurities by taking the light off ourselves and directing it toward the other person. The more we speak the truth without love, the more we reveal our own deep-seated and camouflaged flaws, weaknesses and insecurities.

Speaking the truth in love is an exercise in edification, both for the other and for ourselves. Truth-speaking with an attitude of love brings out the best in all of us. It may not always be easy to hear or speak it, but when the truth is spoken with love it is more readily heard, accepted and acted on. To speak the truth in love opens us up to taking a closer look at ourselves so that we do not become haughty, and later find ourselves on the receiving end of some unpleasant truth about ourselves.

In the end, speaking the truth in love is aimed at bringing the best we all have to a relationship so that there can be unity among us, even in the midst of diversity and disagreement.