"Speak the truth in love."
- Ephesians 4:15 NLT
Since I've been in full-time ministry, I've been challenged more than ever by God's command to "speak the truth in love." (Ephesians 4:15 NLT) And I'm not alone. Christians everywhere try daily to find the right balance between holding back the truth to spare someone's feelings, and blurting out the truth in hurtful and damaging ways. We live in a "Tell it like it is" generation, where we think it's perfectly okay to "vent" our true feelings, simply to make ourselves feel better. And we have the notion that God will overlook our thoughtlessness and selfishness because we're "justified." But that's not God's way. His Word says: "A fool vents all his feelings, but a wise man holds them back." (Proverbs 29:11 NKJV) The Lord expects us to use wisdom and self-restraint when we're given the opportunity to correct someone. And we're to do it in "a spirit of gentleness," rather than one of "superiority," as Galatians 6:1 (NASB, AMP) instructs. It can take a lot of humility to gently and lovingly speak the truth to someone, especially when we ourselves have been the victim of their wrongdoing. But there are great rewards in obeying God in this area, and devastating consequences in disobeying Him. I know a family where almost all of the family members tell the truth to each other alright--but their words are always full of spite and scorn. Needless to say, this family is constantly full of strife, disharmony, and dissension, and being around them can be extremely unpleasant.
Then there's the other side of the coin. I know a godly woman who is so sweet and kind that she holds herself back from telling her grown children painful truths, and it's literally destroying her family. She believes that she is pleasing God by her silence, but her behavior is actually offensive to Him. Watching her family self-destruct before her very eyes has plunged her into a pit of depression and despair. And she doesn't even realize that she herself could have prevented many of her family's problems if she had just made a practice of intervening gently, but firmly. The Bible says: "Better is open rebuke than hidden love. Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses." (Proverbs 27:5-6 NIV) Let's suppose that you are the one in need of correction in a situation. Do you think that a true friend would refrain from reproving you for your wrongdoing? Or would he or she take the chance of wounding you and losing your friendship in order to tell you the truth? Scripture's answer is that you can trust, and be grateful for, a companion who has the courage to lovingly rebuke you. And if you respond in a Christlike manner, you are in for some rewards from the Lord. As Proverbs says: "If you profit from constructive criticism you will be elected to the wise men's hall of fame. But to reject criticism is to harm yourself and your own best interests." (Proverbs 15:31-32 TLB) When we automatically reject someone's critical remarks, without seeking God about their veracity, we often do ourselves more harm than good. When someone criticizes me, I promptly ask God, "What do You have to say about this, Lord? Are there changes that I need to make here?" Even if the person correcting me is one that I don't hold in high esteem, I still try to take their comments seriously enough to at least consult the Lord about them.
The Message Bible translation of Ephesians 4:15 reads: "God wants us to grow up, to know the whole truth and tell it in love--like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ, who is the source of everything we do." (Ephesians 4:15 MSG) Knowing the truth, and lovingly speaking the truth, are traits of a mature Christian, and they are noble goals for every believer. Each time we are faced with an opportunity to confront someone with the truth, we should promptly ask the Lord for wisdom and discernment. He has promised that His Spirit who dwells in us will give us "the right words at the right time." (Matthew 10:19 NLT) Is there someone in your life who needs to hear the truth from you today?
Prayer: Lord, make me sensitive and obedient to Your Spirit's leading each time you bring opportunities for "speaking the truth in love" across my path. Give me a spirit of humility and gentleness, and make me Christlike in all of my dealings with others. Thank You that as I follow Your lead in this area, my blessings and rewards will overflow!
- J. M. Farro