I love that quote from Woody Allen. It’s raw, honest, and all-too-familiar for a lot of people. And yet, we know there are instances that if we choose not to say something we’re not loving the person, but rather loving ourselves. That is a sobering thought.
Too often an individual errs on one side of the truth and love spectrum. They’ll muster up the mental fortitude to speak their mind but will do so with words and a posture that are anything but loving. They might clamor, “I spoke the truth, now they have to deal with it!” When in fact, not only do they have to deal with the “truth” but now they have to deal with the additional relational fallout that comes as a result of an individual conveying accurate statements but doing so in a jerk-like fashion. This would be the truth without love, which is wrong.
The other end of the spectrum isn’t helpful either. We’re called to love the truth, embody the truth and speak the truth. Paul even says, “Whatever is true…practice these things and the God of peace will be with you” (see Philippians 4:8-9). However, fear of how an individual is going to receive the truth causes us to downplay, sugarcoat, or even skirt the truth. This would be love without truth, which is wrong as well. Dennis Johnson, in his commentary on Philippians, says, “A moment’s thought reveals why eyes-wide-open love is superior to the superficial affection that ignores reality, for fear of causing offense or distress.”
There is a better way.
Paul tells us to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). Interestingly, the word truth here is not merely the dissemination of words that are accurate, but also entails the visual components of profession and practice. In other words, it matters what you say and how you say it. I’m certain the previous sentence was something you’ve heard many times before but hearing and doing are two different actions. By God’s grace, we want to more and more bridge the gap between our confessional theology and our functional theology; our lives need to match our lips. So here are several ways in which we can speak the truth in love:
- Be honest. Be concerned with what you say, how you say it, with how much you say, when you say it, and with why you say it.
- Become a skilled listener. Speaking the truth in love necessarily means you’re giving a word that is commensurate to what was just shared (see James 1:19).
- Be kindhearted. A sweet disposition increases the likelihood of people listening (see Proverbs 16:21).
- Attack the problem, not the person. Too often we use words that tear down and grieve the Holy Spirit. Commit to using edifying words, words that deal with what the person says or does that will help reach a solution.
- Put together a script. In other words, think through what you’re going to say. Solomon tells us that if we think through our words we’ll often discover good (see Proverbs 16:20).
- Act, don’t react. There are numerous attitudes and actions that must be put off (see Ephesians 4:31) that undermine speaking the truth in love (e.g. bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor; slander, malice, and avoidance). The natural tendency of our sinful flesh is to be defensive about dealing with our own sins (shift blame, run, react, etc.).
- Pause and ask for wisdom and grace. James tells us to ask for wisdom and be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger (James 1:5, 19).
- Keep relevant. Failure in attempting to solve each day’s problems quickly is a sin. Don’t carry them over into tomorrow (see Matthew 6:34). Failure to solve problems quickly can open your heart to resentment, hatred, and bitterness. The day you sin should be the day you fix the issue.
There are certainly many more ways in which you and I can speak the truth in love. What would you add?