Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
I have been leading a group through a study in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus. Last week, our study brought us to the passage above. The phrase that jumped out to me which I have continually heard quoted was, “speaking the truth in love.”
Hanging around with church people, I’ve heard this phrase used countless times.
“I really need to speak the truth in love to him.”
“She felt that she had to speak the truth in love to me.”
“Just speak the truth in love, man.”
Having read the passage and heard the phrase as often as I had, I was somewhat surprised at how it hit me this time around.
First off, Paul’s words here are spoken into community. Relationship is assumed. Deep relationship. Truth speaking is something that is earned, it isn’t a God-given right or obligation. Speaking the truth, regardless of how it is done, is rarely well received when done to strangers or those with whom we have limited or no relationship.
In a culture that seems to have an ever evolving definition of truth and which seems to grow ever more offended when some version of the truth is spoken to them, it seemed a fairly relevant verse.
As a society, we’ve pulled away from honest dialogue, in my opinion. We are quick to be offended and yet generally disregard whether our words are offensive to someone else. We get triggered for one reason or another because of the “insensitivity” of someone’s words.
Rather than practicing good listening, we would much rather say our piece and get it off our chest, not concerning ourselves with how it’s received. I read a quote the other day that said good listening is listening to understand rather than listening to respond.
This has been a journey for me. I grew up in a family that encouraged getting everything out on the table. We were never mean about it. We didn’t seek to hurt or offend, we simply sought resolution with honesty as much as possible.
Over the past few years, I’ve adopted a practice of considering a few things prior to speaking. I used to justify my truth speaking by saying that I needed to get something off my chest, justifying what I was about to say by convincing myself that holding it in would not be healthy.
Sometimes, I would convince myself that the person to whom I would speak truth needed to hear what I had to say. I didn’t necessarily consider how they would hear it, just that it was important for them to hear it.
As time has gone on, I’ve asked myself whether I legitimately have the other person’s best interest in mind. Getting something off my chest is not good reason to speak the truth. An obligation to let someone hear truth is not good reason either. My heart needs to be for that other person’s benefit, well-being, and growth. If I love them and want to see them grow, then truth speaking may be justified, but I do have to consider how I present it and whether or not someone will be willing and open to hearing it.
Last week, a good friend of mine called me to engage in a conversation about which we didn’t see eye to eye. He politely asked if I had some time and then calmly explained the situation to me. There was no hint of anger or frustration in his voice, just curiosity and a desire to learn.
We talked for nearly an hour, sharing with each other our perspectives, seeking clarity and understanding, all the while being honest and open. At the end of the time, I couldn’t help but marvel at the blessing of this friendship. More than two decades of a relationship had allowed us to come to a place where we could calmly and lovingly discuss an issue that seems to have divided others. It wasn’t because of how amazing we are as people, just because our friendship has been time-tested and we’ve grown to have a love and admiration for each other that has allowed us to speak the truth in love with no fear of offense or triggering.
I’ve grown tired and weary of those who consider themselves Christians who assume that it’s necessary to speak the truth in love no matter what. I don’t think that was Paul’s intent with these words, especially considering that he was writing to a specific faith community who were entrenched in life together. We speak differently among our family than we do outside of our family, at least we should.
God is showing me the importance of keeping my mouth shut. That doesn’t mean that I never speak my opinion. It does mean that I am going to be far more honest within my “family” than outside my family. More often than not, I will seek an invitation into honesty through relationship and wade into those waters with humility and love. After all, truth speaking doesn’t really make much sense if nobody’s listening.