Last week, a well known evangelical leader said something like this.
“The most loving thing you can do is tell someone hard truth.”
I’m not quoting it exactly because I don’t want the point to center on that leader. It’s a common type of quote. The idea is that even if the truth is offensive, the mere act of speaking that truth to someone is the greatest act of love you can do for them. The problem is that is simply not true according to how the Bible speaks of truth and love.
Ephesians 4:15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
Frankly, speaking the truth is NOT the same as Biblical love, and believers need to be precise with how we throw around these words. Truth telling is needed. It is absolutely necessary. And sometimes that truth is hard and offensive. But simply telling that hard truth is NOT equal to loving someone in fulfillment of the Great Command. And loving someone is as necessary, if not more necessary, than truth telling—for every bit of the law and prophets depends on Biblical love as its foundational requirement.
Matthew 22 36 “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” 37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
If you believe in the perspicuity of Scripture (i.e. the value of a straight forward reading of it), then Paul’s description of love in I Corinthians 13 becomes essential to navigating his instruction in Ephesians 4 to speak the truth in love. In I Corinthians 13, Paul describes in clear, objective terms what is meant by this word, love, that Jesus uses in Matthew 22 and Paul uses in Ephesians 4. Agapeo love is demonstrated with patient truth telling, kind truth telling, truth telling that is not rude, is not resentful, does not insist on its own way, does not keep a record of wrongs, and believes the best of someone. In fact, Paul says clearly in I Corinthians 13 that you can speak with all kind of fluid clarity, including truth telling, and it will fall flat on the ground when it is not coupled with love.
What Paul teaches is that being a jerk for Jesus is a sin. Paul teaches that truth telling is not equal to love, but it must be coupled with love, and THAT coupling of truth and love then protects us from being tossed by every whim of cunning false doctrine (Eph. 4:14), building up the Body to maturity, in a way that truth telling without love simply cannot do.
Doctrine is undermined when truth telling is not coupled with Biblical love as Paul defines it. I’ve watched it happen much the last year. Precious truths undermined because people decide to address a topic from, in particular, a suspicious, impatient view of their opponent. Truth telling that takes on a rude, unkind tone toward their opponent.
undermine: to wash away supporting material from under; to subvert or weaken insidiously or secretly; to weaken or ruin by degrees. http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/undermine
Truth telling not coupled with Biblical love is sin. Speaking the truth WITH love builds up the Body according to Paul. Speaking the truth without love tears it down, which I have witnessed often. Speaking the truth without love is sin because it SUBVERTS the very truth you or I are trying to uphold.
Hear Paul’s exhortation. Understand it’s reasoning. Evangelical Christianity loses ground when we do not tell truth in the manner Paul instructs – with tangible evidences of a real, gracious, patient, kind love. You can tell the truth all you want, but if you do not couple it with tangible, Biblical love, do not expect that those who listen will be moved from false doctrine or that they will grow up to maturity in Christ. In fact, expect to tear them down. If you like to tell truth without love, repent. Truth telling separated from love creates the unrest Satan loves and uses against weak believers to subvert the truth.