“Speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church,” Ephesians 4:15

Whether you are single, in a dating relationship, engaged, or married… you are likely in relationship with other human beings who are flawed, but full of beautiful and brilliant potential. We need to continue discovering the importance of communicating God’s way. It is your job on this Earth to love God and His people well. To do that, you need to be willing to be taught and grow, and you need to be willing to teach so that others may grow as well. To be taught often means that we are receiving some kind of “correction.” I want to dispel fear about receiving correction… all this means is that someone else loves you enough to speak out against things in your life that are keeping you from God’s best for your life. Correction should be celebrated! We are to call out the greatness and potential that is buried beneath shame, guilt, and fear in others- and we need to allow others to do this for us as well.

What Does “Speaking Truth in Love” Mean?

Let’s begin by touching on what it is not:

1 Corinthians 13:4-5 says that, “Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged.” It is not superficial, artificial, rude, judgmental, misleading, passive, direct or aggressive. These avenues of expressing truth are dangerous and destructive; they prevent meaningful relationship. False compliments don’t count as love. Speaking harshly lowers people’s self-confidence and worth. Passivity causes others to feel confused, unclear in their direction, and lacking in motivation to seek change. Aggression instills fear in others and causes them to avoid relationship with you; you can be seen as mean, malicious, and threatening.

What it is:

“Love without truth is sentimentality; it supports and affirms us but keeps us in denial about our flaws. Truth without love is harshness; it gives us information but in such a way that we cannot really hear it.” -Timothy Keller: The Meaning of Marriage

In Ephesians chapter four, Paul is writing about “unity” and talks about the importance of speaking “truth in love.” He was tasked with communicating important things to his audience that were meant to correct them for their benefit. Paul already had relationship with this church (Acts 18:19-21) and relationship is crucial to your ability to influence someone. I love this definition- “Speaking the truth in love is: Truth (reproof and/or warning) communicated with affirmation and encouragement, and firmly established on a historical relationship of caring and commitment” (Rhonda Rizzo Webb). Paul wanted the church to believe that God’s truth for their life was advantageous, and rewarding!

I have been pondering the idea of beliefs verses truths for the past week. Others may disagree, but I believe that a “truth” is something that only comes from God; beliefs can be distorted and cause fractured identities. A simple revelation I had last week was this: thought + time = belief. How often do we give too much attention & focus to negative thoughts that, over time, become deep- fractured- twisted- false beliefs about ourselves? We should be rehearsing the positive, life-giving thoughts that enter in- it is then that we are able to fully make room for the deeper, heavenly beliefs & identities that God intended. The goal in speaking truth to people is to rid them of destructive beliefs, behaviors and thought patterns that are not only useless, but harmful. These “correct” or accurate, positive beliefs are truths.

When we are correcting someone or giving them reproof, we are also calling out the greatness in someone, we are searching for the “Buried Treasure”  inside of them. We call forth the truth that God has for that person’s life by affirming, encouraging, and redirecting. Without a deep understanding of ourselves and the gifts, talents, and potential that God has hidden inside of us, we will fail to love people well. 

“This is why the “apply some principles” approach to marriage improvement doesn’t work. So long as we choose to turn a blind eye to how we are fallen as men or women, and to the unique style of relating that we have forged out of our sin and brokenness, we will continue to do damage to our marriages.” -John & Staci Eldredge: Love & War

In a marriage, especially, if you are not developing yourself and figuring out how to lovingly relate to your spouse- you are missing the opportunity to improve your marriage and no amount of tools and principles can be applied to heal it. Marriage counseling is not about fixing your spouse, it is about focusing on how each of you are contributing to the dysfunction of the relationship and how you can, individually, live out God’s best for your life so that together, you are healthy, whole, and secure. Allow others to speak into your life and help you grow and become the person you were created to be. Allow people to help you develop by humbly receiving difficult feedback, correction, and truth.

The Four Keys:

Paul does such a great job of laying out the way to communicate truth in love in all relationships.  In ministry (and life) I have been trained to use a strategy called the “crap sandwich” which is basically putting the “crap” or constructive criticism between two affirmations as you share a correction with someone. I have come to refer to it as the “affirmation sandwich” because it sounds more appetizing. The outline of this strategy comes directly from Paul’s first letter to the Thessalonians:

#1 Affirmation
Paul affirms the Thessalonians in the first chapter. He is proud of their faithfulness. “As we pray to our God and Father about you, we think of your faithful work, your loving deeds, and the enduring hope you have because of our Lord Jesus Christ,” (1 Thess 1:3).

#2 Relationship
Paul evaluates and describes his relationship with the Thessalonians in chapter two. He reminds them that they have genuine friendship that pleases God: “Our purpose is to please God, not people. He alone examines the motives of our hearts. Never once did we try to win you with flattery, as you well know. And God is our witness that we were not pretending to be your friends just to get your money!” (1 Thess 2:4-5). He cares for them as a good father: “And you know that we treated each of you as a father treats his own children. We pleaded with you, encouraged you, and urged you to live your lives in a way that God would consider worthy” (1 Thess 2:11-12). Paul continues to express his love for them in Chapter Three.

*Relationship is essential. You can’t effectively express truth to someone without healthy relationship and rapport. If you have had a disrespectful or damaging relationship with someone, they are likely to fail to hear what you have to say. But, it is possible to reconcile and repair your ability to speak into that person’s life! Without the relationship, Paul would have had no foundation for the people to accept what he wanted to communicate to them.

#3 Constructive Criticism/Warning/Reproof (Truth)
Paul had the difficult task of pointing out to these new believers that they needed to steer clear of sexual impurity, in the fourth chapter. They were being irresponsible, lazy, and carnal. Paul had to reprove them for this behavior: “God has called us to live holy lives, not impure lives. Therefore, anyone who refuses to live by these rules is not disobeying human teaching but is rejecting God, who gives his Holy Spirit to you” (1 Thess 4:7-8).

#4 Encouragement & Direction
Paul ends his letter by encouraging the Thessalonians chapter five. He encourages them to continue in healthy relationships and behaviors, and directs them to do the same: “So encourage each other and build each other up, just as you are already doing” (1 Thess 5:11); “Honor those who are your leaders in the Lord’s work. They work hard among you and give you spiritual guidance. Show them great respect and wholehearted love because of their work. And live peacefully with each other (1 Thess 5:12-13); “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances,” (1 Thess 5:16-18).

Using these four keys, you can begin to learn to speak life and truth in love no matter how difficult the truth may seem. Let’s pray:

God, help me in my relationships to be genuine and loving. I want to honor you with my words and the way that I live my life. I know that you have put me in relationship with others to have the ability to influence them- help me to be a good steward of this privilege. Show me the people that you have chosen for me to have this type of relationship with. tHelp me to discern destructive things that prevent the people I love from living fully for you and give me the words to speak to bring change and correction to their life! Help me to identify the greatness and potential in others and to call it out of them. I love you and thank you for the opportunities you give me to speak your truth into the lives of the people around me. In Jesus’ name- Amen!