The Truth In Love
by Rev. Stephen 't Hart
Text: Ephesians 4:15
Congregation of our Lord Jesus Christ.
The first words of Ephesians 4:15, “speaking the truth in love” are well known and often quoted. Putting these words into practice, however, is often a different story. The relationship between truth and love sometimes appears strained, as though the two words are in tension: you either hone in on the truth or you put your convictions aside for the sake of love.
There are times when we can also see this tension in the church, when truth and love are not seen together.There are some people who are considered over-zealous for the truth, and are labelled “fanatics” – rightly or wrongly.In their desire for the purity of the church and the defence of “the Truth” they will fight with their mouths and with the pen (and in days gone by, with the sword). They believe that such fighting for the truth is the will of God.But there are times when others charge such brothers as argumentative and divisive, damaging the unity of the Body of Christ.There are other people who, rightly or wrongly, are considered lax and even liberal.It is felt that these people wish to be ruled by love, but not the law.Some of these people appear to be more concerned about peace and harmony and getting together with all Christians everywhere rather than debating what they consider the “finer points of doctrine.”They want the gospel to be proclaimed, not fought over.There are indeed some people who want the Bible to be open for all sorts of new interpretations, where each person has the freedom to understand the Bible as he sees fit.Others might insist on a basic code such as “Jesus is Lord”, but are often willing to compromise and accept various interpretations other biblical doctrines that they consider to be “less important”.For the command to love, and the call to unity, is seen as more important than agreeing on the truth. Now this perceived tension between truth and love often leaves us confused:should we fight for the truth to ensure the peace of “Jerusalem” or is it our fighting for that truth that destroys the peace of “Jerusalem”?(With Jerusalem here referring to the church.) And so the command to speak the truth in love might be well quoted, but it is not always well understood.For truth and love are often seen as separate ideas that come under tension when brought together. But the tension goes away when we read these words in their context.The command to speak the truth in love is given in a longer sentence where the main focus is not on speaking, but on growing!In our text, the apostle Paul is explaining how we are to keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace.Ephesians 4 began with the call to live in brotherly love and unity.Then verse 12 taught that Christ gave office bearers to the church to equip the saints that they might do the work of ministry so that we might come to the unity of the faith and not be tossed about by false doctrine.And then comes verse 15 where we are taught that the purpose of all this is that we grow together as one body, finding our unity in the head, in Christ.And in that context, of being united in the one body of Christ, we receive the command to speak the truth in love.For it is when speaking the word of truth in love, that we will grow together in Him who is both Truth and Love. And that is the message I wish to preach to you this morning.I wish to do so under the following theme: The Church grows together when speaking the truth in love.
1. Together in the truth.
2. Together in love.
1. TOGETHER IN THE TRUTH.
If I may speak in general terms, I believe that the truth is undervalued today.It is stretched, twisted and distorted.It is often watered down to “truth as I see it, and as I see it today.”Indeed, many have given up on the belief that there is such a thing as objective truth to begin with.Truth is something we must strive and look for, but is something that is elusive and never quite within our grasp.Many believe, therefore, that there is no such thing as absolute truth, but that all truth is relative to your experiences and how you perceive it.You can believe whatever you like, so long as it does not hurt others, and you do not insist that others believe it too. Sadly, there are also many in the wider Christian church who have bought into this philosophy.In many churches – but not all – there is a strong resistance to insist on biblical doctrine and teaching.The Ecumenical movement has proclaimed for years that “Doctrine divides but service unites”.That is, we are united by what we do, not what we believe.And those who are not satisfied with that slogan might prefer another: “Doctrine divides but experience unites.” That is, “we are united together by what we feel, not what we believe.” But even for those who have not bought into this “truth is relative” philosophy, there is often the feeling that disputes over doctrine is wrong.It is felt that rather than focus on the truth, we should focus more on love and acceptance.Let’s emphasize the things on which we agree, and put aside those points on which we might disagree.Scripture tells us after all, that we must endeavour to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, and that we must strive to agree in the Lord.And it is true that not all disputes and disagreements are helpful.The Bible even has some strong words to say about those who sow discord and division in the church over disputes about words. Romans 14:1, “Receive one who is weak in the faith, but not to dispute over doubtful things.” 1 Timothy 6:4 warns against those who are “obsessed with disputes and arguments over words, from which come envy, strife, reviling, evil suspicions” and so forth. 2 Timothy 2:14 is a call “not to strive about words to no profit, to the ruin of the hearers.” Titus 3:9-11 “But avoid foolish disputes, genealogies, contentions, and strivings about the law; for they are unprofitable and useless.Reject a divisive man after the first and second admonition, knowing that such a person is warped and sinning, being self condemned.” The Bible speaks clearly about the person who is divisive, that is one who causes disagreement and splits in the church: he is a warped sinner and on the road to hell. However to conclude from this that the truth does not matter and that we should not strive for and insist on the truth of God’s Word is very wrong!To the contrary, the Scriptures teach us very clearly that while we must avoid all godless chatter and speculation and false teaching, our very salvation depends on us confessing and believing the clear, verifiable truth of the gospel. In Ephesians 4, Paul urges the church to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace, but then he goes on to speak about the foundation of that unity.It is the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God.The unity of the Spirit is based on a specific body of truth.And it is a body of truth that we must both know and confess together.If we don’t hold on to the full truth of the gospel, we will be like a boat that is in the middle of a Mediterranean storm, being tossed to and fro by the wind and the waves.Then people will be pulled away and there will be nothing to hold them together in Christ. The need to speak and confess the truth of the gospel was a major theme in many of Paul’s letters, including his two letters to Timothy that he wrote at a time when Timothy was leading the church in Ephesus.In Second Timothy, he urged Timothy to hold fast the pattern of sound words that he had heard from Paul (2 Tim. 1:13) and that he might rightly divide the word of truth (2 Tim. 2:15).He speaks of those who creep into households to drag away those who have not come to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 3:6,7).He encourages Timothy to continue in the things that he had learned, knowing that the Scriptures alone make one wise for salvation through faith in Christ.(2 Timothy 3:15).For Paul is deeply concerned that the time was coming when people will not endure sound doctrine, but would turn their ears away from the truth.(2 Timothy 4:3,4).To be united together in Christ, therefore, we must be united together in the Truth as God Himself has given this to us in His Word. To do anything less would be to live according to the lie.And the lie comes not from our new nature, but the old nature.And the old nature is what we had when we were in bondage to Satan.He is the father of lies and the truth is not in him.And so when we fail to speak the truth and confess it, rather than growing up together into Christ, we drift apart from each other and away from Him. But while the lie separates us from Jesus, the truth brings us into fellowship with Him.And that is because, as Paul wrote in verse 21 of Ephesians 4, “the truth is in Jesus”!Grace and truth have come to us in Him (John 1:17).He came to this earth to bear witness to the truth (John 18:37) and He Himself said in John 14:6, “I am the truth!”And therefore since the truth is both in Christ and is Christ, for us to grow up into Him we must live in the truth, confess the truth, and speak the truth.In the first place that applies to the true doctrine, the body of truth that God has given us in His Word. It is when we speak and confess the truth of God’s Word that we are kept from being children, tossed to and fro and carried about with every wind of doctrine.We need this truth to be preached and taught so that we are well grounded in it and can grow together as we confess the truth of the one faith in the one Gospel that has been handed down to us. And so it is not doctrine that divides, but the denial of doctrine.It is not when we insist on speaking the truth as revealed to us in God’s Word that the body is torn apart, but when we allow falsehood and heresy to live alongside the truth.It is not the one true faith that that threatens our unity, but the denial of the importance of the truth and the pretence that what we believe is not important. In Christ therefore, there is such a thing as “absolute truth”, and He has given us this truth in His Word.And the only way for us to be truly united together as Church and to grow up to be united with Christ our Head is to embrace the One who is the Truth and to believe that He is the only reliable source of truth, and to speak His truth to one another.Indeed, the truth must prevail! And then on the basis of that truth that has been revealed to us in Christ, we will live a life of truth.Ephesians 4:25, “Therefore, putting away lying, ‘let each one of you speak truth with his neighbour,’ for we are members of one another.”Get rid of all deceit!Put away all lying and hypocrisy, all deception and twisting of the truth.Let us speak in all honestly with one another, being straightforward, plain, frank, accurate and truthful.Let us love the truth and confess it. But we must never forget that the truth we speak is the truth of the Gospel.And so speaking and maintaining the truth may never degenerate into a bitter argument where the Gospel is effectively set aside.The truth must always be spoken and confessed in love. 2. Together in love. The biblical command to speak the truth in love is sometimes seen as a balancing act.Sometimes we seem to think that speaking “truth” and speaking “love” are not the same thing and that there is some sort of tension between them.To speak the truth is seen as being honest, forthright, calling a spade a spade and drawing a line in the sand, while speaking love is seen as a softening of the edges, covering up, even compromising the truth. At times we have even seen this tension in the church.Over the history of the church, there have been those who have fought for what they considered the truth.They fought loud and long, but left a lot of people hurt, bleeding and scarred along the way.And we have also seen a backlash to this real or perceived state of affairs with the deliberate rejection of doctrinal differences and the call to put these things aside for a life of peace, love and unity. But when we embrace the gospel, there should no longer be such tension between truth and love as if the one excludes the other.Our text commands us to speak the absolute truth, but to speak it in absolute love.And we will do this when we grow up together into the Head, who is Christ.For it is in Jesus Christ that we see truth and love combined.Ephesians 4 teaches us that the truth is in Jesus, and so when we are in Him, we will love the truth and confess it.But when we grow up into Him, not only will we walk in the truth, but we will also walk in love.As Paul says in the first verses of chapter 5, we will become imitators of God and walk in love as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us. The thing that motivates us to speak the truth in love is the gospel.We want to speak in such a way that the good news of salvation shines forth in all its clarity and brilliance.We want to speak the truth to one another to call each another ever closer to the One who is both Truth and Love, to Jesus Christ, so that we might find our unity in Him. And therefore we may not use “the truth” as an excuse for dissension, for creating factions and divisions in the church.The Bible makes it clear that some arguments over words destroys the unity of the body, and some disputes are worthless.Such disputes do not stem from a love for the Gospel and a desire to greater unity in the Spirit, but from the evil desires in our hearts.But when we grow up into Christ, we must put away all bitterness, wrath, anger, loud quarrelling, evil speaking and malice (Eph. 4:31).We may not entertain arguments and disputes to score points for ourselves, nor to attack a brother we dislike or are suspicious of, nor to pull a brother down, nor because we get some sort of pleasure from a vigorous debate.Rather, we must speak the truth in love with the desire that we and our neighbour might hold on to the Gospel of Truth and so grow up together in Christ.It must be a love for both God and our brother or sister in Christ that compels us to speak the truth.But if our love for God and our neighbour is absent when we speak “the truth”, then we become nothing more than a sounding brass or a clanging cymbal.Even worse, we become Christ’s enemy by tearing apart the body of Christ. Let us therefore watch how we speak the truth in love.We may not keep silent when it is time to speak.When we see the truth being twisted and manipulated with the result that the Body of Christ, the Church, is in danger of disintegrating we must, out of love for Christ and His church, we must speak the truth, even when the truth might not be popular. For love does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth (1 Cor. 13:6)But at such times and indeed all the time, let us set a guard around our mouths take heed to how we speak.Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers.(Eph. 4:29).Plan your words well and speak quietly and gently. Speak and act in all humbleness, and bear with one another in love. (Eph. 4:2). Do not be bitter, harsh and hard, but be tender-hearted as you hold out the gospel, eager to forgive one another, just as God in Christ has forgiven you. (Eph. 4:32).Always keep the gospel as your focus as you speak the truth to others.Keep Jesus Christ, the One who is both truth and love, the centre of what you say and pray that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ might fill the other person so that he might be led to repentance and a knowledge of the truth, so that together you might grow up into the head, into Christ. Speaking the truth in love means confessing and maintaining the truth as God has revealed it to us in His Word.But speaking the truth is more than being factually correct.For the Truth is ultimately found in a Person, the Truth is found in Jesus Christ.And in Christ we see the union between truth and love, a union that can not be broken.And when we have the One who is both Truth and Love in our hearts and minds, then we will speak the truth in love.Then we will bring words of healing, words of hope, words of truth and love.Then we will call one another to confess the truth and live in it that we might grow together and be brought into full unity, becoming one in Christ.
The Rev. Stephen ‘t Hart is currently minister of the Free Reformed Church of Baldivis, Western Australia. He has previously served as missionary in Papua New Guinea, where he was involved in Church planting and theological training.