“But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” Ephesians 4:15
The manner of saying a thing is often of as much importance as the thing said. In other words, the spirit in which the truth is spoken is about as important as is the utterance of truth at all. Someone has well expressed it: “Apples of gold when taken out of their pictures of silver, and hurled at your head, may become the instruments of great pain.” We have no doubt that even murders have been committed in this way. Words that are not fitly spoken may in themselves be good and true enough, but uttered in a rude, offensive, unloving manner they are sure to result in evil rather than good. The question, therefore of manner, in speaking the truth, is always one of importance.
I. Consider, first, some varied ways in which the truth may be spoken.
A. One may speak the truth with the view of insinuating falsehood.
Such an example is evident when the Pharisees of old said of Christ, “This man receiveth sinners.” They told the truth, but insinuated falsehood. The truth is spoken many times in the same way today, and is a plain violation of God’s command to speak the truth in love.
B. Then the truth may be spoken in envy.
It was so spoken again by the Pharisees when they saw Christ going as a guest to the house of Zaccheus, the publican. They murmured, saying “That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner.” It was quite true, what they said; but it was the truth spoken in envy that the poor outsider was to be brought within the fold.
C. Then the truth may be spoken in pure malignity.
It may be spoken with a definite desire to give pain, combined with certain coarseness of nature. Some people get a superficial reputation for honesty through the brutal way in which they blurt out uncomfortable truths. Such as, “There isn’t any hypocrisy about me. If I don’t like a person I let him know it.” Now, such an one is liable to do an enormous amount of harm; besides, he has utterly forgotten that the exhortation to “speak the truth in love” is just as certainly one of God’s commands as is his requirement to speak the truth at all.
D. Truth often ceases to be truth when the love is taken out of it, and has all the effect of falsehood.
The apostle leaves us in no doubt whatever as to how we are to speak the truth. It is always to be “in love.” Truth spoken in love has incomparably greater force to do good, to direct people, to mend people, to help people, to save people, than has the same truth when spoken only with severity and with the best intentions.
II. Therefore notice, secondly, the duty and wisdom of speaking the truth in love.
A. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.”
This being so we need not wonder that our truth is to be leavened with love, like everything else we do. The two things are always to go together—truth and love.
Truth without love will fail to do what God meant it for. It will repel instead of attract. It is very liable. to harm instead of help. Christian truth is revealed as a means of bringing men back to God and to a state of perfect love. It can only be enforced by the voice, look and hands of love. If it is right to be bitter and unloving in speaking the truth it would be right to steal or to kill for the truth’s sake. Except we speak the truth in love, we can never expect to spread widely either the knowledge of or love for the truth. The fact is that unless we speak the truth in love we are not speaking the truth at all. Departure from love will involve departure from the truth. Love, affection — is part of the truth. With the love left out the truth is robbed of its essence and is not truth any longer. “He that loveth not knoweth not God, for God is love.”
But, on the other hand, love without truth is equally dangerous, if truth without love must fail of accomplishing what God meant it to do; so love without truth must be equally harmful, flattering the soul into a false peace and sense of security from which there can be only a woeful waking.
B. It is in combination.
Only through the union of truth and love, that the highest and best, the God-intended results are brought about.
“When I was a very young student,” said Dr. Morrison, “I once breakfasted with Caesar Malan, of Geneva, at Dr. John Brown’s. When the doctor told him that I was a young student of divinity, he said to me, ‘Well, my young friend, see that you hold up the lamp of truth to let the people see. Hold it up. Hold it up, and trim it well but remember this: you must not dash the lamp in people’s faces. That would not help them to see.’ ” Dr. Morrison said he had always remembered the words and that they had been of great help to him.
Dr. Archibald Alexander Hodge, of Princeton, used to tell his students that they must not shun to preach the penalty of sin and future punishment, but that, they were not prepared to preach upon such themes until they did it with tears.
Truth and love must always be in combination. Speaking the truth in love is the only way in which truth should be or can be spoken. Some one has well said: “Truth is the stern hard thing, like the bare branches of winter; love is the softener and beautifier, like the green foliage on the summer tree. If you show that you love people you may tell them truths that condemn them, and yet awaken no bitterness; you may show them how wrong they are and only make them thankful to you for setting them right.”
He who speaks the truth in love forgets self, is moved by a loving purpose, rejoices in every exhibition of the truth by whomever made, and if he must defend truth does it in a loving spirit.
“The portrait is like me, but too good-looking,” was the criticism once made to an artist, which called forth the significant reply: “It is the truth, lovingly told.”
Source: The Preacher’s Assistant, September 1901