Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. (Ephesians 4:15-16)
An idea I’ve been kicking around in my head a lot recently is the idea of “truth in love,” particularly as it pertains to the social issues of today and how the Christian culture responds to them.
The conservative evangelical crowd is very fond of this idea, particularly the “truth” part, I feel. I know that doesn’t necessarily describe everybody in the crowd, but I think there’s a sense where “truth” is often more emphasized than “love.” Making much of this one phrase gives people license to speak truth all the time, sometimes letting the “love” part of it go missing. But as long as we emphasize we’re speaking “truth in love,” we can feel good about ourselves, that we’re obeying God.
Then there’s the other side that’s all about “love” and doesn’t seem to care too much about “truth,” or they’re changing their definition of truth. Certain denominations have ditched biblical truth in an effort to appeal to all. They change doctrine and belief to accommodate everyone, something that is entirely unnecessary and, more importantly, unbiblical. That’s a dangerous path to walk down.
So we face the difficulty of trying to find the middle, trying to discover what it means to include both truth and love in the definition. Here’s how I’m working through it.
Standing on the Truths
Truth is essential to daily life. Without a truth to bank on, we are people of weak or no foundation. And when something doesn’t have a good foundation, it has no staying power, no stability.
Because the Bible is truth, we can bank on it because it will always hold the keys to salvation, to sanctification, to obedience, to holiness, etc. Because God is true, we can bank on Him because He is the same yesterday, today and forever.
Truth is something we can’t escape. Truth exists outside of us. If you believe there is such a thing as absolute truth – as Christians do – we can’t get around certain things to be true. God created the world, Jesus died on the cross for our sins, salvation is by grace through faith alone. It is good for us that truth is inescapable. It gives us something t0 stand on, and that is a blessing.
I find that I am most unbalanced when I am not thinking on truth and I’m solely thinking in terms of uncertainties or potential realities. As someone who deals with a fair amount of anxiety, I think in those terms a lot. It’s super helpful for me to have truths I can consistently come back to and bank on. Some of those truths include things like Romans 8:28 (God is working everything together for my good), Psalm 16:11 (true joy is found in following God) and 1 Corinthians 10:31 (my purpose is glorifying God with everything I do).
The difficulty with truth is that it often steps on people’s toes.
Perhaps the most pertinent example of this recently is the rise of discussion over LGBT rights and homosexual behavior in America. The majority of evangelical Christians have spoken out against homosexuality as an “abomination,” as a sin. Using the “truth in love” idea, these Christians use the similar idea of “hate the sin, love the sinner” as a platform to write blog posts and preach sermons against homosexuality as the sin of this generation, against the Supreme Court’s decision to legalize same-sex marriage as a dangerous step in America.
I believe that many of these people legitimately do want to love members of the LGBT community. I can’t make a judgement on their hearts just as much as I don’t want them to make a judgement on my heart. But I’m afraid that sometimes we can miss what the true definition of “love” is as we speak truth.
Love Is the Greatest of These
1 Corinthians 13:13 says, “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”
Love is something that will last until the end, and then beyond that end. God is love, 1 John 4 tells us, and everything God does is based out of love for Himself, love for His Son or love for us. It is a pure kind of love, a pure affection and attachment to someone or something else. It’s a sacrificial, unselfish love, best displayed by the death of Jesus on the cross for our salvation – “In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins” (1 John 4:10).
In response to God’s love, we love others. I can’t get around this idea that love is the greatest thing that will last forever. If the second greatest commandment after love God is to love your neighbor as yourself, it’s vitally important to living as a believer, living as someone God loves.
What does it mean to love your neighbor as yourself? I think it’s very much tied into the idea that you want them to treat you as you wish to be treated, the “golden rule.” Love is a verb, right? So it’s super tied-in with our actions. But it’s also a state of our heart. There’s an attitude of love, something that drives how we behave. Love is double-sided: it’s an emotion (a noun) that goes into an action (a verb). But one is not necessary for the other – you can often do the action without the emotion, or have the emotion but do nothing about it.
So love is huge. From my perspective, it’s God’s primary attribute. Everything else that He is derives from His love. And if we’re going to emulate God, which is our goal, everything we must do should derive from love.
So What Really Is Truth in Love?
This is the biggest question.
But it’s a question that often goes unasked. We assume we have the right answer for what “truth in love” really means. That goes for me too. What usually happens is people tend towards one of two extremes, as we talked about earlier. We either focus more on the truth or more on the love.
I often fall into the love camp where I’m more, “Hey, let’s not go so overboard with the truth that we forget to love people.” I’m not saying we need to water down the truth, but let’s give it gradually. Way too much truth at one time easily overwhelms someone.
For example, let’s talk about the LGBT community for a minute. We want to tell them that their lifestyle is sinful. I’m not arguing that. My idea is two things. First, let’s learn to love them as human beings first without approaching that subject. Second, let’s accept and admit that we have lifestyles that are sinful and that we’re no better, no different. Just because people sin the sin of the moment doesn’t mean they’re worse.
That kind of attitude, I think, displays truth in love. There is an acknowledgement of truth and a drive to love. We acknowledge that homosexual behavior is a sin, but we also acknowledge that the choices we make are just as sinful, and therefore we have no high ground to stand on. We then seek to live like Jesus and love them and all sinners – meaning, all people – the same, desiring to love as we would love.
We speak the truth in love, but I think there’s also a sense where we live out truth in love. Are we really living out the truth of the Bible? Are we acknowledging the truth of the Gospel? Are we living out the truth in our love for others? Are we living out love in our standing for the truth?
I must be honest here: I don’t do this well. I’m quick to judge those who sin differently than me. If there are people that struggle with the same sins as me, I’m quicker to emphasize grace and mercy and love because that’s what I would desire for me. But if they sin differently, I’m more likely to point out the truth and skip the love. I’ve got to grow in this immensely.
Truth Is Love. Love Is Truth.
If you’re following Jesus, we’ve got to remember that truth is love and love is truth. This is the lifestyle of a Christian. Let me explain.
Truth is love. God loves us and shows us His love by speaking truth to us. So if we truly love the people around us, we will speak truth. But we can’t forget that love is truth. If we want to live truthfully, we will love. Everything we do will ideally emanate from love for God and love for others.
So being a Christian, living out our faith, is learning how to do that. You could make the point that we’re making a big deal out of one phrase in one verse in Scripture – a point I was about to make – but I think this is a good summary of what it means to live as a Christian. We don’t just speak truth in love, we live out truth in love, we live out love in truth.
Perhaps the most difficult part is that there’s no one way to handle every situation with truth in love, love in truth. It definitely depends on the circumstances. But each and every day, our charge is to figure out what “truth in love” means for where we are right then, who we’re with, what we’re feeling, how we’re living.
And in that, we glorify God the most.