What does it mean to ‘Speak the Truth in Love?

It is a phrase I hear more and more often. And the more I hear it used, the more I’m convinced it is not fully understood.

Is it implying the use of good intentions or is it more than that?

Is this kind of conversation direct or can it be indirect?

If what we are communicating is ‘right’ or ‘coming from a good place’ then does how we say it matter? Are we in any way accountable for how we communicate the message as long as it is true?

In its simplest form to ‘speak truth in love’ is to speak love in truth. And as we know from I Corinthians 13, handling ‘love’ is the deep water of spirituality, the functional DNA of an image-bearer.

Corinthians records ‘Love is’... and then a list of things we don’t typically associate with love. No sex or romance. No gifts or pampering. No feeling warm and fuzzy. No beaches or midnight strolls.

Honestly when reading vs 4-7 it almost seems that to be the ‘lov-er’ is to be penalized or weighed down. To not envy, alludes to the fact that circumstances will come that are enviable. To not rejoice at wrongdoing means I will be wronged. To not be irritable or resentful means there will be stuff to be irritable and resentful about.

It’s not what I think of when I imagine love. And yet it is all of Jesus’ earthly years summed up into 4 verses. Fast forward to I Peter 4:7-11 and we see the act of love being put to practice in specific actions.

Whoever speaks, Whoever serves

Love in practice is connected to: interpersonal communication and relation. The exhortation is to ‘love’ in word AND deed, equally.

But to reflect the Divine, to be like God, can be misconstrued in so many ways. Is it our mental intelligence? Is it our creative, curious disposition? Is it our acuity to diagnose problems and create solutions? Is it our emotional intelligence?

Maybe. It could be all of that in some way. And yet those could be just the surface level things we can see, the clues leading us to something deeper and bigger.

To be like God, to fully inhabit His image, is to prize the beauty of His creative order, to fully see the evidence of His handiwork, and to, in faith, believe in His redemptive plan for all creation, you and myself included.

I love the word play of ‘image-bearer’, the inference of a Divine imprint. We all, believers and non-believers, faithful and unfaithful, bear His image.

The bearing of His image can be weighty, restrictive, and overwhelming; like falling in a pit of quick sand, the more we resist the more we sink and become crushed by the weight of the sand.

Bearing His image can be freeing, liberating, and bring peace; like being returned back to those we love after a long, long, forced absence. In returning we want only to be in their presence and to be present, every other prospective issue or hurt pales in comparison and is no longer held within to fester and rot.

The framework in I Peter 4 is very explicit to us.

“Above all”, priority established, nothing is bigger or more important.

“Keep loving”, again the idea here is that there will be a multitude of reasons to stop but we are given no room to do so.

“Love covers a multitude of sins”, my freedom, my liberation is rooted in love and it is so potent that it covers sin... MY SIN. The inference here isn’t to love so that others sins are covered in some act of martyrdom, but to love so that mine are, an act of sacrifice. The practice of love is rooted in our understanding of our brokenness not other peoples.

“Show hospitality without grumbling”, or to rephrase, ask yourself where is my heart and what am I striving for. Do I want Truth in Love’ or do I want to take the pain of what has been done to me and place it onto other people? Do I want to join my broken lineage of hurt or do I want to walk away and start a new genealogy.

“Whoever speaks”, every word we use as Jesus-Followers, is expected by God to be a truth, an oracle of Him. That is words used directly and indirectly. That covers passive aggressive and direct summations. It means not that we shouldn’t be truthful but that our truth should be seasoned with grace that come from our desire NOT to be heard or have a voice but to speak on behalf of God to a brother or sister. It covers verbal and written. This is our framework for Facebook posts, Tweets, and DM’s.

‘Whoever serves’, every movement, every act ‘as one who’. Do you see it? ‘As one who’. We don’t have to serve this way, there is no forced coercion. We can serve in our own power, which is to say in our own motives for our own mission. But Peter exhorts, the signs of Christ-likeness are to serve ‘as one who serves by the strength of God’.

Why these rules, about how we speak and serve and what we speak and serve?

“In order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ.”

Speaking Truth in Love is Speaking Love in Truth.

  • Is it person to person? Yes
  • Direct or indirect? Yes
  • Written or verbal? Yes

What about if I’m just venting on social media? Well, there is no ‘just venting’ on social media because it is a public forum. Venting publicly ‘about stuff’ that involves others serves ONLY three purposes:

  1. It serves to demean and debase others
  2. It functions to bring attention to and create a false forced sympathy for ourselves, and
  3. Incite division with the intent of creating for ourselves a ‘personal emotional alibi’.

Truth, the communication of truth, cannot be solely incapsulated in what we say but must also include what is received. And not just by the intended or offended, but by any and all who hear it.

Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. And if in reading those words our first thought is “I just cannot do that” then the great news is I Peter 4:11 tells us we aren’t supposed to. WE are to serve our brothers and sisters “by the strength that God supplies” but to do so we MUST put down our swords.

There is no retribution in truth or love. And we cannot keep trying to chase away our demons in how we ‘set others straight’. Love can never even the score. Because what sin has done to us, our own sin and the sins of others, has no equal balance as long as it has hold of us.

Love doesn’t offset sin. Forgiveness doesn’t balance hurt. We simply choose which one we will hold. Both are heavy. Both hurt. One hurts to death, the other to life.

So let’s stop allowing the phrase “Truth in Love” be twisted into a license to harm and brutalize others and ourselves. Reclaim what is meant to be redemptive from the clutches of self-righteousness.

Let’s stop inflicting on others the pains that have be inflicted upon us. Let us stop the self-sabotage of our own lives. That is not truth or love. The cycle was broken at the cross.

Speaking things that aren’t true isn’t love. Speaking true things without love makes them no longer true.

Speaking truth in love, is to speak true things because I want my brother or sister to live free and know healing. See that is the ‘Truth’ part, not the specific story or act. The ‘Truth’ is my brother or sister is missing Christ and all He has for him/her and out of love I can’t allow that to go on

Love makes them true, and Truth is born from love.

- B. Varner


Jonathan Francois