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Think Spot: The Most Neglected Verse in the Bible?

An important New Testament verse is frequently neglected so that damage ends up being done to relationships in the process. Ephesians 4:15 offers us help in growing to maturity by calling us to “speak the truth in love,” but how is this text inadvertently misapplied today? 

1. When we speak the incomplete truth in love. Misunderstanding, misinterpreting or misrepresenting facts can result in communication that has the intent of being loving while inadvertently compromising that love. Where a version of the truth is believed there may well be every intention of helping its recipient, but inaccuracies can undermine the intended result. Damage is done when we engage in partial truth-telling, hasty assessment, misjudgment, or a presumption of motive. This is especially easy to do when we are in a position of power or where we have gained certain expertise. A lack of substantiation can lead to actual or perceived errors that end up obscuring love, anyway. So too, love may well be the motive when we speak to a third party, but verification of truth may be missing when the right party is not in the room!

2. When we speak the absence of truth in love. Withholding real or perceived truth is often thought to be a loving act. Maybe this is valid for a certain period if discretion warrants. For some, the time will not be right and greater harm can be caused by any insensitivity. Otherwise, though, there is surely no love demonstrated if a person we supposedly care about is in need of growth that we will not address with them. That might be okay where relationship doesn’t exist, but is it not reasonable for us to be expected to speak with candour within church teams, marriages, or friendships? Should we refrain from lovingly speaking the truth people need to hear if we might then hinder a person’s growth or perhaps allow them to perpetuate harm caused by actions they are unaware of? 

3. When we speak the truth without love. When we endeavour to bring correction, there needs to be a focus of relationship. Jesus’ desire here is for reconciliation (Matthew 18:15-20), rather than compliance or conquest. If we play the role of God’s referee, our tone can quickly betray self-righteousness or a lack of love. At times, ministers typically come under attack for supposed violations of Scripture but, even if correction is warranted, it should surely be private and protective of Christian unity rather than presuming heresy! Love is so often made conditional in our highly regulated and me-centred world. Our own feelings and emotions sometimes take over in the face of real opportunities to show that we are true disciples by having unconditional love for one another.

Finally, to speak the truth in love needs us to be circumspect. Those who have been hurt by others typically need protection, perhaps someone else to speak the truth in love on their behalf. Also, context suggests truth must be grounded in the gospel, and this means that biblical values will always regulate the motive and manner of our truth telling as followers of Christ.

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