Maybe you shouldn’t speak the truth in love.

6 min. to read.

It’s happening right now.

Somewhere a Christian is talking to another person. Something’s wrong and the Christian feels that right now–in this moment–they have to say something.

I know this is happening right now, because it happens all the time. And not just from Christians. This is something that humans do with vigor. Some call it “just keepin’ it real.” Some call it being authentic. What’s worse?

In church world, this is often called, “Speaking the truth in love.”

Now, I’ve been on both sides of this conversation. I’ve been the corrector. A lot. I’ve also been the correctee. So I know how this feels on both sides—and it’s not about love at all.

The speaker feels like they’ve been courageous. They have done the hard thing and spoken the truth. The listener feels like they were kicked in the gut. They feel judged, belittled, misunderstood. The last thing on their mind is changing or growing or even talking with this person again.

Is this how it should go down?

Just an excuse to be a jerk?

Start here.  Seriously.  Photo Credit:  Unknown
Start here. Seriously. Photo Credit: Unknown

Speaking the truth in love.

For some, it’s a badge of honor that identifies serious Christians. More often than not this phrase has become a shield. It allows someone to say insensitive, even mean things, and get away with it. After all, we’re just speaking the truth! Telling the truth is loving, right?

This phrase originated in Ephesians 4:15 and came about through a translating difficulty. There simply is no English equivalent to the Greek word, which goes well beyond speaking to include the idea of living a life that reflects the truth. (If you want to get more into that, you can watch my presentation on the subject here.)

You aren’t speaking the truth in love if your words aren’t experienced as loving by the people around you.

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Here’s the short version: You aren’t speaking the truth in love if your words aren’t experienced as loving by the people around you.

Truth presented without love is harsh and cutting. It pushes people into being defensive. Love given without truth is dishonest and enabling. It leads people to believe that things are OK when they aren’t.

Love without truth isn’t really loving. Truth without love may be factually correct, but it isn’t God’s truth.

5 things to make sure you’re really loving when you speak.

So, then, how can we speak into each other’s lives in way that is both truthful and loving? Before you speak, run through these five steps:

1. Restrain Yourself.

Start by restraining your impulse to speak. That quick urgency in your gut that you must speak now is often motivated by something other than love. Stop long enough to evaluate your motives before you decide to say anything. James 1:26 tells us as much:

If anyone thinks he is religious without controlling his tongue, then his religion is useless and he deceives himself. Tweet that

2. Check the Moment.

Ask yourself, “Is this the right moment to speak?” Not every word or action needs to be corrected, and not every moment is the right moment for trying to correct someone. If you speak in this moment will you shame someone? Are they in a listening space? Are either of you defensive?  If love is the goal of my speaking, I have to take into account the moment we’re in. Grace has the strength to let a lot of things pass.

Don't let urgency lead you to say something dumb or hurtful.  Check this list.
Don’t let urgency lead you to say something dumb or hurtful. Check this list.

3. Check the person About to Speak.

Ask yourself, “Am I the right person to speak this?” Your gut is telling you, “Yes,” but that might not be true.  We don’t have to be perfect to share something with someone else, but we need to be authentic. If I have something to gain from the conversation, I may not be the right person. If I’m in the midst of my own crisis, I may not be the person to give someone else advice.  If love is the goal of my words, I need to make sure that me being the messenger won’t get in the way of the message.

4. Check the relationship.

Ask yourself, “Is our relationship right for this conversation?” Some people have clearly given you permission for truth-telling, and some have not. Some relationships have baggage that makes a particular conversation unfruitful. If there is something that clearly needs to be said, and love is the goal of your words, then you need to invest in the relationship, so that it can truly be a loving space.

5. Check the words.

Last, check your words. Ask yourself, “Are these words the right words?” Chances are pretty high that the first words that come to mind are the wrong words. Those words were born in your reaction. They carry the weight of your emotional space.
If love is the goal of your words, then you need to take the time to pick words that will bring light and love.

After you’ve restrained your initial urge to speak, after you’ve checked the moment, and whether you are the right person to speak, and whether you have a relationship that’s earned the right, and if your words are the right words, after all of that, then speak.

Maybe you’re saying, “Well, dang Marc. It would just be easier to not speak at all.” Exactly.

If it’s easy for you to confront someone, chances are pretty high your words are more about you, then they are about them. If you aren’t considering the heart of that other person, then you’re not speaking it in love.

2 thoughts on “Maybe you shouldn’t speak the truth in love.

  1. Thanks for the thoughts Marc. I automatically thing of Matthew 18 when speaking to a brother about a perceived problem. I have been on the giving and receiving ends of rebuke. In my experience, the conversation often goes better with mutual listening The last time I “rebuked” a brother, I included the question “What are the reasons for (insert action, remark, etc)?” The question is grammatically similar to “Why?” questions, without putting the other party on the defensive. Thanks for the 5 points, I may refer back to them.

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