Authenticity has been a buzz word for several years. As with a lot of words, authenticity means different things to different people. Being real is a simple definition of authenticity. I connect with the idea that we need to be authentic with God and ourselves inviting Him to search our hearts (Psalm 139:23-24). Sins revealed should be confessed and forgiveness asked for followed by a dependence on Him for cleansing and empowering to walk in His ways. On a human level, authenticity should happen in the context of relationships that have built trust and respect. I personally have grappled with what authenticity looks like on the human level and specifically whether authenticity takes preeminence over gracious speech.
Recently, I was studying Ephesians and came across a couple of verses that I have pondered over the last few weeks. Ephesians 4:15 uses the phrase “speaking the truth” and Ephesians 4:25 uses the phrase “speak the truth.” Taking these two phrases out of context can give readers a false license to speak their opinions and preferences without any qualifiers. Also, taking these two phrases out of context can give readers a false idea that this is a command from Scripture to share opinions and preferences as the preeminent form of communication. However, a careful look at the context of these two phrases brings insights.
In Ephesians 4:15, the phrase “speaking the truth” comes after 4:1-14 where Paul exhorts the Ephesians to walk in a manner worthy of the calling placed on them with humility, gentleness, and patience eager to maintain the bond of peace. Furthermore, he states the goal of believers is to attain unity of faith and fullness of Christ. Then Paul illustrates the opposite of fullness of Christ as children being swayed “by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful scheme.” Then he states “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ.”
When you look at the phrase “speaking the truth” in context, Paul seems to be talking about speaking biblical truths to each other in a loving and gracious way. There is nothing in this passage that talks about sharing your opinions and preferences freely with others because you think you need to be authentic.
Then in Ephesians 4:25, the phrase “speak the truth” comes after 4:17-24 and before 4:26-32. In Ephesians 4:17-24, Paul states that Gentiles are sensual, greedy, and practice impurity. Paul exhorts the Ephesians to put off the old self and “put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness” (Ephesians 4:24). Because of the content of 4:17-24, Paul tells the Ephesians in 4:25 to put off falsehood (a lie; a statement that deviates from the truth) and speak the truth. Paul then goes on to say not to sin in anger and not to steal. He instructs them to not have corrupt speech, but speech that builds up and gives grace to those that hear. Believers were to let go of bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, slander, and malice. Instead, kindness, tenderheartedness, and forgiveness were to be the believers’ behavior.
“Speak the truth” in the context of Ephesians 4:17-32, seems to be speech conforming to reality. The speech is to conform to the new life of God—righteousness, holiness, kindness, graciousness, tenderness, and forgiveness. The context of Ephesians 4 does not seem to be encouraging expressing opinions or preferences that neglects God’s standards of righteousness, holiness, kindness, graciousness, tenderness, and forgiveness.
Dr. Juli Slattery, a clinical psychologist, astutely says, “Sometimes we Christians are guilty of backing away from truths that desperately need to be spoken. But just as often, we speak the ‘authentic’ truth without the discernment and love that should distinguish us as Jesus' disciples. Being truthful is different than being brutally honest. There are a lot of hurtful and destructive things said in the guise of authenticity.”
She goes on to state, “Yes, we should be honest about our struggles and questions, not pretending to have it all together. But in the spirit of authenticity, let's be self-controlled and discerning, remembering that Christ's genuine love shining through us is the greatest power on earth.”
So, after seeking the Lord’s perspective, pondering the context of Ephesians 4, and reading Dr. Slattery’s words, I have concluded that gracious speech is the preeminent principle that will guide my authenticity with others. Imposing my preferences on areas like child training, clothing styles, diet regimen, exercise plans, hair options, house décor, school choices, work venues, or other areas, without solicitation, can lead to estranged relationships.
Does your authenticity with others fit the gracious speech exemplified in Ephesians 4?
Juli Slattery, “The Danger of Authenticity: Why being "real" with others isn't always the best choice,” Today’s Christian Woman, 2014, accessed September 30, 2019, https://www.todayschristianwoman.com/articles/2014/may/danger-of-authenticity.html?start=2.