“…we are no longer to be children, tossed here and there by waves, and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming; but speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him, who is the head, even Christ…” Ephesians 4:14-15.
She sighed and said, “So…how do I tell him?” My friend had confided that her husband had been criticized by a church leader, one whom they both respected. He was understandably hurt and defensive, a normal reaction. The conversation turned, however, when she gingerly mentioned there could be some merit in the criticism. Her husband couldn’t see it, but she could and knew others did as well. How could she best communicate this to him? How do you speak a difficult truth in a way that it can be received?
Spiritual leaders especially need to find effective ways to speak truth to others within a gospel context, in accordance with Ephesians 4:15, “…speaking the truth in love.” It is a sign of spiritual maturity, according to Paul. This is an essential skill to cultivate because we are occasionally called on to have this type of conversation with others. Your adult child, your close friend, a co-worker, church member or others may need to hear “truth” – but it must always be expressed in love, gentleness and respect. This verse is couched in Ephesians 4, a chapter devoted to promoting unity within the body of Christ. It is significant that these two virtues, truth and love, are linked together, indicating that true unity results from both. Speaking truth is the easy part – doing it with authentic grace and honesty takes it to another level.
These three considerations may help you to “speak truth in love”:
Check your motivation. What is driving you? Has this person offended you? If so, are you pursuing a confrontation for your own purposes? Or, like the wife above, do you genuinely seek what is best for the other person? Take some time to think, pray, and ask the Holy Spirit to cleanse your heart of any self-serving attitudes. St. Teresa de Avila advised, “Be gentle with all and stern with yourself.”
Consider your timing, since you are looking to capture a moment when you have his or her ear. If the opportunity presents itself, don’t hesitate. On the other hand, don’t force it if you sense the time isn’t right. Pray that God will open the door to a conversation, if He so wills. “How delightful is a timely word!” (Proverbs 15:23)
Come up with a “word picture”. A word picture is a metaphorical story or scenario used to express a truth. For example, in 2 Samuel 12 the prophet Nathan confronted David regarding his adultery with Bathsheba. However, rather than immediately accusing him, he came in the back door of David’s heart with his story of a poor family, a beloved pet lamb and a cruel rich man. Nathan skillfully wove this word picture in order that David might see his actions from God’s perspective. Granted, this is a dramatic example – most of our situations are much more ordinary. Still, it illustrates an extremely effective way to communicate truth with someone in authority over you or someone who is resisting truth.
These conversations are not easy but they are necessary at times. May we each have the wisdom to speak truth with love, waiting on God’s timing and doing so with a gracious spirit. “The heart of the righteous ponders how to answer” (Proverbs 15:28).