Season: 5 Episode: 069
Why do people say, “Speak the truth in love”? Shanda explains why she thinks this is a strawman fallacy used to shut down conversations and what Christians must remember when speaking the truth even when it hurts.
“The motivation to speak the truth in love cannot be found outside of loving God.”
“Our love for God naturally transcends to all other relationships.”
“There are natural consequences when you stand up for truth.”
“The two natural responses to truth are running from it or running to it.”
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Hey guys! Welcome back to another episode of Her Faith Inspires podcast where we take cultural issues and align them to biblical truth.
Today, we are talking about speaking the truth in love. I hear this from everyone: Christians, non-Christians, kids, old people, and anyone and everyone.
My question is: What does that mean? Does it mean I need to say it in a soft tone? Does it mean I can’t say things that offend? Should I not bring up controversial things?
In my opinion “Speak the truth in love” is becoming a copout.
It’s a way to shut down conversations immediately because someone doesn’t like what you have to say and as soon as you speak the truth that offends, this is the card they pull on you.
Why am I bringing this up? Because it has silenced the truth in many conversations and we’ve allowed it. Yet … no one has taken the time to explain what that means.
Now, do I think you should not speak the truth in love? Of course not! Is speaking the truth in love wrong to say? Not at all.
But here are my questions for those who say, “Speak the truth in love” :
1. How do you know someone is not being loving when they speak the truth?
2. What is your motivation for telling someone to “speak the truth in love”? Is it because they sound mean when they speak the truth? Is it because they hurt your feelings with the truth? I genuinely want to get behind this phrase and where it comes from and why it’s said so often, especially by Christians.
I put this phase to the test on my Instagram stories.
The first question I asked was, “Should Christians speak the truth in love?” So many people answered this one and it was almost unanimous. 96% said yes.
The other question was not answered by many at all. I asked, “What does it mean to speak the truth in love?” Here are a few of the answers I got:
- “You can speak the truth in love without being rude or demeaning.”
- “Have grace and truth.”
- Saying what’s necessary even if it hurts the other person. Gently and without pride.
- Be like Jesus! Greatest example. (I’m going to come back to this one as we look at the points for today because that too, is a broad statement).
I’ll come back to the answers on my poll again soon.
Let me make clear, I agree with all of these statements.
But what I really want to get to the heart of today is the issue with the phrase “speak the truth in love” and why it’s so easily throne around in our culture.
- How can we measure this statement “Speak the truth in love” with the words of Jesus? Did Jesus speak the truth in love? How do you know?
2. What does the bible tell us about our speech and how to approach those we minister to?
3. Why I personally feel that the phrase “Speak the truth in love” although true, is being used as a copout when it comes to speaking truth.
How can we measure the statement “Speak the truth in love” against the words of Jesus?
Did Jesus ever say anything that sounded unloving? Do you think people in His audience could have ever accused Him of speaking the Truth harshly or hatefully?
Sure, we know Jesus was/is loving. He died on the cross for our sins. He paid the ultimate price for the sinful world. But that’s because you have the bible. Let’s just say you were there and you heard these words straight from Jesus’ mouth:
Matthew 23:27-28″Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Let me ask you, does that seem loving?
I wonder if Jesus said it with a smile on His face? Did He say it softly? Or is it what He said that offends?
None of those questions determine whether or not Jesus spoke the truth in love. It’s the reason He said it. We know His motivation; His reason for speaking truth. Jesus said the truth sets us free. That’s why He spoke truth.
It’s really difficult to determine the motivation of why someone says what they say. I would dare say that those within earshot of Jesus’ words might accuse Him of being unloving because His word choice was pretty harsh.
Did Jesus ever drive people away by what He said?
Let’s look at one of my favorite passages of scripture in John 6. He told the people to eat His flesh and drink His blood. If you’ve taken my online class on How to Study the Bible Like a Scholar, you know that there are many many figures of speech throughout scripture. The bible is filled with literary devices that the reader must note so that he/she can interpret their bible correctly.
This is one of those instances. The thing I find the most puzzling is that Jesus knew He was going to be misunderstood. He knew His word choice would offend. And the many “disciples” (because remember, the 12 were His closest disciples but Jesus actually had many more) the many disciples He had left Him saying, “This is a hard saying. Who can listen to it?”
And in verse 6 Jesus perceived that they were bothered. He asked them, “Does this offend you?” And He goes on to say, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life.”
Did you catch what Jesus said … His words are spirit and life.
And verse 66 says, “After this many of His disciples turned back and no longer walked with Him.” Why? Because the truth offended them.
Speaking the truth in love does not mean our words won’t offend. The true essence of speaking out of love is for the benefit and growth of the hearer.
Paul says in 1 Cor 1 that the cross is a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles. He says the gospel is an offense and Jesus said blessed are those who are not offended because of Me.
Why? Because the message is that we are sinners. That we aren’t enough. We need a Savior. That we are going to hell without God’s grace. Is there a way to say that that will appeal to the human soul? It depends on who you’re talking to. These are spiritual matters. But the truth of the matter is that these words do and will offend.
This brings me to my next question: What does the Bible say about our speech and who we minister to?
I grew up in a fire and brimstone type of church and that’s what I was used to for a while. The bible can easily become a weapon against your neighbor instead of a weapon against your spiritual enemy if you’re not careful.
In apologetics, we are told to demolish arguments not people. I never want to make someone feel bad about themselves for any reason. I don’t want them to feel less than as a person; to never want to bring down condemnation on anyones life. Who am I? I am a sinner in need of a savior as well. There is none righteous but God.
A few months back, the Lord laid this verse on my heart as my knowledge grew: Col 4:6, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one.”
There are two components to our speech that God wants us to have: grace and salt.
Grace: grace in the Greek has a double meaning: God’s grace and human graciousness. Our speech is to be gracious rather than brash, and charming instead of course.
Salt: At the time, salt was used for three things: season a food, sterilize a food or preserve a food. Paul took the concept of seasoning and applied it to the type of speech Christians should have: acceptable and inoffensive.
Paul went on to say that each one should know how to answer his objector. In other words, know your audience. Paul confronted multiple people at a time. He didn’t only confront individuals, face to face in a personal relationship with each one. So this doesn’t necessarily mean that your speech won’t offend no matter who you say it to just because it’s filled with grace and seasoned with salt. It means that you must be gracious and sensitive to the person and situation.
Before going into a conversation with another, you must ask yourself:
Why am I about to share this information? Is it to be right? Or is it to help the other person draw closer to the Lord?
Again, the word tells us in 2 Cor 10:5 that we demolish every argument that sets itself up against the knowledge of Christ. This is strong language here. We should be ready to right wrong thinking and that is through conversation. But we demolish arguments, not people.
If you are a Christian and gave your heart to Jesus, you responded to the gospel message and the gospel is truth. That means you now have the truth and the responsibility to share it with others.
We are living in a time where absolute truth is no longer a natural part of life. Post modernism has ushered in moral relativity and subjective truth and everything is questioned about what is real and what is not.
If we have the truth, we are to stand for it. We are to share it because lives and souls depend on it.
Ezekiel 33:1-6 tells the consequence of the one who has the truth and does not speak up when he sees others headed toward destruction. It reads:
“Again the word of the Lord came to me, saying: Son of man, speak to the children of your people and say to them: If I bring a sword upon a land, and the people of the land take a man from among them and set him for their watchman, and he sees the sword come upon the land and blows the trumpet and warns the people, then whoever hears the sound of the trumpet and does not take warning, and a sword comes and takes him away, his blood shall be upon his own head.
He heard the sound of the trumpet yet did not take warning. His blood shall be upon himself. But he who takes warning delivers his soul. If the watchman sees the sword come and does not blow the trumpet and the people are not warned and a sword comes and takes a person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity. But his blood I will require from the hand of the watchman.”
What’s the point?
If the watchman, the one able to sound the alarm, warn the people, tell them the truth of judgment and does not do it, the blood of those people are on his hands. He will be responsible for not sharing the truth.
I don’t want to stand before God one day and say, “Well God, I was going to stand for truth but I didn’t want to be unloving so I didn’t say anything.” Do you think God’s going to let that fly? I don’t. In fact, I know He won’t.
On the other hand, the Lord also convicted me about the church in Revelation. Look, I tell about my shortcomings and how God deals with me because I’m not about putting on a show for you and pretending I’m perfect and never struggle with the same things you struggle with.
But the church in Ephesus convicted me because they did all the right things.
Jesus told them their works were great. They tested those who were false prophets and they didn’t tolerate wicked people. They persevered and endured hardship for His name and didn’t grow weary in doing good.
But He had something against them that if they did not correct, He would take their right to be called a church away. Do you know what it was? They didn’t love God. They lost their intimacy with Him. The Ephesians stopped doing what they did out of the motivation of their love for God and they did it out of their motivation to be right, to correct, to reprove.
The point … love God and it will naturally follow to love others and in doing so, you will speak the truth in love. I’ve talked about what it means to love your neighbor as yourself so often because we live in a “love self”, “love is love” culture and we’ve redefined love.
We think loving others is never making them feel uncomfortable or disagreeing.
All we really should be concerned with is not whether or not we speak the truth in love but do I love God with all my heart and from that love I am motivated to do His will and tell others about Him?
So, why do I feel that the phrase “Speak the truth in love” is a copout?
Is it true? Of course. But I think it’s become an excuse. It’s an out. It’s what we call a “straw man” fallacy in logic. It succeeds at taking the focus off the real issue and putting the focus on a weaker issue or argument that is easy to knock down.
I see this all over the place … social media being the main source. Christians always say, “We just need to love others.” That’s one of the most used phrases in the book and I’m not talking about the Bible.
Last year I did an episode on love and I want to say again that we don’t get to define what love is. God already gave the description of love in 1 Cor 13 and one of those descriptors is that love rejoices in the truth.
That means that we are to celebrate the truth in our relationships with others.
We are to speak the truth in our relationships with others. We are to live the truth in front of others. There is no love without truth.
And here is the hard thing about truth: There are always two reactions to truth, no matter who you are. Truth makes people make decisions.
Truth forces people to do one of two things:
1. People will either run from the truth
2. They will run to the truth
If you are the truth bearer in a person’s life, that means they will either run from you and your relationship will be strained, or it will bring them closer to you.
Just because people run from the truth you speak, doesn’t mean you did something wrong. Now, always evaluate your heart before the Lord and take hard conversations to Him before speaking them with others. But the natural response of truth is going to repel some and it will pull others in.
I believe “speak the truth in love” is a copout because people are afraid to be canceled, unfollowed, lose friends, and some of the natural consequences of standing up for truth.
We need more truth bearers. The reason we face many of the issues in our culture is because people have stopped speaking truth. That is an indictment against the church and God will hold us accountable. I don’t want to be in dread when I stand before Him because I didn’t speak up.
My friend Taylor Phillips said this: “I think a lot of it boils down to having the space to speak the truth in love – meaning a relationship with someone. But I also think outside of a relationship with someone, having a heart of humility is big too. You can always tell when someone is prideful and condemning. You can also tell when people are coming from a place of love. I do also think that there are some cases that it doesn’t matter, because not everyone will agree with what you’re saying or accept it as loving. Not saying you don’t need a humble heart – just saying that regardless, people might have issue with what you’re saying because it’s the truth.”
Well said, Taylor.
I want to close today by reiterating that we are to speak the truth in love. But that love is the love we have for God because when we love Him it will naturally transcend to all other relationships in our lives.
So here are my final two suggestions for you:
- When you use the phrase “speak the truth in love” be careful with it. It may just shut someone down. Also, we don’t know the intent of the heart. If you suspect someone is not speaking the truth in love, speak to them privately and have an honest conversation with them. Maybe they need to change their delivery or their tone or something that will help soften the message, but leave in the truth.
2. When it comes to speaking the truth, don’t stop. Don’t allow culture to straw man you into being quiet about truth. Focus on your love and intimacy with God. Look to Him, speak to Him and ask Him for the words and when you speak, love will naturally be the motivation behind every word.
It’s hard, I get it. But we need your voice and we need ambassadors for Christ who will stand up and speak truth … in love for God and man … with grace and salt.
If you have any questions about this episode, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I’d love to answer those for you. Have a great week and I’ll catch you on the next one!