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In a previous ministry setting, my wife and I were the happy recipients of an annual invitation to dinner. In December of each year, a dear elderly couple took us to one of the city’s leading steakhouses. The couple’s aim was to bless us, and that they did. The meal was always sumptuous, the conversation encouraging, and the evening delightful in every way. Every way but one, that is.

Christmas was in the air, and in fact, we usually exchanged small gifts and reflected together on God’s goodness during the past year. As much as we enjoyed those memorable evenings, there came to be an awkward moment that my wife and I dreaded.  As the meal wound down and we began to transition toward the door, the waitress would send us off with a smile and a parting “Happy holidays to you all.” Like clockwork, our friends would turn sour, scrunch up their faces, and blurt out, “Merry Christmas!” in response. The message was sent. Their point was made.  The waitress would look bewildered and embarrassed, not quite sure what to make of the moment or the couple.

Granted, political correctness has run amok in our society, but I doubt that the world will be won over by terse, mean-spirited offerings of “Merry Christmas” during the yuletide season. Indeed, there is a better way for Christians to engage their neighbors, both those within and outside the body of Christ. Writing to the church at Ephesus, the Apostle Paul set forth God’s expectations for our speech, insisting that believers “[speak] the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15).

In Ephesians 4, the Apostle Paul outlines the offices with which Christ has gifted the church, and he maintains that these individuals are to “equip the saints for the work of service” (v. 12). Paul’s stated goal is a maturing church, spiritually stable and rooted in the truth. Such teaching fosters spiritual maturity and leads to Christian unity, as is fitting for the body of Christ. Paul argues that biblical truth is essential for spiritual growth, and Christian love and unity are indicators that such growth is taking place. Paul’s words to the Ephesian believers endure in relevance to every generation, especially ours.

Paul’s command to “[speak] the truth in love” seems both straightforward and noncontroversial, but we must acknowledge how countercultural these five words truly are. To “speak” reminds us that Christians are to communicate. We aren’t merely to insinuate or signal hard truths; we are to articulate them. We don’t simply allude to Scripture; we declare it. “The truth” reminds us that biblical revelation is inspired, inerrant, fixed, and knowable. Thus, biblical truth claims are God’s truth claims, and they are authoritative.

The truth can’t come from our lips until it’s first deposited in our minds and hearts.

In the main, our generation questions the very notion of truth, especially absolute truth. Postmodernists doubt not just Christian truth claims but all truth claims. Feelings are valued over facts, experience over propositions, and the abstract over the concrete.

What is more, “cancel culture” polices speech, ready to pounce if every syllable isn’t uttered perfectly in accord with contemporary cultural expectations. Thus, to speak the truth has never been more difficult, but that also means that it’s never been more necessary. Before we can speak the truth, however, we must know it. As Dr. R.C. Sproul observed, the main cause of evangelical shallowness is laziness in the study. Pastors choose busywork and laypeople entertainment over the simple study of God’s Word. The truth can’t come from our lips until it’s first deposited in our minds and hearts. Similarly, “in love” is also out of fashion. In fact, some see speaking the truth as contradictory to love, as though the two were mutually exclusive or totally incompatible. But we know that it’s unloving to let someone exist in ignorance, devoid of biblical truth. To do so leaves them susceptible to “human cunning” and “craftiness in deceitful schemes” (v. 14).

Unless the Spirit works, unbelievers may well find biblical truth distasteful, altogether incompatible with their worldview and lifestyle. But the believer is not bound by the receptiveness of the crowd. Rather, we are to speak the truth in love and understand that it may give offense. But herein is the key: if there is going to be offense, let it be with the message, not the messenger. You can ensure that result only by speaking the truth in love.

Such love will prove a striking contrast to the acrimony of our age. Shrillness, rancor, and recrimination have deepened social fissures, resulting in a more fragmented nation. Television programs and talk-show hosts strive for higher ratings, and thus they’re committed to stoking controversy because they know that it sells. Politicians stoke their bases, entertainers their crowds, businesses their customers. It seems that everyone is playing to someone—and this means that neither truthful content nor a loving tone is a top priority.

Among God’s people, it is not to be this way. Our speech is not to expand our platform, mobilize our base, or increase our following. We best represent the teachings of Christ by speaking the truth. We best represent the spirit of Christ by doing so in love. To speak the truth in love is not just a Christian sensibility; it’s a biblical command. Those who will most faithfully and effectively represent Christ in our generation are those who will purpose to speak the truth in love. Truth matters more than tone, but let’s work hard to get both right.

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