One of the Scriptural passages that is subject to great misunderstanding within the church is Ephesians 4:15. What exactly does it mean for us to speak the truth in love? Many, if not all, of us have been on the receiving end of hurtful remarks made by a brother or a sister under the guise of speaking the truth in love. Does Ephesians 4:15 give us the right to hurt others with the things that we say just because they are true? Does it mean that we should always make the truth known in every situation and never remain silent under any circumstance?
Quite simply, I think the key to answering these questions and, thus, to applying Ephesians 4:15 in our lives is the word love. Since we are to speak the truth in love, that means love—as biblically defined—must control our speaking. If love is defined as doing what is best for the loved one and not what is most convenient or even best for oneself, this will directly affect our truth-speaking in at least two significant ways: it will affect how we speak the truth, and it will affect what truth we decide to speak and what truth we decide to leave unspoken.
If love is what is driving us to speak to others, we will, first of all, be concerned about how we speak. We will seek to watch the words that we use as well as the attitudes, motives, and tones of voices with which we speak them. We will strive not to give offense by the way we speak the truth. This is precisely what Solomon is talking about in Proverbs 15:1: “A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”
Second, if love drives us to speak to others, we will also exercise restraint in the truth that we choose to speak. We will recognize that “speaking the truth in love” sometimes means saying nothing at all, as it seems to on at least two occasions in the life and ministry of Jesus. Both Matthew 5:38–40 and 27:11–14 teach us that there are times when it is better for us to remain silent than to speak the truth, either because the individual involved is not yet ready to hear the truth or because saying it would do more harm than good. Whatever the reason may be, the point is that love for others ought to cause us to think very carefully about what we say before we say it. We need to examine our intentions. Are we really chiefly concerned for the best interest of the other person? Or is it a selfish desire to clear the air or get things off our chest?
No doubt, there are times when the best interests of others will require us to speak the truth in ways that may sting. But we need to be very careful and very prayerful in those situations—and in every situation—to ensure, as much as we can, that we are motivated by love and not by selfish pride.