For much of my Christian life I have had a one-sided view of “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). I assumed that the verse meant only that when hard news or rebuke needed to be brought, it should be done with tenderness and sensitivity. I was wrong.
Not totally wrong. I understood correctly the verb and the love: that hard news and rebuke should always be brought with appropriate sobriety, humility, and never with arrogance and harshness.
But I neglected to focus on the other part of Paul’s phrase: the noun and “the truth.” The context of the passage helps to explain Paul’s meaning.
In his sermon, “How the Saints Minister to the Body” (1992), Pastor John explains the earlier context:
First, the equippers of the saints in verse 11 are all truth agents:
- apostles (the authoritative, foundational witnesses to the truth),
- the prophets (the charismatic speakers of truth that apply it with supernaturally guided pointedness),
- the evangelists (who do the work of evangelism with the truth of the gospel in regions where apostles have planted the church),
- the pastors and teachers (who take the truth and use it to feed and protect the flock of God).
Every one of these offices centers on the truth of God and Christ and the gospel. These people are truth agents.
Second, verse 13 says that the goal of building up the body of Christ is to attain to the unity of the faith and the knowledge of the Son of God. So the building begins with equippers who are all agents of truth, and the aim of the building is unified knowledge, that is, unified grasp of truth.
Third, we have seen that verse 14 shows Paul’s great concern: As we grow into corporate Christlikeness, we are not to be babes who are blown around by every wind of doctrine. The issue is stability in true doctrine, so that we will not be deceived by false doctrine.
Thus, our call to speak the truth in love to one another is gospel-oriented.
Today we gather together as Christians to worship our God. If we are led by faithful preachers, that is a gift from God which equips us to speak truth. As we gather, we find opportunities to speak the truth of the gospel to one another. This is how we serve and protect one another doctrinally. This is how we build up one another and build unity in our churches. This is how God gives grace to others through us (Ephesians 4:29).
At its core, we speak the truth in love when we care enough to speak the gospel into the lives of those around us. This is God’s everyday calling for every Christian, including Sundays.