How We Talk
Part 2 – Speaking the Truth in Love
April 18, 2010
Last week I mentioned that I had found a statistic that the average person spends 10 years of their life talking.
And my guess is that some of you, on hearing that, some of you thought something like, “You don’t know my Aunt Gertrude – we’re not talking 10 years – we’re talking 30 years. She just can’t shut up to save her life…”
And whether that’s accurate or not that we speak for ten years, there is no denying that all of us talk a lot, even if we don’t talk a lot at one time.
And so it’s vitally important that we talk in ways that are good, and not evil.
I think that all of us can think of times when we’ve spoken to someone in ways that we regret.
Maybe we needed to say what we needed to say, and they needed to hear it, but we regret it because of the way we said it.
Can anybody else say that with me?
Or maybe someone’s said something to us that we needed to hear, but because of the way they said it to us, we didn’t receive it.
In fact, maybe we got so mad that we decided that whatever they said, we’re just going to blow it off and not deal with whatever it was, because they were a jerk about it.
I’ve been there – how about you?
God: I also mentioned last week that Scripture is filled with teaching about our speech.
God is intimately concerned with come out of our mouths, and the main reason for that is because of what we covered last week, and that is that our mouth speaks from the overflow of our heart, according to Jesus.
And therefore, what we say tells people who we are.
And if what you speak isn’t Christlike and godly, then you need to work on your relationship with Jesus.
If you weren’t here last week, you can listen to the message on the website – I finally got it up on Friday.
Today I want to address another aspect of our speak, and that is speaking the truth in love.
Our passage for today is found in Ephesians 4:15 (NLT) – read this aloud with me:
We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
When I see this verse, I usually think along the lines of telling someone something that they may not want to hear, and so that’s the tack I’m going to take today as we discuss this verse.
And let me remind you once again of the big mirror that’s right here in front of the platform here.
Today’s message has some of the most personal application for me than probably any other message I’ve given, because quite frankly, I fail in this area more than I care to admit.
And I’ve already told my family that they may not say “Amen” at any time during this message when I’m referencing myself.
I thank God for laying this message on my heart because it allowed Him to speak to me about this stuff as well.
Obviously there are two main parts to this verse and to the issue at hand:
Speaking the truth and speaking it in love.
Let’s talk first about the truth part.
It should go without saying that we should be people who, when confronting someone about something, are truthful, right?
But all too often, in an effort to spare someone’s feelings, people, including Christians are willing to not be completely honest with someone.
I understand that, because I hate conflict as much as anyone – maybe more than anyone here. And I don’t want people mad at me anymore than any of you do.
It’s tempting to be less than truthful or to try and be so careful that we end up bending the truth to the point where it’s unrecognizable.
But folks, we need to be truthful.
Sometimes the truth hurts, but it needs to be said. Would anyone disagree with that?
Would anyone here say that lying – which God calls a sin – is better than telling the truth when someone really needs to hear what’s really going on?
I don’t think so.
The question is how we say it, and that brings us to the second part of this verse and that is speaking the truth in love.
We need to speak the truth – but how you say it is at least as important as what you say.
We need to say it in a way that conveys your love for that person.
Have you have ever been in a situation where someone walks away from a conversation, mad, or sad, and the other person says, “Well, I just told the truth. He is ugly…”
You may have addressed the situation, but if you didn’t do it in love and in a loving way, then you were wrong in how you dealt with it.
You may have been right in your concern, but if you’re wrong in how you deal with it, guess what? You lose.
You lose their attention, you lose credibility, and you lose the opportunity to speak truth into their lives again, at least for a long time.
Parents and spouses, this is especially true for us.
Parents and spouses, we literally have the power to make or break the spirits of those we love with how we talk to them.
We can address the issues in their lives in ways that display and communicate only anger and frustration or we can address them in ways that communicate our love for them – in the midst of our concern for them.
This is one of those lessons I’m having to learn in my own relations with my family. It’s one of about three lessons I’ll share with you today that I’m learning in this whole thing.
I’m not all that successful with it at times, but I’m grateful for a wife who is willing to speak the truth in love to me, so that God can speak to my heart through her and I can become better at this myself.
We will speak the truth in love…
Before we move on, let me read this very quickly, because it really gets to the heart of what I’m trying to communicate today:
Jim Slevcove was my supervisor for six summers at Forest Home, a Christian conference center in California. I held a responsible position over junior high and high school kids, but I couldn’t pass up a chance to play a prank. Like the time I passed off laxative gum as chewing gum to some coworkers. Word of the rigorous purgative’s effect got back to Jim.
He asked me to come to his office the next day for “a little chat.” There was a long, awkward silence as he leaned back in his chair and looked up at the ceiling. Were those tears in his eyes? Then he whispered “Benny” with tender affection. “Benny” he repeated twice when he got control of his emotions.
My arguments disappeared like the vapor they were. I’d gone way over the line of propriety, not to mention compassion. I owed my victims an apology. We talked about my impulsiveness and vindictiveness, the meaning of Christian community, and the responsibilities that go with leadership. In saying the hard thing to me, Jim was always gracious. His goal was not to tear down but to build up. — Ben Patterson, He Has Made Me Glad (InterVarsity, 2005)
Did you catch that? His goal was not to tear down but to build up.
Too often we’re so concerned about getting the truth out that we forget that we need to use that truth to build up rather than tear down.
That’s a truth that we need to catch.
But the verse doesn’t end there. It goes on and says something we really need to hear.
We will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church.
It seems to me that the apostle Paul here thinks that how we speak is an indicator of how we reflect Jesus.
There is a word we use for growing in every way more and more like Christ. That word is “maturity.”
If you claim to be mature in Christ, and yet aren’t growing in your ability to speak the truth in love, then you’re not mature.
You might have a lot of doctrine under your belt, you may have been a church leader for a lot of years, but if your speech isn’t reflecting Christ more and more, then you are not as mature as you think you are.
Think about how Jesus spoke to people. He was calm and loving to everybody except who: the religious leaders who thought they had it all together but didn’t and who should have known better.
And yet when they came humbly to Jesus, like Nicodemus, He didn’t blast them. He spoke truth to them, but He did it lovingly in a way they would understand and receive.
There are actually very few occasions when we need to be harsh in how we speak. If we’d take the time to listen and think and cool down, we’d find that we can usually get the job done without yelling or tearing down.
Folks, we need to speak the truth – and we need to do it in love.
You: So how can we move this from the theoretical to the practical? Let me give you some ideas that might help.
> Pray before you speak, whenever possible.
I don’t think I can stress that enough. We need to pray before we speak.
That will help us avoid the problem of speaking too quickly and saying the wrong thing, which is what usually happens when we speak too quickly.
> Learn to ask three questions:
1. Is it the truth?
That should be obvious, right?
But I think we need to examine what we’re saying to make sure that we’re communicating truth, not just opinion or personal preference, unless we tell the person that we’re sharing our opinion and personal preference.
2. Do I really need to say it?
Sometimes the truth doesn’t even need to be spoken.
You okay with that? You don’t necessarily need to correct everything you see in someone else, especially if it’s not a blatant sin issue.
You may just need to keep it to yourself because telling it may cause more hurt and harm than if you kept it yourself.
Most, if not all of us know people who just feel an obligation to say something about everything.
I know that because I used to be one of those people.
And another one of the lessons I’ve learned in my life is to just shut up when someone says something or does something that I don’t like or agree with.
If it’s not life-threatening, endangers someone’s health or salvation, or something like that, or isn’t blatantly sin according to Scripture, I don’t always have to say something.
I can walk away thinking, “Well, they’re wrong, but I’m just going to let it slide.”
Sometimes I find out that I was right, and someone learned a lesson that didn’t take me to teach.
Other times I’ve been proven wrong about something. And I’ve lived to tell about it! Amazing, huh?
And you know what that means? It means that if I had spoken up, I would have been wrong in what I said. So I wouldn’t have helped the situation, right?
It’s been said that it’s better to be silent and thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.
When you speak when you don’t have to, you run the risk of sounding like a fool.
Now, there are obviously some things that need to be said.
When someone is in real sin and headed down a path that could endanger them physically, spiritually, or whatever, then we need to say something.
But again, how are we supposed to say it? In love.
Here’s the third question:
3. How can I say this in a way that shows love for them and maturity in Christ in me?
It’s easy to yell. It’s easy to nit-pick. It’s easy to complain and grumble.
It’s harder to take the time to actually examine what you’re going to say so that you reflect love and Christ.
This means that sometimes you can’t respond to someone or address them about whatever it is right away.
You will need to take some time – hours, days, weeks, or whatever, to think and pray about how you should respond, and
to pray about whether you should respond at all.
The third idea for helping us speak the truth in love is to…
> Watch your tone.
Your tone can make all the difference in the world as to whether or not someone will listen to you.
If you are generally an abrupt or choleric person, you don’t mind if someone is abrupt with you about stuff.
But if you are abrupt to the wrong person – maybe someone who is very sensitive and soft-spoken, then you need to temper how you talk to them.
You don’t need to be harsh all the time. Calm and collected win the day.
This is where I really struggle. I’d appreciate your prayers for me. I need to watch my tone more often.
Before we finish up this section, I need to address the listeners. Those who are being approached by someone who has come to speak the truth in love to them.
> Learn to listen.
Don’t get so defensive.
Proverbs 27:6 –
Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.
Two things here:
First, it says wounds. Sometimes someone has to say something to you and it’s going to hurt, maybe hurt badly, maybe even scar you in some way.
But if what they’re saying is true, and you need to hear it, then it’s a good thing, painful as it is.
Second, it says that wounds from a friend can be trusted.
That means that when a friend has something to say to you, it’s worth listening to, again, no matter how painful it is to hear.
There’s a difference between straight criticism from a stranger or even an acquaintance and corrective words from someone who cares for you and your relationship with Christ.
I’ve had people criticize me for something they didn’t like.
And I’ve had others who have come to me, after much thought and prayer, to tell me something that concerned them and that might hurt me to hear.
But they were people who honestly love me as a person and want the best for me in Christ.
They didn’t come in with both barrels blazing, but humbly and cautiously.
And because I knew that, it made it much easier for me to listen and respond to what they were saying.
Some of it was right on stuff that I needed to hear, some of it was stuff I disagreed with them on.
But their attitude made it possible for me to listen without getting defensive – most of the time.
I’m still learning that, too. That’s the third lesson from this that I’m learning.
Some of you have tried to speak to me in love and I’ve bitten you. I’m sorry. I need your forgiveness.
My point here is that if a friend or someone that you know cares for you comes to you with something they think you need to hear, then at least give them the opportunity to speak their piece.
Because they’ll do it in love. And that’s a valuable gift, even if you don’t agree with what they have to say.
And then if you disagree, you can return the favor by taking time to think and pray, then visiting with the person calmly as well.
We: Folks, see if you can agree with me about this statement: some of the most critical people in the world are found in churches.
I have found that to be true, and it’s heartbreaking.
I’m amazed at some of the things I hear from people when I go to other churches, especially if they don’t know I’m a pastor.
It shouldn’t be that way, folks. Not according to Scripture.
And you and I have the opportunity to show the world that the truth spoken in love is a powerful thing.
Not only will it enhance the relationships within the church, it will show those outside of Christ that they are safe here.
That they can be real here, and that if something does need to be addressed, it’ll be done in a way that shows love for that person and shows our love for Jesus.
Will they hear that in you? I hope they’ll hear it in me, and God being my helper, they will.
May God work in all of us to speak the truth in love, for the sake of the other person, and for the glory of Christ.