Summary: How much does love really matter in truth telling?
It is a simple phrase, a brief phrase, one in which, if it had been omitted, would not have been missed. Nevertheless, it has always caught my eye, perhaps for the very reason that it seems expendable. Look with me at verse 15.
Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ…
We will look at the full text next week along with verse 16, but for now we are focusing in on the phrase, “speaking the truth in love.” In the Greek the phrase is actually simpler. It literally reads, “truthing in love.” There is good cause to add the word “speaking,” as most translations do, but we should understand that “truthing” is not limited to speaking. Our whole way of living and relating to one another should be done in truth.
And that certainly fits the context of the passage. Verse 14 has just said that we are not to be as children “tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.” The obvious remedy is to speak and practice truth. Build on the elements of the faith. Grow in knowledge of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and then, as Jesus said about those who heed his own words, when the rain falls and the floods come, our house of faith will remain standing.
Truth matters. But so does love. Or does it? I know love matters, but does it matter as much as truth? That really is what I want to explore. I want to know if “in love” is an aside, a mere nod to having good manners – Paul knows his mother is going to read the letter and so he slips it in.
“In love” appears three times in this passage composing verses 1-16. Other than the word “one,” which serves as the adjective for each element in verses 4-6, only the word “body” occurs more (four times). In verse 2 we are told to bear with one another in love. The passage concludes in verse 16 by speaking of the body building itself up in love. It is easy to see why “in love” would be added in verse 2 since the verse is about getting along with one another. And it is not too difficult to grasp its significance in verse 16, as growing together is the emphasis. One could say that is the point here as well in verse 15. The whole passage is about unity; to have unity there must be love so that we can get along and work together.
That is true but I want to contend that the love is more deeply wrapped up in “truthing” than just getting along. I would say there cannot be truth without love. We can neither understand truth fully, nor communicate truth fully without love.
Let me make my case. Look with me at Paul’s prayer in 3:14-19:
For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith—that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God.
In this tremendous Trinitarian prayer, Paul prays to the Father to grant the Ephesian believers power through the Holy Spirit so that Christ may dwell in their hearts through faith that they, being rooted and grounded in love, might have strength to comprehend and to know the love of Christ. Note the connection. In order for them to have real understanding of the love of Christ, they need to be grounded themselves in love. They cannot be expected to understand what is not taking place within themselves to some degree.
Theologians divide the attributes of God into two categories – communicable and incommunicable. Incommunicable attributes are traits of God that we do not share – traits such as having no beginning, of never developing or changing, of self-existence. These are traits that are communicated to us through Scripture and to a degree we can reason them, but we can’t identify with them, and so our understanding is very limited. Communicable attributes are traits of God that we can have somewhat more understanding because to some degree we share in them. Take, for example, God’s knowledge. His knowledge is profoundly greater than ours in that he knows all things perfectly, but we can at least understand the idea of knowing since we hopefully do some of it ourselves.