As these two caps in my headline might already point to, speaking the truth in love is not something we can do on our own. Actually, we must be in love with our Creator through Jesus Christ, so that we can behave toward all other human beings as we should. Loving them unconditionally does not mean that we cave in if we disagree with them. No, if God wants us to take a stand, we should do it – always. However, if we are not IN love with God, what will happen is most probably something that some of us already did: they tried to speak the truth in love by telling others what they believed, and perhaps it was really the truth (!), but they did not wait on the Lord to nudge them to do so and thus it got all harsh and judgmental. They might have felt that there was something wrong about it and thus they added some pleasantry in order to show that they really loved the other person. Well, I believe that is not the way God intended it to be.
Let’s think about it for a moment. Just imagine, someone beheaded you and told you afterwards they loved you, though. How would you and I feel? Some people might even think there is something like “righteous anger” when they express “the truth” by attacking others although they simply obeyed their fleshly desire to be right. But “the anger of man does NOT produce the righteousness of God.” (Js 1:20 ESV – emphasis mine) The righteousness of God has been imputed on us if we have been enabled, by God’s grace, to live IN Christ. Then we may enjoy His peace, His love, His righteousness etc., everything His Spirit provides, by merely abiding in His love. We cannot even abide in His love if He has not “known” us, that is, loved us (body/soul/and spirit) as yet. Dear brothers and sisters, it is not fun to finally realize that we cannot do anything (which is truly good) apart from Him, but it is the truth!!! Everything we do or say apart from His Spirit’s guidance, even though it might be true, will not bring forth the righteousness of God. Instead, it will hurt and destroy.
The principle of waiting on God for His proper timing also refers to what we say about others. It does matter what and especially how we talk about others, all the more if we do so publicly. In fact, it is not the same thing to judge what might be wrong about a certain teaching, a specific teacher, or the church system in itself and to mock other human beings simply because we disagree with them. This is certainly not what God wants to see His children do. Ridiculing famous or not so famous people (Christians in particular) is something I often meet on the internet and it grieves me a lot. 😦 The world may keep doing so because it does not know God (cf. 1 Jn 5:19). But if Christians do the same, I doubt whether they have really received His Spirit who reveals to them continually that God loves everyone. ALL people on earth are HIS creation! And Jesus Christ is the Savior of the whole world! If we despise someone God has created, we despise their Creator also. Whether we speak about politicians, religious personalities, celebrities of all kind, or even about family members, may we wait on God to show us if what we say or write about them is pleasant in His eyes and in theirs also. I know that the truth might hurt sometimes and if God wants us to take a stand, we will offend others at times, too, but may we be sure of abiding in His love before we speak up for Him.
In closing, I offer you an exposition from Albert Barnes on Ephesians chapter 4, verse 15, where speaking “the truth in love” to our brothers and sisters is mentioned.
(1) The truth is “to be spoken” – the simple, unvarnished truth. This is the way to avoid error, and this is the way to preserve others from error. In opposition to all trick, and art, and cunning, and fraud, and deception, Christians are to speak the simple truth, and nothing but the truth. Every statement which they make should be unvarnished truth; every promise which they make should be true; every representation which they make of the sentiments of others should he simple truth. “Truth is the representation of things as they are;” and there is no virtue that is more valuable in a Christian than the love of simple truth.
(2) the second thing is, that the truth should be spoken “in love.” There are other ways of speaking truth. It is sometimes spoken in a harsh, crabby, sour manner, which does nothing but disgust and offend. When we state truth to others, it should be with love to their souls, and with a sincere desire to do them good. When we admonish a brother of his faults, it should not be in a harsh and unfeeling manner, but in love. Where a minister pronounces the awful truth of God about depravity, death, the judgment, and future woe, it should be in love. It should not be done in a harsh and repulsive manner; it should not he done as if he rejoiced that people were in danger of hell, or as if he would like to pass the final sentence; it should not be with indifference, or in a tone of superiority. And in like manner, if we go to convince one who is in error, we should approach him in love. We should not dogmatize, or denounce, or deal out anathemas. Such things only repel. “He has done about half his work in convincing another of error who has first convinced him that he loves him;” and if he does not do that, he may argue to the hour of his death and make no progress in convincing him.