These words come from Paul’s admonition to believers in the church at Ephesus (Eph 4:15a). It’s likely everyone has heard someone say, “I’m just speaking the truth in love.” It’s often said at the end of an accusation, rebuke, or correction. And it’s used as a way to justify the speaker’s words as being true.
Perhaps the person is speaking kindly and lovingly, but saying, “I’m just speaking the truth in love,” does not justify the words spoken as being truth. Something is either true or false, based on facts. Or it’s judged as being true based on documentation. Truth is independent of whether the words are spoken kindly or harshly. So what did Paul mean when he wrote that we are to speak the truth in love?
Paul’s Words in Context
Let’s read Paul’s words in Eph 4:1-15, omitting the parenthetical comments of verse 13. Paul began by asserting that Christians have been given gifts and callings (Eph 4:7) and he listed them:
Eph 4:11 And he gave some, apostles; and some, prophets; and some, evangelists; and some, pastors and teachers;
We are all called and gifted to be prophets, evangelists, pastors, and teachers of God’s words.
- Apostles: Many of Jesus’ apostles, who had been with Him during His earthly ministry, were still alive when Paul was writing. Today, we would use the word disciples, meaning followers of Jesus.
- Prophets: Prophesying is speaking God’s words.
- Evangelists: We are evangelists when we evangelize.
- Pastors and teachers: We are to be pastoral by comforting others and teaching biblical truths.
These gifts and callings are for the benefit of others.
Eph 4:12 For the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ
These gifts and callings are also for our benefit.
Eph 4:14 That we henceforth be no more children, tossed to and fro, and carried about with every wind of doctrine, by the sleight of men, and cunning craftiness, whereby they lie in wait to deceive.
All of these gifts require speaking.
- As disciples, we are to represent Jesus. He spoke words of truth and so are we to do.
- As prophets, we are to speak God’s words from the Bible.
- Whether a vocational evangelist or just a disciple who evangelizes, we share the gospel of saving grace by speaking.
- Whether a vocational pastor or teacher or simply a disciple who is pastoral by comforting others or instructive by speaking God’s words and wisdom, we are to speak God’s words.
Speaking the Truth in Love
Now that we see the context, it’s clear that Paul was speaking about ministry work. That’s why Paul concluded with an admonition to be “… speaking the truth in love.” He was referring to speaking God’s truth (biblical precepts, instructions, corrections, etc.).
And we should always be speaking in love. Peter wrote that we are to be ready always to give a reason for our hope. And that requires speaking. But note that he also said we are to give that reason with kindness and gentleness—that’s speaking in love. (1 Pet 3:15). So also in Proverbs, we are told, “pleasant words are as a honeycomb, sweet to the soul, and health to the bones” (Prov 16:24) and “a soft answer turns away wrath” (Prov 15:1). It’s always important that we speak in love.
So it’s clear that Ephesians 4:15, is about speaking THE Truth – biblical truth — the only words that are absolutely true — God’s words. And speaking “in love” means speaking with soft, pleasant, kind, and gentle words.
Paul continued, and explained the purpose of “speaking the truth in love.” It will cause further growth in Christ.
Eph 4:15 …speaking the truth in love, [others] may grow up in all things into Him who is the head; Christ
Note: The world’s “truths,” or an individual’s “truths,” will not bring growth, maturity in Christ.
A Misused Verse
We can now see how Ephesians 4:15 is misused to justify one’s words as being true. In 2007, this verse was spoken to me to support the speaker’s words as being true. Perhaps the person thought what she said was true, but she provided no evidence to support her words and no witnesses to verify what she claimed. Significantly, she was not speaking words of Scripture. Therefore she was misusing this verse to claim what she said was true. When she said, “I’m just speaking the truth in love,” I wanted to say that she was only speaking her version of the truth, and I had a different version. But I knew that would be of no benefit, so I chose not to respond.
Proper use of Ephesians 2:14a
There’s really no good reason to use this verse in the context of a dispute. It’s used to justify one’s words as being true, but it does not do that. It would be better to say, “My desire is to discuss this with love.”
Paul’s words were not meant to be used as a justification of our words. Rather, he was admonishing us that, when we use the gifts God has given us (Eph 4:11), we are to speak God’s truth IN LOVE “for the perfecting of the saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ” (Eph 4:12).
John 13:35 By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love one to another.
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