Phil Cox

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Speaking the truth in Love

7th July 2012

I was in a Bible study group recently. We were discussing this passage from Ephesians:

Ephesians 4:11-16
It was he [Jesus] who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare Godís people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.
From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.

Mostly, it was a good, solid study like a thousand others. But when we got to the words: speaking the truth in love, one of the quieter members of the group said "those must be some of the most abused words in the Bible".

When she said that, I remembered people in a church I was in a long time ago, who sometimes began a conversation with the words "I just want to speak the truth to you in love to you, brother" (yes, they really did talk like that). They then proceeded to express various criticisms of the unfortunate person they'd cornered.

Like other opening gambits like "to be honest" or "I don't want to sound racist but", these words "I just want to speak the truth to you in love to you" were a sure sign that what was going to come next would prove these words to be false. The next words would seldom be true and would never be loving.

What happened next in the Bible study group was astounding. Every person in the group gave examples of how they'd been hurt by a Christian saying something (possibly not introduced by these self-justifying words) that was critical, not affirming; excluding, not inclusive; despising, not loving; judgmental, not accepting. And then there was a moment of silence as we realised how hurt, how discouraged, how excluded, we'd felt.

Every church should be a healing community, but churches are so often places of pain and loneliness. No wonder so many Christians are no longer members of a church.

Church leaders are given by God to prepare Godís people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. We are called to build up, not tear down - to encourage and include each other, not criticise and exclude. And the result of encouraging and including each other will be that we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature.

This maturity, the Bible says, leads to us attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ. As we move towards maturity, we find that we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.

And mature Christians will not damage their brothers and sisters. They'll speak the truth, and they'll do so with genuine love. They'll build others up, not tear them down. Of course we have to rebuke each other from time to time, but some people can rebuke others in ways that leave them feeling loved, affirmed and included, whereas others rebuke people in ways that leave them feeling despised, judged and rejected.

A good test of the quality of a church's leadership is this: Do the leaders and the members really speak the truth in love? Or do we use scripture as a mask to hide our sin when we beat and despise one another?