About a week after my Uncle Andy died, I spoke to my mother on the phone. It was a very difficult time for her: she had just lost her oldest brother, her sister-in-law was fighting breast cancer, and she was dealing with a severe illness herself.
She said something like, “I’m falling apart. Andy is gone and Doris is not doing very well at all. Could things get any worse?”
I replied without thinking. “Of course things could get worse! Good grief, Mom, how negative can you be?”
Well, I spoke the truth. But, it certainly didn’t come out sounding very loving!
My mom was hurting. She needed some compassion. The same truth spoken in an attitude of love might have sounded like, “Mama, I am so sorry things are so rough right now. I love you. It comforts me to know that God is in control.” I could have offered to pray with her.
I could have, but I didn’t.
Do you see the difference? The truth was, things could have been much worse. And yes, our hope is in the Lord. It was my choice to either communicate that truth indignantly or to communicate it in a loving way. I made the wrong choice.
Sometimes truth requires us to challenge a sibling in Christ with the reality that their behavior is ungodly. Usually, I would rather ignore the situation, but God’s Word tells me otherwise. “And if your brother sins, go and reprove him in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother” (Matthew 18:15, NASB).
As Christians in the 21st century, we seem to be doing everything but what we are called to do. Either we avoid speaking truth for fear of offending someone — or we speak the truth so harshly that we don’t display love at all, but rather cold, hard piety. God’s way is the best way — tenderly speaking God’s truth to one another.
The Apostle Paul was required to relate some difficult truths to the people in the church of Thessalonica. Shortly after he had established the church there, Paul found that the people had become idle and were caught up in other sin as well. Paul had to reprove them. He could have said, “What is wrong with you? What are you thinking? Didn’t you listen to a word I said?” But, he didn’t.
Here's how Paul "spoke the truth in love."
Paul affirms the church in Thessalonians 1. He tells them he is proud of their faithfulness.
In chapter two, Paul reviews his relationship to the people. He reminds them that he treated them with dignity. He cares for them as a mother cares for her children. He shared his life with them. Paul continues to express his love in the third chapter. If you are expressing truth to someone with whom your historical relationship is one of disrespect or hatred, how would you expect him or her to believe you, much less even want to speak to you? Without the relationship, Paul would have had no basis for his words, no foundation for the people to accept what he had to tell them.
3. WARNING AND REPROOF
In the fourth chapter, Paul has the difficult task of pointing out to these new believers that they need to steer clear of sexual impurity. Also, some of them had started living a life of idleness and were depending on others for handouts. They were not being responsible. Paul has to reprove them for this behavior.
Paul ends his letter with encouragement. He tells the church how they can find hope in the truth he has told them, and asks them to encourage one another.
There is a marked distinction between communicating truth and communicating the truth in love. Truth in love is spoken with affirmation and encouragement, and is firmly established on a historical relationship of caring and commitment.
Ephesians 4:15 says as believers we should be “speaking the truth in love.” The primary way we reveal our love for God is by loving others. The clearest way that we manifest our love for others is through our words. So speak with love.