In the previous installment in this series, I have finished discusing the purposes of speaking the truth in love. I would like to carry on with the principles of speaking the truth in love, and then with the practical 'how to' aspects of doing so.
The principles of speaking the truth in love function as the guidelines which we use to evaluate the practical actions which we do. Now, knowing the purposes of speaking the truth in love, we can now easily discern these principles.
The first principle of speaking the truth in love is to ... speak the truth. Since the first two purposes of speaking the truth in love is to be firm in the faith and to be build up and growing in Christ, speaking the truth is very important, as it helps fulfil these purposes Too often than not, many Christians in this modern era overemphasize Christian unity or love to the extent that they do not want to speak out against or even just to give a gentle rebuke to those who are sinning. This not only shows their fear of Man, but also shows their disobedience to God and their wrong theology. This is because the biblical doctrine of Christian unity DOES not act contrary to the biblical emphasis on truth and of speaking the truth to another person; the Bible does not contradict each other. In fact, unity at all costs or unity above truth is unbiblical. Biblical unity is based on the truth that is in Jesus Christ and the Truth that He is. Therefore, we should always endeavor to speak the truth to others, especially to those in the household of faith.
The second principle of speaking the truth in love is to do it in love. This is definitely the most well-known part of the phrase for modern day Christians. However, I would contend that most of these Christians only pay lip service to this aspect of the speaking the truth in love and in fact do not even know what it means. This is probably because they have imported the popular cultural conception of love into their mindset which, perhaps subconsciously, influence their worldview and their theology. Scripture DOES not in any way promote the idea of love that is non-judging (note that I didn't say non-judgmental), lax on discipline, and an 'accept you no matter what you always do and will continue to do' attitude. Biblical love is said to be not rejoicing at wrongdoing and rejoicing with the truth (1 Cor. 13:6). It is something which wants the best for the other person (1 Cor. 13:7), and that can only be done via God's truth (which brings us back to principle number 1). Thus, biblical love is 'tough' love, wanting the best for the other person and doing whatever it takes, even reproving or criticizing the other person if it is needed, regardless of whether the other person perceives the goodness of it at that particular moment or he/she doesn't perceive it.
Now, of course, when doing this, not only the motive for doing so must be out of love, the action must also be loving. Love is described in the entire passage of 1 Cor. 13:4-7, where it is stated that we must be patient and kind, not envious, not boastful, neither arrogant nor rude, not irritable, not resentful, willing to help another, believing and hoping the best of another, and enduring all things for another. Of course, this is easier said than done, but this is God's standard upon which we must strive towards, and any time we fall short of it, we must confess our sin and turn back to God (1 Jn. 1:9).
In practice, it is oftentimes hard, if not impossible, to apply all these principles in their fullness. Some of us may 'skew' towards the 'truth' side and others towards the 'love' side. Now, I am here not talking about those who in practice seem to apply either one or the other principle exclusively. I am thus not talking about legalistic preachers who just rant and condemn people who sin ('truth' only), nor am I talking about effeminate pastors who can't even affirm the Gospel like Joel Osteen or people who don't want to share Christ for fear that they will offend their friends (so-called 'love' only). People with these two extremes are definitely not 'speaking the truth in love'. What I am talking about are people who struggle to do both simulataneously without compromising one or the other.
Before we carry on, let me clarify that I am not saying that truth and love are two sides on a balance. Scripture does present the two as coexisting and in fact interlinked. This can be seen in 1 Cor. 13:6 where love involves rejoicing in the truth, and obedience to truth is even said to bring forth love as seen in 1 Peter 1:22. The reason why there is such a thesis-antithesis relationship in some of our minds with regards to truth and love is due to our sin nature, whereby we tend to emphasize on one while neglecting the other, thus it seems that we are skewed towards any one side. When we try to emphasize the other, we tend to neglect the one we have previously emphasized, thus leading to us being 'skewed' towards the other side. The solution, therefore, is to emphasize both aspects (truth and love) equally.
However, how exactly are we to do this in our Christian walk? Are there practical steps we can take to help us know and learn how to speak the truth in love? We will review this in the next and final installment of this series. [to be continued]