Speaking the Truth in Love

by M. H. Reynolds, Jr.

After sixty-seven years of publication, we feel a special burden to remind ourselves and our readers that God has commanded us to “speak the truth in love.” This is especially important to remember in our day when so many who name the name of Christ have been deceived into believing that it is unloving to speak the truth at all. Too many Christian leaders, having been deceived by the false philosophies of psychology, are teaching that we must be “non-judgmental” toward others. The result is that heresies thrive within the churches and the wolves in sheep’s clothing are welcomed into the flock without exposure or warning. They have replaced God’s way—speaking the truth in love—with man’s way—withholding the truth, supposedly in love. No wonder so many are confused!

As a necessary corrective, we urge a careful study of the fourth chapter of Ephesians. It begins with a plea to walk worthy of our vocation with all “lowliness, meekness and longsuffering.” When we speak the truth in love, we should always bear this in mind. We are to endeavor to “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace” (v. 3). The spiritual unity referred to here is already a blessed reality between all who are “in Christ,” but we are also to strive to maintain that unity outwardly by walking and ministering in a way that conforms to God’s revealed standards for proper fellowship among those who hold to sound doctrine. We are not to place outward “unity” above “purity,” for that cannot bring or maintain the “unity of the Spirit” of which the Bible speaks. Man certainly can, through his own devices, effect a “unity among the people,” but if it is at the expense of truth, it cannot be “of the Spirit.” We are specifically warned against “every wind of doctrine” and the “sleight of men” and their “craftiness” used to deceive (v. 14). It is in this context we are told to “speak the truth in love”—this alone will produce spiritual growth and maturity (v. 15).

It is strange that so many believers can see the importance of speaking the truth in love in almost every area of life except that most important one—the spiritual. Would you go to a “non-judgmental” dentist who loved you too much to tell you that you had a badly infected tooth which needed treatment or removal? Let us suppose you go to a doctor. He discovers a serious ailment which might be corrected by medication or surgery. However, being a “non-judgmental” physician and not wanting to upset you or your plans, he decides to say nothing about the problem because to do so would be “unloving.” Is it really “love” to withhold the truth?

Now it is true that some dentists or doctors might be able to break the bad news to you in a more kind and gentle way than others. Some pastors may be able to speak the truth in love in a way less offensive or abrasive than others. But the fact remains—true love will manifest itself in speaking the truth, not withholding it!

Through these years, we have always tried to speak the truth in love. We may not always have succeeded in that effort. But it certainly has been and continues to be our desire. Now there can be little doubt that the winds of doctrine are blowing harder than ever before, and surely deceivers are growing more cunning and crafty, often trying to hide their heresies with generous sprinklings of Scripture and evangelical terminology. A faithful watchman has two responsibilities. First, he must be able to tell the difference between friend and foe, especially an enemy in disguise. Second, he must give a loud, clear warning when the enemy approaches. Now, since we know that watchmen are human and therefore fallible, there is always the possibility of making a mistake. So, if a watchman incorrectly designates a “friend” as a “foe,” he should be quick to apologize, and the wrongly accused friend should be quick to forgive in accordance with Ephesians 4:32. This we have done and will always try to do by God’s grace. Is it not true, however, that mistakes which result from being over-cautious will surely be preferable to erring in the other direction? Think of the terrible consequences that must inevitably follow whenever the enemies of the gospel are never challenged or exposed. Imagine the harm and loss that finally comes to believers who are given no warning of the tactics of the enemy.

Furthermore, if we wish to be good ministers in God’s sight, then we must obey His Word. That we have a special responsibility to warn believers is made clear in 1 Timothy 4:1: “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times, some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits and doctrines of devils.” Sounding a faithful warning concerning the error being sown in the churches today is clearly required of all who desire to please their Lord in these deceptive last days. “If thou put the brethren in remembrance of these things thou shalt be a good minister of Jesus Christ …” (v. 6). Because it is our desire to be good ministers of Jesus Christ, we trust that this and future issues of Foundation magazine will be helpful to our brethren and accepted in the spirit in which it is written. We ask your prayers that we may always truly know how to speak the truth in love.

— M. H. Reynolds, Jr. (from the July-Sept. 1995 issue of Foundation)