Speaking the Truth in Love: More Than “You’re Doing it Wrong”

I’ll never forget my “intervention” at Taco Bell. I had put on 50 pounds that year and was grabbing lunch with some friends. As we sat down, both of my friends looked sheepishly at each other, as they read each other’s mind. One friend looked at me and gently said, “We shouldn’t be here.” This was not because Taco Bell has subpar Mexican food or because it inevitably ends with multiple trips to the bathroom. This was the beginning of a loving conversation, talking openly about what had caused me to spiral towards weight gain and self-destruction. I’m so glad that my friends cared enough to have that difficult conversation, drawing out what had caused me to turn to food as my comforter.

Have you ever had a conversation begin with, “I’m telling you this because I love you…”? That conversation almost always continues towards criticism or correction, right? While these conversations are often necessary and helpful, I think “speaking the truth in love” is meant to be more than just expressing disapproval and disappointment. Can you imagine a parent or teacher that only gives correction and negative feedback? Maybe I’m describing your childhood. Here’s what Paul says in Ephesians 4:

Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. He makes the whole body fit together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love.”

In many circles, speaking the truth in love is code for having painful confrontations with people. The problem with that approach is that it is not God’s complete design for his church. We’re encouraged to work towards unity and maturity, which can include loving correction, but is far more robust. Sometimes it means having difficult conversations, but most often it means affirming what God is doing in people and through people. What if the truth we spoke included more detail about how someone is reflecting the image of our Creator? What if we encouraged people to see God by helping identify where He’s at work in them already?

When my friends lovingly helped rescue me at Taco Bell, they had already laid a foundation that made me receptive to that conversation. There had been years of relationship supported by time spent together, verbal affirmation and selfless sacrifice that led me to know how much they truly did love me. As a result, their support provided the spark that I needed to finally deal with my struggles and begin a healthy transformation. Jesus has laid that same foundation through his work on our behalf in the past, present and future.

As Jesus followers, it’s our privilege and responsibility to foster that same type of relationship with our faith family members. What would it look like if we deliberately identified God’s beauty and work displayed through his people? As outlined in “Gospel in Life Study Guide: Grace Changes Everything” by Timothy Keller, here are three areas where we can say “I see God in you” and encourage each other in unity and maturity:

  • Where they are growing and making progress
  • What talents and gifts they have that benefit others
  • Which sacrifices they are making to do the right thing (that others may not see)

When we “give honor” to others, or when fruit, gifts and sacrifices are affirmed in a community, it greatly encourages their growth. If you’re thinking about expressing your affirmation for someone’s gifts, sacrifices and abilities, don’t hesitate to go public with that news. Like all families, we desperately need loving affirmation to boost us towards, and better understand, our purpose. Ultimately, our desire for others should not be to simply stop their negative behavior. Instead, we desire that others would see Jesus more clearly. Who do you see God at work in? Tell them, don’t wait.


For more content related to this, check out:

Speak the Truth in Love from Saturate
Outdo One Another in Showing Honor by Ray Ortlund
Speaking the Truth in Love Podcast


Authored by NCC Assistant Pastor Christian Glisson

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