Recently, I had the opportunity to speak at my church’s women’s retreat. It came about very suddenly and unexpectedly due to the original speaker having a family emergency that was going to prevent her from being there. The topic was “Women Walking in Love,” and after a great time of discussion during one of the sessions at the retreat, I decided I wanted to further explore a concept in Ephesians 4:15- speaking the truth in love. Our culture has tragically redefined “love” to mean acceptance and approval of whatever choices people make, and many Christians have fallen right into this trap out of a desire to not offend or hurt others.
Here’s a recent example of this that you may have heard of. In September 2022, Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, rented billboards in 6 states with abortion bans, encouraging women to travel to CA in order to get abortions. One of the ads said, “Need an abortion? California is ready to help.” At the bottom of the billboard, Mark 12:31 is quoted, which reads: “Love your neighbor as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.”
Now, the funny thing about the word “these” is that it indicates plurality, and only one commandment is quoted. Could that be because there’s actually another commandment in this passage that wasn’t included on the billboard? Let’s start back at verse 28 for context:
And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?” Jesus answered, “The most important is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Jesus asserts that the MOST important commandment is to love God wholeheartedly with every part of our being. The second commandment is to love others. We cannot truly or rightly fulfill the second commandment without the first, because our love for others flows out of our love for God.
1 John 4:19 says, “We love because he first loved us.” What’s more, just 3 verses earlier in 1 John 4, we are told that “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” If God is love, and our ability to love comes from abiding in Him, then I think we’d better have an accurate definition of what love means according to God.
1 Corinthians 13 is the famous “love chapter.” It’s often quoted at weddings, and while appropriate in that setting, it applies to every relationship. God’s definition of love is as follows:
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.
There are many things we could discuss based on these few verses, but I want to focus on just one: love does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Truth and love are very intertwined in Scripture. In John 14:6, Jesus describes Himself as being the way, the truth, and the life. Jesus, being God Himself, is love… and He is also truth. You can’t have one without the other.
I have heard it said that we live in a post-truth era. Statements like “live your truth” and “speak your truth” abound. The word “truth” is another one that has been redefined to refer to the subjective feelings and experiences of each person. Of course, no one is allowed to challenge “your” truth. Who are they to question who you are, how you identify, or the choices you’ve made? Who are they to tell you that you’re wrong?
On their own, no human has the authority to tell any other human that they’re wrong. But as the creator and sustainer of the universe and everyone in it, God does. And God cares very much about truth.
In Jesus’ high priestly prayer in John 17, He says, “Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.” Objective truth is found in God’s Word- the Bible. And at the center of the Bible is the gospel- the truth that we are all sinners, in rebellion against God, which separates us from Him; the truth that Jesus’ death and resurrection is our only hope of being reconciled to God and experiencing a glorious future; the truth that repentance and submission to God’s authority and lordship over our lives is the only way to freedom.
It is loving to tell the truth according to God, because God’s truth is what sets us free from sin, gives us peace with Him, and secures eternal life in heaven. In John 8:31-32, Jesus says “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Here Jesus refers again to the fact that truth is found in God’s Word. We cannot know the truth or experience real freedom unless we remain consistently connected and committed to the Bible. Proclaiming this truth and rejecting the lies of the world are the most loving things we can do.
The perfect example of someone displaying both truth and love is Jesus, of course. In John 1, Jesus is described as being “full of grace and truth.” Jesus exemplified grace. He healed the sick and crippled, cast demons out of the possessed, fed the hungry crowds, and welcomed the outcasts. He was immensely compassionate and loving, concerned about the physical and emotional wellbeing of those around him.
But in the midst of all of that, Jesus never sacrificed truth. He regularly condemned the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and heavy burdens they laid on the Jewish people. He didn’t ignore sin, but rather preached repentance. He spoke of future judgment and torment for those who continued in their rebellion against God. He was honest about the difficulties of the Christian life- being hated by the world, experiencing trouble, counting the cost and bearing our crosses to follow Him.
As Kevin DeYoung points out in this excellent article, most of us tend to lean towards either grace or truth. Those who are more concerned with grace match today’s definition of love- welcoming, tolerant, affirming, and nice. They’re pleasant, easy-going, and inoffensive. The problem is that by elevating tolerance and acceptance above truth, they fail to stand up for what’s right. They can be cowardly. In fully accepting others for who they are, they never encourage them to become anything more.
People who are more concerned with truth have strong convictions. They boldly stand up against evil, and aren’t afraid to be criticized for it. Their problem is that they can also be harsh, quick to judge, intimidating, unforgiving, and difficult to be around. The challenge is to be full of grace and full of truth at the same time. As DeYoung says, “Something is wrong if everyone hates you, and something is probably just as wrong if everyone loves you.”
But even with a good balance of grace, many people will still become offended when you speak the truth. You can be as gentle and compassionate in your approach as possible, but it won’t always make a difference. The reason for this is because the truth of the gospel is offensive on its own to those who reject it. It’s hard to hear that we are guilty sinners who need to forsake our fleshly desires, die to ourselves, and submit to Christ’s authority, and some will never accept it. Even so, we must never back down from the truth. It may result in hate, insults, persecution, and loss of relationships, but we should expect no less. Jesus was the perfect combination of grace and truth and He was crucified.
When Paul exhorts the Ephesians to speak the truth in love, it is so that the body of believers can be mature and unified in Christ, and avoid being deceived by false doctrines. In Ephesians 6, the “belt of truth” is the first piece of the armor of God that is mentioned for us to use as we defend ourselves against demonic schemes of evil. Don’t believe the idea that it’s unloving to tell people about their sin. We shouldn’t be unnecessarily rude in pointing it out, but realize that a failure to share the gospel is a failure to love.
And although the gospel needs to be our core message, we shouldn’t stop there. Forsaking biblical truth results in actions and political policies that hurt, maim, and kill people. We need to be willing to loudly declare to Gavin Newsom and other pro-abortion advocates that abortion is the exact opposite of loving our neighbor- it kills a child and usually traumatizes a woman physically, emotionally, and spiritually. We need to boldly proclaim that transgender ideology permanently mutilates, chemically castrates, sterilizes, and traumatizes people, including children. There are so many foundational truths, going all the way back to Genesis 1 where God creates us male and female in His image, that are being twisted into deceptive, demonic philosophies. Love, according to God, does not celebrate, accept, or even tolerate evil. It rejoices with the truth- God’s truth.
The Christian faith would not have survived its infancy if the disciples weren’t willing to stand up for what they knew to be true. Right after the resurrection, the Pharisees tried spreading a rumor that Jesus’ body had been stolen and that He hadn’t actually risen from the dead. But the disciples had seen the empty tomb, and they knew they hadn’t taken His body. And then Jesus physically appeared to them, as well as hundreds of others, leaving no doubt that He had risen. The truth of the resurrection- the foundation of our faith- was so significant that the disciples, and countless Christians since, have been willing to suffer persecution and martyrdom. The truth is worth much more than avoiding insults – the truth is worth dying for.
“Peace if possible; truth at all costs.”
*Edit on 11/21/22* Shortly after I posted this, I listened to a podcast with Alisa Childers and Natasha Crain entitled “Case Study: What are the Common Values that Unite Progressive Christians?” It was posted on October 30, 2022. The concepts and flow of thought of the first half of the podcast are so similar to what I wrote here, that I wanted to clarify that I did not use any of their material to write this blog post. I found out later that even the title of my post is uncannily similar to Alisa Childers’ new book, “Live Your Truth and Other Lies.” I credit the Holy Spirit with revealing biblical truth to many believers, which would of course consist of the same ideas, as God never changes. But I wanted to clear up any misconception of plagiarism!