How to Speak the Truth in Love
How to Speak the Truth in Love
Death and life are in the power of the tongue. That’s what it says in Proverbs 18:21.
Think about how you’ve been given life through the words people have said to you. Someone tells you what a great job you did on the last assignment you had at work. Someone gives you a compliment on the way you look. That’ll make your whole day, maybe even your whole year. Just one encouraging word from the right person can keep you going for a long, long time.
But then, think about how you felt like dying when someone said something harsh to you. Maybe your boss was giving you a critique. Maybe he even used the critique sandwich: compliment-critique-compliment. What are you going to remember after that? Not the two compliments! Not the nice sweet taro bread bun on the sandwich. You’ll remember the critique in the middle. The nasty anchovies inside the sandwich.
Words have the power of life and the power death. And not just the words people say to you. Proverbs is trying to call your attention to the words you say to the people around you.
Too often, we bring death because we are so quick to criticize and condemn. We lash out at spouses, kids, parents, and friends. Or we just silently seethe, leaving the people around us to guess what they did to upset us.
Instead of those two common tendencies (lashing out or silent seething), Paul says we need to “speak the truth in love” to our brothers and sisters (Eph. 4:15), and in Galatians he offers some guidelines for how to do this well:
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. (Gal. 6:1-2)
In this one short passage, Paul gives seven practical steps to speak the truth in love:
- It should be done between “brothers.” This sets the tone for the conversation. We’re family, which implies that we have an unbreakable bond with each other. No matter what happens in the conversation, our commitment to each other as brothers and sisters in Christ will remain.
- It should be done by “spiritual” people. Which means you need to be operating in the Spirit’s power, not out of anger and frustration.
- The other person must be “caught in transgression.” The sin must be clear and present, not just assumed and implied. This is particularly true when confronting someone’s underlying motivations, which are extremely hard to discern.
- The goal should be “restoring” the other person to a healthy relationship with God and the rest of the body of Christ. If your only goal is to get the other person to stop aggravating you, you’re not ready to do this. Go back to condition 2.
- It should be done in a “spirit of gentleness.” Harsh rebukes almost never bring someone closer to Jesus. They only erect walls between his people.
- You must “keep watch on yourself” during the whole process. When the other person reacts defensively and questions your judgment, morality, and right to question them (as they almost always do), you’ll be tempted to respond in pride and arrogance. You’ll want to start using all the ammunition you’ve been storing up in your mind over the years, reminding the other person about all the ways he’s offended you, failed you, and disappointed you. Notice all those “you’s”? They have nothing to do with restoring the other person, and therefore have no place in the conversation.
- Be ready to “bear one another’s burdens” over the long haul. The process of restoration probably won’t happen overnight. Offer your ongoing love, support, and gentle accountability to the other person. Help him take concrete steps to overcome the sin through God’s Spirit-empowered grace, which is the “law of Christ.”