Today’s culture is a culture of ‘tolerance’. Too many times this simply means ‘an acceptance of anything and everything’. Catchphrases such as, “What’s right for you, may not be right for me” and, “You see it your way and I’ll see it mine” are simply attempts to broaden the definition of what is considered right and wrong. Since these discrepancies about right/wrong and good/bad exist, it sometimes becomes necessary to confront someone with a truth that may be uncomfortable.
In these instances, we must turn to the biblical record for guidance on how to approach someone in a God-honoring way. The Bible tells us that we should, “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15a ESV). The apostle Paul wrote these words in the context of building one another up in their faith. The purpose of ‘speaking the truth in love’ was in order that we might be more like Jesus and that the church would be built up in love (Ephesians 4:15b-16).
Seven Tips for “Speaking the Truth in Love”
1. Pray before, during, and after one says what must be said.
The Bible tells us to ‘pray without ceasing’ (I Thessalonians 5:17) and when one is about to confront another on some sensitive issue, prayer must be the starting point. Prayer should also be going on during and after the discussion. It is always a dangerous endeavor when one sets out on a task without asking for God’s guidance and blessing. When we operate apart from a close connection with Him, we cannot be assured that we will say or do the right thing. Only when we are fully surrendered to the guidance of the Holy Spirit can we know we are doing what He wants us to do.
2. Make sure God wants you to say anything at all.
We need to make sure that it is God who wants us to say something to the other person/people rather than it just being our own idea. Sometimes our pride or our ego is really the motivation for us confronting someone. We must be sure that we are motivated by God’s love and not our selfish motives.
3. We should have a relationship with the person with whom we are going to talk.
Developing a relationship with the person, or people, with whom you are going to talk creates an openness in which you will more likely be heard. It does not have to be a deep relationship or take long to build, but it must be a relationship that allows you to say what you are going to say. The person to whom you speak should sense that you are speaking out of love for him or her.
4. We should attempt to conduct the conversation either with the individual alone or with just a few people.
People are more likely to have a reasonable conversation when there are no crowds around. Many times, if crowds are present, it becomes more of an opportunity to show off than to have an honest heart-to-heart discussion. As was mentioned before, we are not confronting anyone just to boost our own ego; our desire should be to help the person to whom we feel led to speak.
5. What we say must be the truth.
We must be sure that what we are about to say is what God wants us to say. We should be convinced that it is God approved, as it were. Much prayer should be prayed before any words are uttered. We must not use this as an opportunity to attempt to manipulate anyone (Philippians 2:3). Our goal is to share the truth, and help the other person to understand it.
6. We must make sure we are speaking from an attitude of love.
Too many people say they are speaking out of love when they are merely using that as an excuse to blast someone. The entire encounter must be done out of a motive of love and carried out in the spirit of love. It cannot be a heavy handed, holier-than-thou, confrontation that does more harm than good. We should be seeking to help the one with whom we are speaking. We must seek to build the person up and glorify God at the same time.
7. We must guide those to whom we speak back to God, and the Bible.
Our opinions and feelings must not guide our discussion. Neither do we simply want to make the person we speak to feel better. The reason we are confronting the person in the first place is because God has laid a truth on our hearts concerning another person’s beliefs or actions that need to change. Merely, turning a person’s focus in on himself or herself, instead of toward God, is not helpful. We should not promote a cure that consists of fixing the symptoms to make a person feel better without addressing the real problem. A doctor would not be very effective if he/she merely covered up the symptoms of an illness while never addressing the actual illness itself. This would be deception of a most dangerous kind. Let us apply this to spiritual things: How much more dangerous to convince someone that they are innocent, or good enough, in God’s eyes when in reality they are guilty (Romans 3:10) and deserving of His judgment?
When a person believes that ‘all he needs is within him’, he relies on himself and actually cuts himself off from the true source of life…God. The power needed to change the heart is spiritual power that only comes through an intimate relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Apart from God, we can do nothing to rescue ourselves or anyone else (John 15:5).
Whenever we seek to counsel, console, or reprove anyone we need to maintain the balance between truth and love. We must not sacrifice the truth in the name of love, nor should we deliver the truth in a less than loving manner. By “speaking the truth in love”, we are able to encourage people in their relationship with God and not push them away from Him by employing a mean-spirited, judgmental attitude.
We must make sure the person to whom we are speaking knows he or she is not in a hopeless situation. No matter what the issue is that prompted the need for confrontation, God is the cure. He forgives us, gives us understanding, and empowers us to live the way He wants us to live. Anytime we ‘speak the truth in love’, the ‘truth’ must be God’s truth, the ‘love’ must be God’s love, and we must be His faithful servants as we share both with those to whom we speak.
“Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths,
but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion,
that it may give grace to those who hear” (Ephesians 4:29 ESV).
Here are some other articles that talk about truth:
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV)
YouTube video: “The Voice of Truth” by Casting Crowns