When Paul calls us as leaders to speak “the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15), he clearly wants what we speak to be true. But when he explains that love is “not self-seeking” (1 Corinthians 13:5), Paul goes deep into our hearts to expose the reasons why we speak truth.
What we say matters but our motive for saying it also matters! Paul recognizes that we may speak truth, but our motive is to benefit ourselves rather than the other person. In Ephesians 4:29, Paul says we should speak “only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” The truth should benefit the other person, not the speaker.
Servant leaders learn from Paul to speak the truth without any hint of personal gain. Their focus is outward, not inward. They focus on the needs of the other, not themselves.
Speaking the truth without self-seeking requires balance.
Both truth and an unselfish motive are required for balanced speech. Many leaders have a passion to speak truth, but their motive is selfish. Perhaps they think that the truth will make them look better than the other person, since they don’t have that problem. Or they may realize that the person’s mistake is hindering the growth of the organization, so they decide to speak the truth. But their motive is to advance the organization, not to meet the needs of the person. Or they may speak truth to respond to something that hurt them personally. These motives are all seeking self!
On the other hand, a leader may have genuine love for the other person but fear that speaking the truth will cause offense or damage the relationship. So, they say nothing, and the truth is lost! Both truth and a focus on the needs of the other person are needed. Sometimes speaking the truth in love will benefit the other person and benefit themselves or the organization. But servant leaders don’t allow their own interests to determine their actions. Instead, they look to the needs of the other.
The needs of the other, not the needs of the leader, determine what will be said and how it will be spoken. Servant leaders balance truth with the motive of meeting other’s needs.
Speaking the truth without self-seeking reveals maturity.
All leaders are naturally selfish, so maturity is required to speak truth with no hint of self-seeking! Because motives are often hidden, servant leaders take time to ask God to expose what is hidden in their hearts.
When they make mistakes, servant leaders repent and ask God to continue changing their hearts and revealing hidden motives. They ask God to break their proud hearts and pour His love for others into the places that once were focused only on self. This breaking often happens over a long period of time as a leader walks in daily obedience to Jesus. As servant leaders grow in maturity, their words of truth expressed in genuine love become life-giving gifts to those who hear them.
Speaking the truth without self-seeking reflects Jesus.
Jesus was able to speak truth without seeking His own needs. In John 5:28-30, He says, 28“Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice 29and come out—those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned. 30By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me.”
The truth that Jesus spoke was difficult to accept but He spoke boldly. At the same time, He was not saying these things to please Himself or to make Himself look good. He spoke the warning that His listeners needed to hear.
Servant leaders reflect on Paul’s words and follow the example of Jesus to speak truth without self-seeking.
Until next time, yours on the journey,
For further reflection and discussion:
- What is my natural tendency: to focus on my needs, or on the needs of those I speak to? What is the result in my leadership?
- When have I spoken truth, but was seeking self? What was the result in my own life and in the life of the person to whom I spoke? Is there anything I should do now to correct that mistake?
- Can I think of another time when Jesus spoke truth without self-seeking? What can I learn from His example?
Copyright, Global Disciples 2019.