Speaking the Truth in Love

Your words matter, a lot! It matters what you say, how you say it and why you say what you do! Solomon’s words, “the tongue has the power of life and death” (Proverbs 18:21), are true for everyone, but should especially challenge leaders who use their tongues to influence others.

In my leadership, I have often reflected on Paul’s exhortation to speak the “truth in love.” He says, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).

Recently, however, a colleague* challenged me to think more deeply about what it means to balance truth and love. He linked this “truth in love” statement with Paul’s description of love, 4“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

So, speaking the “truth in love” demands that we speak truth patiently, with kindness, without envy, and so on down the list. That list gives me a lot to work on as a leader!

In this series we will look at the list one by one to discover how speaking truth in love will impact our leadership. First, in this issue, let’s reflect on what we learn as servant leaders from Paul about “speaking the truth in love.”

Speaking truth in love requires balance.

Truth and love often seem to conflict with each other. We choose to speak the truth or we speak with love. I have often spoken words to my spouse which offended her. But then I defended myself by saying, “But it’s the truth!” Yes, it was truth, but not spoken in love! Without a balance, the relationship was damaged. In other situations, I find it difficult to speak the truth with courage. I fear that I will hurt the person and damage our relationship. So, I avoid speaking the truth. But again, the relationship is weakened because there is no balance of truth and love.

Some personalities and some cultures will naturally speak truth while others find it easier to speak with love. But to all of us Paul says we must speak “truth in love.” Servant leaders learn to balance truth and love. This is not easy, and it is a journey! Paul says, “we will grow…” as we learn this art. In this series we’ll learn that while we may have mastered one element of speaking truth in love, there will be another that needs work!

Speaking truth in love reveals maturity.

Paul says that as we learn to speak truth in love, we will “grow to become mature.” How mature are you as a leader? You might think of your leadership position or role. You might count the number of years you have served as a leader. But Paul’s instruction reminds us that our ability to speak truth with love reveals how mature we are. Servant leaders measure maturity not in years of leadership, but in how well they speak the truth in love.

Speaking truth in love reflects Jesus.

Paul reminds us that as we mature, we reflect Christ, the head of the church. John describes Jesus as one, “who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”(John 1:14).He was full of both grace and truth, or love, a perfect balance. Jesus rebuked sharply and spoke tenderly. He courageously confronted injustice but spoke gently to the woman at the well.

In this series we’ll observe how Jesus spoke truth in love in every imaginable situation. The goal of all servant leaders is to reflect Jesus in all they do. As servant leaders learn to speak like Jesus, balancing truth and love, they learn to lead like Jesus.

Until next time, yours on the journey,

Jon Byler

For further reflection and discussion:

  • Where am I on the journey to balance truth and love? How does my culture influence me in this? How does my personality impact me in whether I more easily speak the truth or speak with love? What would a better balance look like at home? In my area of service?           
  • What is my maturity level if measured by how well I speak the truth in love? Would those under my leadership rate me as strong, average or weak in the way I express truth and love?
  • Reflect on a recent conversation with a colleague or friend. Was my speech more loving or more truthful, or was it balanced? What can I learn about myself from that conversation? In what way could I have strengthened that relationship with a better balance of truth and love?

Copyright, Global Disciples 2019.