Many people who believe that their calling in life is to “speak the truth in love” appear to believe that the speaking of any truth is by definition loving because they care enough about that person to give them the truth. However, by definition, if we are admonished to speak the truth in love that means that it is indeed possible to speak truth in a manner that is not loving and simply pointing to the truth is a not necessarily a defense for how we speak it.
I Cor 13 (the love chapter) makes it clear that there is truth that can be spoken without love and when it is done, the impact of those words or deeds are so empty and self-defeating as to have been better off not being spoken at all.
This isn’t an exhaustive list by any means, but these are some questions I ask myself when I’m tempted to speak “truth” to others which I believe they desperately need to hear and heed.
1. Are these words really true? It seems elementary that they would be if we’re speaking truth, but very often I have to confess that things I have said in passion toward someone else have been “true” but perhaps not the whole truth or perhaps the truth about something from my perspective that leaves some things out that might damage my point or make me personally look bad. When that’s the case, I may not really be speaking truth at all. I may be twisting or using the truth to win an argument or make myself look or feel better at somebody else’s expense.
2. Are these words really necessary? The speaking of truth, if it is done in love takes into account the state of the person it is directed toward and their ability or willingness to hear them. There can be a timely element to truth that makes it more likely to be received. When an alcoholic for example is laying drunk, it may seem a perfect time to tell them, “You’re an alcoholic and you need to sober up!” The very state of their drunkenness however, pretty much ensures that the message cannot be received. Perhaps the more loving thing to do might be to provide a bed and a room along with some oversight (and I’m not speaking about constant enabling here) to where the person is sober and then in that window of opportunity then take the time to speak the truth. There’s are some “truths” that in that context may never have an appropriate time to be spoken. Just because something is true doesn’t necessarily mean it’s always the right time to speak or even that those words should be spoken at all if the impact of them is not going to benefit a person or point them toward something better in their lives.
3. Are these words kind? Kindness can be tough at times and there are hard things to hear and to say that may in the long run be kind. Kindness in this regard however, elevates the needs of the person hearing over the wants and needs of the person speaking. There are things too that a person may need to say that is primarily for their own benefit, but that doesn’t minimize the need to say them in a way that takes into consideration the other person(s) in terms of their ability to hear what is being said.
Many people who hide behind the banner of “speaking the truth in love” seem to have convinced themselves that any truth is loving simply because it is truth. That type of view is toxic and often the people who espouse it are in fact defending their own egos, their own judgmental character, and equating themselves as the measure of truth in other people’s lives. Better perhaps to step back and think just a little bit and perhaps pass things through the 3 filters above and consider where the love it, before pushing such “truth” upon others.
By Bart Breen