By Jill Coyne and Nikki Dabney
We all tend to lean on one side of the “truth-in-love spectrum.” Either we focus on showing love and consequently shy away from sharing truth, or we focus on speaking truth and come across as abrupt, insensitive, and unloving. Our well-meaning intentions don’t always accomplish what we’d hope.
Ephesians 4:15 tells us that the mark of a mature believer is speaking truth in love. And Jesus said, “Those whom I love I rebuke” (Revelation 3:19). So, how do we reach a balance that is biblically expected of us?
This presents us with the first question: what is truth?
We live in a postmodern culture that says what’s right for you is right for you and what’s right for me is right for me. However, Jesus says there is one truth (John 14:6).
Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. –John 17:17
Jesus says that God’s Word is truth, so all counsel we give should come from the Bible. You can notice your sister in Christ is not living in truth when she is following her opinion or worldly wisdom.
So then, what is love?
Society associates love with tolerance and acceptance. Our culture tells us that to love others is to celebrate them just as they are without urging them to change. With this line of thinking, it is not loving to judge people, to vocally disagree with their lifestyles, nor to urge them to believe what you believe.
We often love others by society’s standards. We neglect confronting sin in another’s life because of our fearful inclination to keep the peace. If everyone is happy with us, we think we must be loving others well.
However, when we neglect the truth, 1 John 3:18 tells that we are not acting out of love. Rather, we are being selfish by prioritizing people-pleasing, and thus our reputation, over God’s Word. We forget the authentic way to love others, as outlined in Scripture.
Truth and love must become complements if we are to stop compromising one for the other. First and foremost, we must understand whose life we are speaking into, and that should determine our approach.
How we approach an unbeliever will look a lot different than how we approach a believer.
Unbelievers view the Bible as irrelevant in regards to their life and morality. Our first priority with unbelievers is sharing the truth of the Gospel, rather than cleaning up the “symptoms of sin” in their lives.
On the contrary, believers have already received the Gospel. They have committed themselves as followers of Christ to live in accordance with Scripture. We, therefore, have a biblical responsibility to spot sin in our brothers’ and sisters’ lives and bring it to their attention (Matthew 18:15-17).
Even how we address two believers may not look the same, depending on how sensitive the individual is. I (Jill) am highly sensitive to negativity and criticism. Nikki closely knows me, so she is able to speak truth in a manner that will bless me and leave me feeling loved and encouraged rather than judged and condemned. Nikki is intentional to be gentle when she speaks truth into my life. While she is firm in relaying the high standards of the Gospel and keeping me accountable to living solely for Jesus, she will also affirm other areas in my life where I am thriving. She has compassion for what I struggle with, is interested in how and why it started, helps me discover the foundation of the lies I believe, and negates those subconscious lies with the Truth.
I (Nikki) am by nature not very gentle. My spiritual gifts are wisdom and teaching, and that manifests as a strong knowledge of truth and a strong desire to share it with others. I am on the truth side of the “truth-in-love spectrum.” When I share truth with Jill, I really have to slow down and consider how the way I word things will affect her feelings.
Here is a practical example of how to share truth with a sister in Christ.
- Pray well before you say anything. Pray that you communicate in love, never back down from truth, and that your friend has a teachable heart to receive the truth.
- Start the conversation by mentioning something you’ve noticed.
- “You’ve been texting him a lot lately. Do you think you may be crossing a boundary?”
- “I noticed you’ve been really busy lately. Do you think you may be idolizing school?”
- Listen more.
- Praise their vulnerability and confession. This is so important. There is no place for shame or condemnation. Our Father rejoices when we are honest with Him, so we need to model that response.
- Ask them about their time in the Word. If they’re not consistently spending time in Truth, they are going to be living according to lies. If we are not anchored in the Word, we will drift.
- Speak from your own struggles and story. Don’t make them feel like you’re better than them.
- “I struggle with something different, but I bought the lie that my sin was more satisfying than God. It left me in chains, and I don’t want that for you.”
- Ask questions to reveal the lies that they are believing that are causing them to sin.
- “Why do you have a desire to party and drink? Do you think you’re not seeking complete satisfaction in Jesus?”
- “Why are you being sexual with your boyfriend? Do you think your body is separate from your spirit? Do you think your worth comes from men?”
- “Why do you feel the need to count calories? Do you view your body as your own? Are you trying to control?”
- Counteract those lies with Scripture
- For the last example above, “You are not your own; God bought you with a high price. So you must honor God with your body.” -1 Cor. 6:19-20
- Pray over them right then and there. Jill is so good about this.
Speaking truth in love is not a one-time thing, it requires follow-ups and aggressive accountability.
Love is patient (1 Corinthians 13:4). People are not linear problems that must be solved via logic and reason. Allow time for your words to sink in. It is your job to speak truth, and the Holy Spirit’s role to produce fruit out of that. Understand that your words will most likely not cause an immediate change in the person’s life; change is sometimes gradual, and that’s okay. Have compassion towards the situation, temptation, or stronghold.
We experience freedom when light, God’s truth, is shed into the darkest embers of our hearts.