We called to “speak the truth in love”. Indeed, there are Christians whose words are gracious and loving all of the time. Their speech is packed with authority and wisdom, yet is delivered with tender humility. They are always well received and welcomed – even when they are admonishing or correcting someone! Just how do they do it?
Ephesians 4:15 ESV Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,
Speaking the truth in love is not easy, particularly within certain cultures – and even harder when the person you’re speaking with is not aware that they need to confront some issues or is simply unwilling to.
Yet, if we are to honour God and our brothers and sisters in Christ, this is something we need to do. Jesus may have physically left the earth, but He expects us to speak His truth to each other.
John 8:32 ESV And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
1. Seek to equip and build up, always point to God
The apostle Paul pointed out in Ephesians 4 that the purpose of speaking the truth is to equip Christians and to build up the Body of Christ.
Ephesians 4:12-14 ESV to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.
In 1 Corinthians 14:3, Paul added that whenever we pass on a divinely inspired instruction, exhortation or prediction (in other words, a prophecy), our mission is to:
- Edify: To enlighten and guide
- Encourage: To inspire, invigorate and revitalise
- Comfort: To uplift and provide relief
1 Corinthians 14:3 ESV On the other hand, the one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding and encouragement and consolation.
There is a fine line between guiding and building someone up, and reprimanding and condemning him or her. To avoid coming across as judgmental and self-righteous, it is much more helpful to guide someone in identifying and acknowledging their own issues rather to point their issues out directly.
- “Is there anything that could be holding you back in your walk with God?”
- “I see a lot of potential for you to develop in the area of (state the issue). What steps do you think you can take to grow in this area?”
- “Psalm 24 says that God is pleased when we approach His throne with clean hands and a pure heart. Shall we pray and ask God what we need to come clean to Him about?”
Our words should always bring people closer to God. If we cannot guarantee that our words will do that, then it is better not to say anything at all and to pray about it first.
2. Honour God’s plan and timing
Our good intentions may not be the same as God’s holy intentions.
God has a plan for everyone. There may be times that He will use us to speak lovingly into someone’s life and times where He will use someone else. On some occasions, He may allow someone to go through greater suffering and spiritual impunity before He brings redemption, and we must be careful not to short-circuit His plan. His timing is not our timing and His ways are not our ways.
Isaiah 55:8-9 ESV For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.
For this reason, it is important for us to seek God’s ordained direction for someone. If we are convicted that we should speak spiritual truths to someone, we must rely on the Holy Spirit to give us a nudge at the right time to speak to them with the right words.
John 14:26 ESV But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.
3. Invest time in the person
Every person is precious to God, and our words and actions need to reflect that. How would Jesus approach someone on a subject so that he or she receives it well?
We need to take time to get to know someone well enough to tailor our words in a way that suits him or her best. Be direct with those who are direct, be gentle with those who are tenderhearted. Our love is demonstrated not just through the words we use, but how we use them.
Proverbs 16:24 ESV Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body.
4. Beware our own testimony
We ought to invite the Holy Spirit to convict us of our own impure thoughts and sinful actions, before we speak with others about theirs. Otherwise, we will only come across as hypocritical and self-righteous.
Matthew 7:2-4 ESV For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye?
For example, we may say:
- “I have previously struggled with (state the issue) and seem to notice some similar symptoms in your life. Are these observations correct? How can I support you?”
- “I have been praying for you and the topic of (state the issue) keeps coming to my mind. Could this be something we should talk about?”
- “I have been working on the area of (state the issue) in my life. Is this something you wish to see improvement in your own life too?”
5. Approach others as a servant, not a teacher
Jesus came to serve and graciously gave His life for us, and we ought to take the same approach in our speech. Our words should be wrapped with humility and love. Jesus also made use of analogies and parables to illustrate life lessons without pointing the finger directly at anyone.
Matthew 20:28 ESV Even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”
For example, we may say:
- “There’s something I have noticed for a while now and I have been praying about how to bring it up with you. I don’t want this to affect our friendship, and neither do I want to see you do anything that may lead you away from God. May I have your permission to say what’s been on my heart?”
- “I would really appreciate your view on something. If you noticed that someone has been (state the issue), would you say anything to that person?”
- “If one day you notice that your children are too distracted to even care about spending time with you, how would you feel? Do you think this is possibly how God feels when we neglect Him?”
6. Leave room for discussion
Before we confront someone about sin, we must first ensure that we have a strong indication of a problem. If we hear about an issue from someone else, we need to keep in mind that there are always “two sides to a coin” and never be tempted to jump to conclusions. (I personally try to observe someone for long enough to identify three incidences that may hint at a problem before bringing it up for discussion.)
Proverbs 17:27 ESV Whoever restrains his words has knowledge, and he who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.
For this reason, we must beware how we phrase our words when confronting someone. It is always better to leave room for error. Otherwise, we may risk coming across as condemning and judgmental. No one likes feeling trapped, and it is the same with anyone who is being confronted. There must be ample room to voice opinions or correct misunderstandings.
For example, we may say:
- “Have you ever considered (state the issue) as something that keeps you from growing closer to God?”
- “I seem to get an impression that you struggle with (state the issue). What do you think of this observation?”
- “Is there anything in the area of (state the issue) that I can encourage you on?”
7. Choose a time that’s not rushed
Finally, it is never wise to speak when we are emotional, rushed or exhausted.
Choose a “time out” if possible to ease into difficult conversations on a one-on-one basis. Pull the person aside and speak with love and grace, in a spirit of gentleness. Pray together and invite the Holy Spirit to guide the conversation. If we take an approach that honours God and the person we speak with, our friend will appreciate our candour, love and respect, and we would have earned his or her trust.
Galatians 6:1 ESV Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted.
Having to speak the truth to someone is an opportunity to testify of God’s goodness and love. May our words and actions always reflect His grace and love.
Ephesians 4:29 ESV 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.
1 Corinthians 13:2 ESV And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.