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by A. Maeve McDonald
When blogging about the Christian worldview and framing apologetics arguments there is typically—at least, there should be!—a heavy dose of truth involved. But what does Paul mean when he admonished us to "speak the truth in love"? I think Paul was making an important point here, the subtlety and profoundness of which can be easily missed. An obvious response to this verse would be: "Well, Paul is saying we shouldn't bash people over the head with the truth because that wouldn't be loving." This may be true, but I think Paul's statement goes way deeper than that. I think it's worth exploring some further questions:
What does Paul mean by love?
It is useful to view Paul's statement in the context of Jesus' teaching that the first and greatest commandment was "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind" (Matt 22:37) and the that the second is like it: "‘Love your neighbor as yourself'" (Matt 22:38). If we consider Paul's statement in light of these two commandments on which "all the Law and the Prophets hang" (Matt 22:40), we can deduce that Paul is telling us to speak the truth as an outworking of our love of God and of people—not, on the other hand, as inspired by our love of the world, our love of popular approval, or our love of ourselves. The Greek term for love Paul uses here is agape, a form of agapeis, which is also used by Jesus (agapaō) when he quotes the greatest commandments.The essence of agape love is self-sacrifice. So then, speaking the truth should be done in self-sacrificial love as modeled by Jesus Christ. It should primarily be to glorify God, and also be edifying to those who hear it. And speaking the truth may be costly to us.
The Holy Spirit empowers us to love God and love others in a self-sacrificial way. Loving others without the Holy Spirit involves a self-serving, consumerist form of love that actually takes away from God and other people more than it gives. This may not be immediately evident when we observe acts of love that are done in human strength such as generosity, kindness, or charity, for example. Humans are created in the image of God, so we naturally gravitate toward the notion of doing good unto others. But, loving others in our own strength, as well-intended as it may be, will ultimately end up being self-serving because of our fallen nature. Loving others certainly can provide us with a whole lot of earthly perks: a warm and fuzzy feeling; popularity and a good reputation; a wholesome family environment; a better marriage; a safer community to live in, etc. Loving others in our own strength, however, hardly ever leads us to speak the truth in love. Instead, it's more likely to move us to smooth things over and make everything comfortable. It can lead us to ignore inconvenient truths and live in denial. It can lead to double-mindedness, flattery, and people-pleasing. Living in the power of the Holy Spirit, on the other hand, gives us a supernatural ability to genuinely love others self-sacrificially. Christ-like love, however, is often rejected by the world and doesn't necessarily come with all the earthly perks we might desire…
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