The other day I found myself in a fretful situation, in which I asked myself, “How much of God’s truth do I speak?” Immediately after I thought it to myself, I cringed in horror at such a thought. The reason I thought this to myself is because I wrestle with the issue of truth. I wrestle with it because speaking truth is part of my spiritual gift, but truth can be offensive, especially when it shines light into an area of a person’s life that is devoid of truth. Sometimes I imagine God handing out spiritual gifts, and when He gets to me He says, “Here, I’m giving you a gift that will make people hate you. Enjoy.”
The Apostle Paul tells us at Ephesians 4:15 to speak the truth in love, and at Ephesians 4:29 he says to, “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen.” So I found myself asking God, “How do I speak something that is offensive, in love? How do I build someone up when I speak truths that are challenging to their faith, which they will most likely perceive as meant to tear them down?” His answer to me about this seeming paradox, was for me to examine the scriptures more closely.
Ephesians 4:15 says, “But speaking the truth in love, we should grow up in all things into Him who is the head, Christ.” The Greek word used for “love” in this passage is AGAPE. There are four words in the Greek language for love: EROS, STORGE, PHILEO and AGAPE. The word EROS was used to mean a physical or sexually intimate love. It is where we get the word “erotic” from. The word STORGE was used to mean the natural affection among family. The word PHILEO was used to mean a sentimental type of love or a kindly disposition towards something. All three of these words infer a love based on natural attraction. However, AGAPE is a love based on choice, rather than natural inclination.
In ancient Greek, the verb form of AGAPE, which is AGAPAO, was used as meaning “to prefer”, as in, a willful, purposeful love, rather than fleeting emotion. Throughout the New Testament, AGAPE is used to denote the kind of love that is kindled by the Holy Spirit, or literally “what God prefers, what God wills, what God chooses.” Therefore AGAPE can be understood to mean “a love that transcends human emotion and circumstance and is centered on actively doing what God prefers.”
Therefore at Ephesians 4:15, when Paul says that we are to speak the truth in AGAPE to help someone mature spiritually, he is not referring to speaking in a pampering, indulgent or patronizing way. He is not referring to speaking in a way that spares someone’s feelings by compromising God’s very real contempt towards sin. He is referring to speaking truth in a way that is not influenced by personal opinions or feelings and is centered upon God’s will for mankind. And God’s will for mankind is for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9), and for all to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (1 Tim 2:4). Thomas Aquinas beautifully defines AGAPE as, “to will the good of another.” And when you will the good of another, you tell them the truth that will save them, even when it hurts.
Ephesians 4:29 says, “Let no unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building up the one in need and bringing grace to those who listen.” The Greek word translated as “building up” is OIKODOMEN, which literally means “the act of building or constructing a home or dwelling place”. Therefore the figurative meaning in the context of this verse would be, “constructive criticism and instruction that builds a person up to be the suitable dwelling place of God, i.e. where the Lord is ‘at home'” (HELPS Word Studies 3169).
I have found that when I find myself frustrated when seeking God on a matter, sometimes it’s because I’m not asking the right questions. In this case, what I perceived as a paradox with my spiritual gift was simply me not asking the right questions. Now, when I properly ask, “How much of God’s truth should I speak to bring a person to repentance and build them into a suitable dwelling place for the Holy Spirit?”
I can easily answer, “All of it.”
“Teacher, we know that you are true and teach the way of God truthfully, and you do not care about anyone’s opinion, for you are not swayed by appearances.” (Matt 22:16)
“‘Teacher,’ they said, ‘we know that You are honest and are swayed by no one. Indeed, You are impartial and teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.'” (Mark 12:14)
“All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for conviction, for correction, and for training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be complete, fully equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim 3:16,17)
“Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth.” (John 17:17)
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9)
“This is good and pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:3,4)