How to Speak the Truth in Love
- Mary Southerland Journey Ministry, Inc
- Updated Aug 11, 2022
As a kid, I loved short Bible verses. However, the reason was not a noble one. First, my Sunday School teacher made us memorize Scripture. Then, we could not leave the class until we had shared a Bible verse we had learned. So, I looked for the short verses. Short Bible verses still hold a special place in my heart. One of my favorite short verses was written by the Apostle Paul.
"Speak the truth in love." Ephesians 4:15
Five simple words. Crazy deep truth. Great wisdom. Learning to speak the truth in love is the framework of healthy relationships.
Relationships require communication, a truth you would think is obvious. But I have found it to be an ongoing challenge. We have to communicate. Communication begins with the simple but often ignored truth that we have to speak up and talk to each other.
Dan and I just celebrated forty-six years of marriage. That is a long time! You would think by now that we would have communication figured out. In some ways – yes. In other ways – not so much.
I have this tendency to expect Dan to read my mind. After living together for forty-six years, he knows me - right? He should know what I am thinking and feeling all the time. It doesn't work that way. We cannot expect people to know what we do not tell them. So, we have to speak up. We have to speak up regularly, and we have to speak up continually.
We have two children – and they could not be more different, especially regarding communication. From the minute Jered and Danna started talking, I worked very hard at being a good listener. I learned what questions would prime the pump of communication with each child.
Danna was born talking. She will tell you precisely what she thinks, believes, and feels. No one struggles to know where Danna stands on anything. It has always been relatively easy to get her to talk. When she got home from school, all I had to do was ask how her day had been, and I got a full report that would put any highlight reel to shame. Jered does not need to talk. He is the one Southerland who knows how to be quiet. However, if you want him to open up, you must lead the way. Over the years, I have learned what to ask and when to ask it. I have also discovered the best times to be patient instead of pushing him for an answer that will satisfy my need to understand what he is thinking and feeling.
With both kids, I have learned that I have to say what I mean and mean what I say. I think that is what Jesus meant when he said, "Let your yes be yes, and your no be no." But, unfortunately, the people in our lives are not mind readers. So, we have to speak up.
Speak the Truth
It is not enough to speak up. The point is not just to talk. We also have to speak the truth. Check out these words from Jesus.
I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. John 14:6
Jesus defines himself as the way, the truth, the life, and the only pathway to the Father. Notice that the truth made this shortlist. The only path to the relationships we so desperately desire is truth. We must learn to speak the truth. Truth is part of the Jesus pathway to God the Father. Truth is part of the Jesus way in every relationship.
Speaking the truth in our relationships with others makes it possible to align our relationship with God. But when we are not truthful in our relationships, we strain our relationship with God.
There is no growth without truth. There is no trust without truth.
The Bible contains more than 100 verses about the importance of speaking the truth. Here is another one of my favorite short verses:
You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. John 8:32
We cannot know the truth unless we speak the truth – both to ourselves and to others. Healthy relationships are built upon honesty and transparency. Speaking the truth demands that we be authentic. No masks. No walls or hidden agendas. Part of authenticity is the willingness to confront.
I know. Confrontation can be brutal, but if we love someone, we are willing to level with them. I don't know anyone who enjoys confrontation. Those who like to confront are probably doing so for the wrong reason. The harder the truth, the more love we must use to speak that truth.
First – we must learn to speak up.
Second – we must learn to speak the truth.
Speak the Truth in Love
Here is a relationship formula that I learned years ago:
All truth is too brutal.
All love is too frail.
Relationships need both.
If all we do is speak the truth without regard to timing or tone, we will not have many relationships. But if our words lack depth and meaning, we will only have surface relationships. Genuine relationships require both truth and love.
Most of us are good at one of these – truth or love – and must learn the other. I am better at saying the loving thing but not so good at being totally honest – especially when expressing how I feel about something. My husband Dan is better at being truthful but not always loving in his words. We have been working at this balance our entire marriage.
Those who are natural truth-tellers often have to learn to be loving and kind in how we speak words of truth. But, on the other hand, naturally loving and kind people often have to learn to be truthful in how we communicate. This balancing act is part of every relationship. One of my favorite sayings is, "God accepts you just as you are, but He loves you too much to leave you there." I accept the people I love, but I love them too much not to speak up, speak the truth, and speak that truth in love.
Proverbs 27:6 tells us that "the wounds of a friend are faithful." That is because true friends speak up and speak the truth in love. The "wound" referred to in Proverbs 27:6 is the correction or confrontation for the good of a friend. Godly relationships always contain the element of discipline. Correction brings integrity to every relationship – especially friendships. We tend to surround ourselves with people who tell us what we want to hear. But we need to look for a real friend who will tell us the truth, knowing it may make us angry.
Silence is agreement. And just as dangerous as holding a friend's hand as they walk toward the edge of a steep, deadly cliff. When you have a check in your spirit about any part of a friend's life, you must confront that friend in love. Confrontation must be a part of every relationship that is healthy and honors God. As a pastor's wife, I have learned to confront people in a way that pleases God and helps the person I am confronting. Here are some tips I have found helpful in the art of confrontation.
• Start with words of encouragement. Encouraging words prepare the heart to hear words of correction. Corrective words that fall on ears designed by loving words are more likely to be heard and considered.
• Control your emotions. It is vital to control your emotions during any confrontation. Raised voices and angry words can slam the door shut on any possible good that can come from conflict. Express feelings with carefully chosen words.
• Be clear and direct. Before any confrontation, I often write down what I plan to say, then read it aloud and sometimes in front of the mirror. Doing so helps me go back and remove unnecessary comments, aggressive words, or vindictive statements disguised as correction. Stick to the facts. Wrap words of correction in love before you speak them.
• Don't use the words "never" and "always." These two words often cause an emotional upheaval because they are not valid and demolish the integrity of the person doing the confronting. These two words tend to stir up emotions and fan emotional fires.
• Listen carefully. If I am not careful, I do not listen because I assume I already know what the other person will say. That kind of arrogance can derail any conversation. Tough conversations need complete attention. When we listen to the other person, we hand them the gift of time and validation.
• Be determined to find a solution. It is much easier to approach confrontation with the attitude of just getting it over with instead of getting to the heart of the matter and finding a solution. Before beginning any confrontation, choose to stick with it until a solution is found and the relationship is restored.
Pastor Adrian Rogers says, "It is better to speak the truth that hurts and then heals, than falsehood that comforts and then kills." I want friends who will speak up, tell me the truth, and do so lovingly. And I want to be that kind of friend as well.
Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/Sanja Radin
Mary Southerland is also the Co-founder of Girlfriends in God, a conference and devotion ministry for women. Mary’s books include, Hope in the Midst of Depression, Sandpaper People, Escaping the Stress Trap, Experiencing God’s Power in Your Ministry, 10-Day Trust Adventure, You Make Me So Angry, How to Study the Bible, Fit for Life, Joy for the Journey, and Life Is So Daily. Mary relishes her ministry as a wife, a mother to their two children, Jered and Danna, and Mimi to her six grandchildren – Jaydan, Lelia, Justus, Hudson, Mo, and Nori.