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Why ‘speak the truth in love’, when no one wants to hear it? by Fr. Anthony Mourad

June 24, 2020

It seems like every time we open the media, we see the world divided against itself. Some people stand with this idea, others stand with another. One group believes “this and that” to be true, another claims that its completely false… and in the midst of all the chaos, no one is listening to the other and no one seems to care about the others arguments. With everyone always picking a side, or asking us to have a stance, how do we as Christians assess the truths that we adopt? Let’s take a closer look at this together.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; One God, Amen.

In Ephesians chapter 4, St Paul is encouraging the Christians of that city to no longer be like little children that are easily persuaded by everything they see and hear. He encourages them to not be swayed back and forth by people’s trickery and craftiness, and not to believe every doctrine that is preached out there. And so, he says, “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ”.

Now what does speaking the truth in love mean? And why would I speak the truth at all if I feel like people will not hear it? While these thoughts my come to us, and while we might think that these are indeed valid arguments, we must realize that there is more to this statement that St Paul makes than meets the eye.

Let’s first consider the two very powerful words that St Paul uses in this statement: speak the TRUTH, and in LOVE. Both of these words – Truth and Love – must be properly defined if we are to understand the importance of this scriptural calling. Consider firstly that both of these words are used to describe the person of Christ. Yes! They are a personifications of our Lord Himself. Lets investigate what this actually means.

 

In the gospel of John, Jesus while speaking to Thomas His disciple He says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” Christ does not say that he is truthful, or that he simply speaks the truth, He declares that He is the very thing! He is the origin and standard of truth. For this reason, the same evangelist in the very first chapter of his gospel declares that “The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and TRUTH came through Jesus Christ.”

As Christians, our standard of Truth is the Lord himself. For this reason, we call the Holy Spirit the Spirit of Truth! For this reason in our liturgy we declare that he is the God of truth!* And so to speak the Truth is to exemplify the Lord himself. We are representing Him and pointing to God as the standard of our beliefs. And because the Lord is ONE and unchanging, we view truth as universal and objective because it is found in God alone.

The Greek word for truth is ἀλήθεια – it indicates what is universally true in any matter under consideration. Universally here points to the premise that there is one objective Truth – not a variety of truths. And objectivity is the concept of being true independently from individual subjectivity caused by perception, emotions, or bias.

What this means to us as Christians is that speaking the truth at all times, despite the difficulties of doing so, despite the sensitivities of circumstances, despite the potential reactions of those around us, is a must – because it point to Christ Himself!

St Paul also explains that we ought to speak this truth IN LOVE. Its interesting to note that he does not allow truth to be divorced from love. As if to say that when truth is spoken alone, it can sometimes be used as a weapon – to hurt the person we are speaking to. With the intention of offending or merely making the person look bad – its no longer about truth – its about ego! All of us know what it’s like to think and sometimes to behave in a way where we say things such as “I don’t care how he or she feels, then need to hear what I have to say!” or “they need to know the truth”. The truth is never meant to be the weapon of choice that we use to hurt a child of God, the truth is meant to set people free: “You will know the truth, and the truth will make you free” says the Lord. As for the apostle Paul, he makes it clear – we ought to speak the truth, but to speak it in love.

But what does that mean ‘To speak in love’? As we’ve discussed before, we said that the word Love also is a very powerful word within the Christian vocabulary. We are not merely speaking of sentiment and emotion, we are speaking of the personified Lord! St John in his epistle, in an attempt to speak of the importance of love, he declares that love is far beyond what we think it to be. Listen to what he says:

“4 You are of God, little children, and have overcome them (the spirit of the antichrist), because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are of the world. Therefore, they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. 6 We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the spirit of truth and the spirit of error. 7 Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. 8 He who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” (1 John 4: 4-8)

Beloved what we are seeing here is of immense importance. Scripture declares that God is Truth – and God is Love. And so as Christians, when we speak the truth in love, we ourselves are bringing God into the conversation and inviting The Lord into our presence. He is the author and originator or both truth and love, and so we point to Him when speak the truth in love.

 

Now if for any reason, I am tempted to refrain from speaking the truth, I must ask myself why? Am I afraid of the outcome? Am I looking for someone’s approval? Am I attempting to associate to a specific ideology or a group that adopts such ideas? If not, then why would I not speak the truth?

And if I do speak it, have I spoken it in love? Have I made the Lord Christ the standard of how I speak and the words that I select? Have I considered the best time and place as well as the best tone to adopt to deliver the message of truth that needs to be delivered? These questions are the very ones that will guide me, through the Holy Spirit, to know when and how I ought to speak.

To conclude I want to read to you from Fr Mathew the poor. In his book “If you love me” he says something very powerful in regard to our conversation. He speaks of the criteria to be an effective servant of the Lord that speaks with openness and honesty. In the Coptic Tradition, the word servant is typically used for anyone who offers their time or energy to God and his Church. A volunteer of some sorts whose intention is to ofer God service in any way. In reality, this title of servant of the lord, applies to all Christians! Listen to what Fr Matthew has to say:

“When the service is contaminated by self-seeking, skewing its spiritual balance, it becomes continually overcautious, cowardly and predisposed to retreat. It will become a service unprepared for any sort of loss, constantly halting and regressing. The servant himself tends to measure “gains” versus “losses” by mere statistics.

Conversely, if it is a healthy service, as attested by a profound love in the heart, you will find the servant bold, candid, with a ready tongue. He is prepared to bear any burden, because the true love that comes from God compels him to forget himself and convert every loss into a gain. One of the unique and unmistakable signs of such love that comes is a pleasure in self-sacrifice and a commitment to self-abandonment.

There is also a false type of openness and honesty whose basis is not love but rather egotism. It thrives on the love of show, the exhibition of one’s merits and proving oneself. Such openness only stirs up trouble, conflict, and defiance. Every servant must beware this defect because it only harms the service of Christ.

In contrast, true candor in service is meek and yielding – like love itself, always smiling – and never causes harm or disgrace to anyone. It might at times need to express itself with fiery words: but it is nevertheless driven by a humble heart, a kind face, and tearful eyes.” (Fr Matthew the Poor – If you love me: Qualities of a Christian Servant)

The words of this Spiritual Elder are a beautiful summary of all that we need to learn in regards to the importance of speaking the Truth in Love. In denying the self, and in destroying the go, we can speak the truth in love by making it about Him who is Truth and Who is Love. May He always be at the center of everything we speak.

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