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by David Wells

Simply stated, you do not separate grace from truth, nor truth from love (Ephesians 4:15), whether in the formal context of preaching and teaching or in the informal context of daily life.
Often, when discussing the means to present the gospel in our culture, these dichotomous descriptions are used: proclamation versus incarnation; message- focused versus relationship. The problem with that line of thinking is that to separate one dynamic of the representation of Christ’s message from another negates the potent linkage that the Scriptures so clearly present.

While on earth, Jesus clearly gave evidence that one could graciously engage others in relationship and live in an exemplary manner, all while consistently proclaiming Spirit- directed truth that would give life to those with Him. Try to divide Jesus’ ministry between two distinct worlds of relationship and proclamation, and you would find yourself dismembering the gospel writer’s intended portrayals of the One who was full of “grace and truth” (John 1:14). Simply stated, you do not separate grace from truth, nor truth from love (Ephesians 4:15), whether in the formal context of preaching and teaching or in the informal context of daily life.

Paul’s encouragement to speak the truth in love has often been applied to relationships within the Christian community or within our homes. While that certainly applies, the context of his teaching directly relates to resisting false teaching. I would suggest it provides a template for the public presentation of God’s Word for which many of us have responsibility.

We speak truth: the Word of our God which stands forever (Isaiah 40:8) and the imperishable, living and enduring Word of God (1 Peter 1:23). Lives are transformed when God’s Word finds its root in people’s hearts and minds. My personal opinions, stories full of emotion, or creative communication methods have their place; but a Spirit level dynamic has to take place to transform lives. His truth is what sets people free; it is His truth that we must speak.

And that truth must be spoken with love. We have the responsibility to show relational integrity as we proclaim His Word. Combine Paul’s exhortation in Ephesians 4:15 with his teaching in 1 Corinthians 13 and you get a helpful picture of how to communicate the truth with love.

Speak the truth with:
  • Patience—God’s Word is like seed so we plant it into lives, believing that in time it will bear a harvest. At times one could get the impression from some speakers that they are fully perfected followers of Jesus. My observation is that people are far more likely to be receptive to the words of truth we speak when they hear about the patience God has been showing us in our spiritual journey.

  • Kindness (not with rudeness or anger)—A whole lot of damage has been done in churches and personal relationships when someone felt they “had to tell the truth here.” Many times, God’s Word itself has been used as a damaging weapon. Congregations have been verbally abused from pulpits, pastors have been mistreated by parishioners, and family members or friends have done violence to one another by forgetting that the two go together: truth is spoken with love, and love is kind. You know you can be passionate, even prophetic, yet be kind at the same time.

  • No Envy (not with boasting or with a record of wrongs)—Some speakers feel the need to make disparaging remarks about ministries or individuals in contexts where the audience has no means to engage in a redemptive manner the issues being raised. Often this is done to puff up who we are and how we are superior to the others being focused on. Straw men are developed and then torn down that have nothing to do with the daily lives of those in the audience. Younger members of church families are especially offended by such antics. The discipline a pastor or speaker must exercise is to know their audience and speak to that specific group of people in a relationally integral manner that engages the issues they face.

  • Delight—God, who is love, gave His truth so that people could live life with knowledge, understanding, wisdom and freedom. It is our delight—our unbelievable privilege—to share eternal truth rooted in God’s love, which always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Lovingly we engage others in relationship, exhibiting lives worth imitating. But because we love we must also graciously speak the truth that defines our lives. Fear of being seen as “preachy” may tempt us to hold back from proclaiming good news verbally. However, the sobering reality is this: if we withhold truth that is appropriate to an individual’s or a group’s relationship with God or others, we fail to demonstrate the very love of Jesus we are seeking to emulate. Love never fails, both to live out graciously Christ’s life in us and to speak His truth faithfully. It’s not either/or; it’s both/and. e
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