Amidst the digital age’s undulating tide of information, the modern church has gradually enshrined tolerance, niceness, and aversion to any form of sternness as the quintessence of love. This contemporary veneer of love—largely a reflection of Pagan societal norms sparked by postmodernism and advanced by the hippie movements of the ’60s and ’70s and the LGBTQ movement today—has infected the Church and diluted the vibrant, robust biblical truth in favor of a more palatable, gentle, and non-confrontational version, in much the same way a candy-coated bitter pill is rendered easier to swallow.
This diluted notion of love, unfortunately, has permeated our understanding of biblical principles, among them, the idea of “speaking the truth in love” as commanded in Ephesians 4:15. But is this non-judgmental, culturally co-opted interpretation of Paul’s command accurate? Does ‘speaking the truth in love’ equate to mere niceties, gentle whispers, and pacifying words? Does this mean that turning the other cheek to confrontation is necessary?
In Ephesians 4:15, the Apostle Paul wrote: “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” The Greek word for truth here is ‘aletheia’, which carries an understanding of truth as reality—a truth that is in accordance with what is, what was, and what will be. This truth, in the biblical context, is neither a sugarcoated nicety nor an attempt to sidestep confrontation. It is the unvarnished reality of God, His commands, His standards, and His gospel.
Let us also consider the phrase ‘in love’, translated from the Greek ‘en agape’. It refers to a love that is sacrificial, selfless, and seeks the highest good of others, even at personal cost. When Paul speaks of talking truth ‘in love’, he is referring to an honest and sincere disclosure of reality, driven by a deep, sacrificial desire for the wellbeing of the listener.
With this understanding in mind, we are left pondering a vital question: did Paul contradict his own principle of ‘speaking the truth in love’ when he used such strong and condemning language in his letter to the Galatians?
The Epistle to the Galatians is notably one of the sternest books in the New Testament. In it, Paul counters false teachers who were leading the Galatians astray, distorting the gospel of grace. His language is unequivocally harsh; he even goes as far as to suggest that these false teachers castrate themselves—”I wish those who unsettle you would emasculate themselves!” (Galatians 5:12).
At first glance, this statement might seem contrary to Paul’s teaching in Ephesians about speaking the truth in love, particularly to those who have adopted the world’s standards on “love.” However, upon closer reading, we realize that the harshness of Paul’s language in Galatians was not a sign of unloving behavior but rather an expression of his deep, sacrificial love for the Galatians. Paul was motivated by a selfless desire to safeguard them from the dire consequences of embracing a false gospel, which would have been spiritually damaging.
This, indeed, was Paul’s demonstration of speaking truth in love. His stern, urgent, and condemning language reflected the grave urgency of the situation. He risked his reputation, risked being misinterpreted, and risked sounding unkind, all because he prioritized the spiritual well-being of his readers over the preservation of his own image. This was not a departure from his own teachings, but a fitting demonstration of them.
Paul’s approach, far from contradicting his principle of speaking the truth in love, paints a vivid picture of what that principle genuinely involves. Speaking the truth in love sometimes requires a refusal to pander to the status quo, defiance of cultural norms, and the courage to risk sounding unpleasant. It may require speaking up against falsehoods, false teachings, and destructive behaviors that threaten the spiritual health and growth of our brethren, despite the risk of being labeled unkind, intolerant, or unloving according to worldly standards.
Yet this doesn’t mean resorting to gratuitous harshness. Paul’s language in Galatians was harsh because the situation demanded it, not because he enjoyed using strong words. His urgent and stern tone reflected the seriousness of the threat posed by the false gospel, not a personal desire to be coarse or truculent. There is a profound distinction between speaking truth out of love, even when it requires harshness, and being invective out of a spirit of self-righteous judgment or disdain.
“Speaking the truth in love” is not about adhering to societal standards of tolerance, niceness, or avoidance of harshness. It’s not about turning a blind eye to sin or even neutering yourself with unfettered “humility”—another misused word for another article. It is about aligning our words and actions with God’s reality, driven by sacrificial, selfless love that seeks the ultimate well-being of others.
The Apostle Paul, in his treatment of the Galatian crisis, modeled this principle impeccably. His stern, urgent, and condemning language was not a contradiction of his teachings, but a demonstration of his commitment to upholding God’s truth and safeguarding the gospel he had been entrusted by Jesus to steward, and the spiritual health of his fellow believers.
As followers of Jesus, do not be intimidated into believing you can’t confront sin or false teaching with the coarseness it deserves. It just may be that the harsh rebuke you give to someone someday will ultimately save them from the relentless wrath of God in the future. Strive to speak the truth in love, not according to worldly interpretations, but according to the robust, sacrificial, and sometimes stern standard exemplified by the Apostle Paul. It’s not about being nice, but about being truthful and loving as Jesus would have us be.