Okay, so I used to think it was the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers who did the actual work of spreading the Word, building up the Body of Christ on earth. Then I paid attention to what God the Holy Spirit – through Paul – told the people of Ephesus. Turns out it’s the people who have the ministry of Body building. The job of the apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers is to equip the people (cf. Ephesians 4:11-16). Pretty heavy.
If I take the Word of God seriously (how else could I take it), then I need to pay attention to what Paul says about how we do this ministry of Body building. Ephesians 4:15 is key. Most translations have, “speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ….” But one translation reads, “living the truth in love…” How do you get “speaking” and “living” out of the same Greek word?
Greek is a tremendously rich language. Many words don’t have one-to-one translations into English. The Greek word here is the present participle of a verb, “to truth”. A literal translation then would be “truthing”. So what Paul is talking about here is more than just the words that come out of my mouth. It’s how I live my whole life. What I do, what I say, how I think, how I respond to the world. I ‘truth’.
There is no place in a life of ‘truthing’ for falsehood or deception. None. Words of truth should naturally flow from a spirit that allows nothing of the darkness of lies to enter. Light or lies. No middle ground.
And speak we must. A ‘ministry’ means we have a responsibility to others. We are called to live and speak the truth so that others are no longer “tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming” (Ephesians 4:14). Then we all grow ever more into Him who is the head, into Christ.
Not to speak is not an option. The gospel according to Thumper (“If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”) has no place here. Our question to ourselves should be, “If I can’t say anything nice, why not?” Maybe it’s because we’ve lost sight of the second part of our commission: to live and speak the truth in love. The truth can be a caress or a hammer, depending upon how it’s wielded.
To speak the truth in love, first I must care. Once I see another as a person loved by God and in need of my love, my words heal instead of hurt. And not just my words speak love. My eyes, my inflection, my gestures, my body language communicate – sometimes more truly and clearly than my words. If we ‘truth’ it’s all one message, “I speak this to you because it’s the truth, and because I love you.”
If the words are hard to say, but if they are a truth that someone needs or deserves to hear, then silence is not golden. Jesus did not shy away from saying the hard things. (I think we tend to hear Him saying them in coldness, acrimony or anger. Let’s try hearing them spoken in love.)
Sometimes it got him into trouble. Sometimes people walked away. But those who said as Peter did, “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68), they went on not only to secure the blessings of eternity with God for themselves, but also for those whom they drew into the Body of Christ on earth.
One approach to saying the hard truths in love would be first to pray for the grace to care, truly care, for the person who needs to hear. Then, think through what you would like them to receive. Then, with love, patience, kindness, and gentleness, speak your heart. Prayer, care, share.
It’s exciting and humbling to think God has entrusted to us the ministry of building up the Body of Christ on earth. Let’s not deny ourselves the joy of being good ministers.