Speaking The Truth In Love Ephesians 4:1–16 -- By: John E. Steely

Journal: Faith and Mission
Volume: FM 04:2 (Spring 1987)
Article: Speaking The Truth In Love Ephesians 4:1–16
Author: John E. Steely

Speaking The Truth In Love
Ephesians 4:1–16

John E. Steely

Professor of Historical Theology,
Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, 1956–1986

Mark Van Doren once said about the poet Robert Frost: He “was a philosophical poet, which meant in his case that to a profound and delicate heart was joined an intellect which never ceased to search for the ultimate meanings of life.” Surely this is another way of addressing the challenge that is set before us in the theme for our worship together this week. It is an expression of the apostle’s injunction to his readers that, “Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, in Christ.”

The joining of a profound and delicate heart and a tirelessly searching intellect; the complementary graces of learning and devotion; discovering how to speak the truth, but to speak it in love; in all these terms we are challenged by the high and noble responsibility that rests upon us as ministers of Jesus Christ and as stewards of the gospel.

Since the day when Festus the governor said to the apostle Paul, “Much learning doth make thee mad,” the Christian community has been afflicted—sometimes by its alien foes, and sometimes by its own members—with the distressing and ungodly opinion that learning and true piety are imcompatible; we have been told that, even if both learning and devotion are gifts of God, it is easy to get too much of the former, though there is no such thing as having too little of it or being deficient in it. On the other hand, in contrast and even in opposition to learning, piety is supposed to be a quality of which one might possess too little, but never too much. In such a subtle way the impression has been conveyed—and generally accepted without question—that one cannot speak of the two gifts as being genuinely, really, authentically given from God and paired in the divine purpose. Perhaps unspoken, but nevertheless implied and assumed, is the notion that one of these is from God, and the other is at best a human invention and self-assertion, at worst one of the devil’s choice instruments of destruction.

I charge you to reject that strange and unbiblical notion. Hear with me instead the word of Scripture, that fifteenth verse of the fourth chapter of Ephesians, and let us allow it to address us, members of a community that is both a congregation of worshippers and a school. We are to speak the truth, but to speak it in love; alleged truth, even when it is cast in biblical terms, describing, for example, the unbridled wickedness of humanity, if it is spoken without love, in malice, loses its claim to the name of truth. Love, dissolving the toughness of responsibility into cosy self-ind...

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