Presented at Trinity Fellowhip on 05/23/1999
"Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ."
We have seen that the purpose of ministry is to equip the saints for the work of service for the building up of the Body of Christ (4:12). The principle is stated in v. 12. The goal is then described positively in v. 13 (attaining to the unity of faith, the knowledge of the Son, and to maturity). It is then described negatively in v. 14 (no longer children, tossed about by waves or blown by the winds of doctrine). Finally, we see this purpose given its ultimate summary in v. 15. "Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ."
"Speaking the truth in love" is a phrase that gets lifted out of its context here and quoted quite a bit, and rightly so. But we want to notice what it does mean in its context. And the first fact to notice is that "speaking" is not the main verb. It is a participle in support of the main verb, which is "grow." Do we grow so we can speak better, or speak so we can grow more? Both, of course. But it is the second of those formulae that is actually the teaching of this passage. Speaking is for the sake of growth.
Growing to be more like Christ, in other words, is not a means to anything so much as it is the ultimate end in itself. Being like Jesus is the most valuable thing there is in human life. Everything serves that end, which needs no justification in terms of anything else. The emphasis is not on doing but on becoming; not on doing this or that work or performing this or that function, but on being like Jesus, for it is from that being that any doing that is worthwhile must flow. Therefore, a successful Christian life is not judged so much by activity as by identity: our identity with Christ. We speak the truth in love so that this growth can happen in ourselves and in others throughout the Body.
The second curious detail about this text is that speaking is not . . . speaking. The verb "to speak" does not even occur in the original Greek. Rather, the participle is aletheuomai, from aletheia, the Greek word for truth. Literally, it is "truthing in love." Speaking is involved, of course, but the original language implies far more: speaking, doing, living, being the truth. As Christ is the incarnate Word, so we as Christians are supposed to be truth incarnate. A Christian is supposed to be truth with skin around it, truth in shoeleather, truth in action. As one of the Fathers said, "Preach the Gospel. If necessary, use words." This is not to lessen the emphasis on proper speaking, but simply to realize that until we are the truth, what we say about the truth will have little credibility.
And we are supposed to do this truthing "in love." One of the most serious danger signs about the Church in our day is the dichotomy between truth and love that we have simply decided we can live with. The Fundamentalist cares about the truth, but his zeal makes him combative and divisive. The liberal cares about peace and harmony, but zeal for those things leads him to compromise even the fundamentals of the faith. We have gotten so used to this dichotomy that we almost treat it as inevitable. But the Apostle will have none of it. The split between the two destroys both.
History is replete with illustrative examples. They begin at least as early as Job's friends, with their ham-fisted application to Job's situation of a very sound theology of the holiness and transcendence of God. Jehovah was not impressed with the theological correctness of their defense of His character because they had not spoken what was right about his servant, Job. I think Martin Luther was right to condemn Muentzer and the Peasant's Revolt. In fact, early in the controversy he had balanced and sensible things to say to both sides which, if they had been heeded, might have done much good. But the harshness of his attack "Against the Murderous and Plundering Bands of Peasants," urging the magistrates to "stab, kill, and strangle" as they would a mad dog those who participated, did seem to exceed the bounds of Christian charity. Even allowing for the pejorative debating style of the times, it has left an unfortunate spot on the reputation of that shining hero of the Faith ever since.
We, the American Fundamentalist Movement and its heirs, have provided more than our fair share of such examples. Carl MacIntyre and Bob Jones may have had a point when they argued in the '50's that Billy Graham was taking insufficient care to see that his converts ended up in churches that stood without compromise for the Gospel he preached. But instead of a loving critique of a brother, they launched a savage attack on an enemy. The cause of a balanced and biblical approach to ecclesiastical separation and theological integrity has still not recovered from the bad taste that episode left in our collective mouths. Or think of the glib pronouncements that were flying around a decade or so ago that AIDS was God's judgment on homosexuals. Of course, in a sense, it is; the claim was not simply false. His universe is so structured that violations of its moral programming tend to have negative consequences. But what did such pronouncements say to the family of the young lady who got HIV from her dentist? It would seem that Job's friends are still alive and well.
Perhaps the most instructive recent example is Jerry Falwell's infamous attribution of last year's Sept. 11 terrorist attacks to God's judgment on America's tolerance of homosexuality, pornography, and abortion. As a factual statement, it may not have been so far wrong as many would like to assume. Frustration with America's decadence and its use of its media to disseminate what is perceived as moral filth is one of the explicit motivations that lie behind Islamic terrorism. Islamic fundamentalists believe that our iniquity, like that of the Amorites, is full, and that therefore our destruction by Islam, like that of the Amorites by Israel in the Old Testament, is justified. Had Falwell asked us to consider whether we might have given Islamic extremists more than a little excuse for holding this arrogant error, he might have performed a useful service. Instead, all that most people heard was anger, indignation, arrogance, and self righteousness. The apparent absence of compassion in his finger-pointing tone not only hindered and obscured, it buried and even twisted the grains of truth that really were there in his pronouncement.
The problem is not simply an insufficient grasp of either contemporary fact or biblical content (though no doubt there are many who do inadequate homework in both areas). The problem is much deeper. It is our failure to understand that truth is more than factual correctness; it is a Person, the eternal Logos, whose perspectives on those facts are essential to any truth that is whole and wholesome. And love is more than just being nice; it is a willingness to die for one's enemies that flows, like truth itself, from only one place: that same Person.
Truth without love is sterile; love without truth is mushy or sentimental. Truth without love is barren; love without truth is misdirected. Truth without love is less than truth; love without truth is counterfeit love. Truth without love is truth distorted; it is ultimately deceptive. And love without truth is love perverted; it is ultimately destructive. This is so even when the truth is factually correct and the love emotionally sincere. Thus are vitiated all merely human attempts either to speak or to serve. Nevertheless, healing speech and true action become possible even for sinful human beings like us when--and only when--we are actively indwelt by the One who is both Logos and Love. Then, speaking the truth in love, we may indeed grow up in all aspects unto Him who is the head, even Christ.
How then does truthing in love cause us to grow up into Christ? The connection between truth and growth is the centrality of the Word--internalized, memorized, digested into affection, will, and practice, lived out. This process is essential to all ministry, to all worship, teaching, and counseling. Truthing is the path to growth because the Word is both the means and the goal of our transformation.
Growing up into Christ is, as we have seen, the main verb of the passage. Therefore a stagnant Christian life is a contradiction in terms. A stagnant Christian life is a denial of Christ. That is why John Calvin said, "If we cannot be men, let us at least be advancing children."
We are to grow up "in all aspects" into Christ. This phrase speaks of the comprehensiveness of the Christian life. It can tolerate no distinction between the sacred and the secular. There are no "religious topics." For there is no area of life into which Christian truth and the life of Christ do not reach. Your approach to entertainment, to work, to worship, to sports and recreation, to culture, to education, to music, to politics--ALL should be different because you are a Christian. This is what Francis Schaeffer meant by his phrase, "The lordship of Christ over the total culture." If we are faithful to Scripture, which contains this phrase, "in all aspects," then nothing less can be the goal of our truthing in love.
And we are to do this growing up in all aspects INTO HIM WHO IS THE HEAD, EVEN CHRIST! Christlikeness is the goal, and Christ is himself the only way to that goal. He is the way, the truth, and the life, and therefore truthing in love is only possible for us as He does it in us. Everything we have been seeing about the ministry of the Church is designed to enable that to happen.
I hope I have not excessively belabored these verses, but the contemporary Church is so far from practicing or even conceiving this approach to ministry that I have felt it necessary. I hope that as a result of our ministry we are we are gaining the ability to read this verse with full understanding: "Speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ." Let it be so in our congregation so that to Him will be the glory in the Church and in Christ Jesus to all generations forever. Amen.
Here endeth the lesson.
Dr. Donald T. Williams