That’s a phrase we hear often. Speaking the truth in love. Maybe it’s just me but whenever I hear someone say that, they almost never (in my estimation) are truly speaking out of love. Or if it is love, it is an abstract sort of love. “Because I love humankind, I’m saying this…” “Because I love my country, I’m saying this….”.
I’m not suggesting we can’t speak abstractly. But on the other hand, let’s not kid ourselves about the difference between that sort of abstract love and God’s love. We are of course very imperfect in the ways we embody God’s love. But that doesn’t mean we can’t have some self awareness about what we are doing, or not doing.
If I make a pronouncement that I think is speaking the truth in love, I need to be careful. I may be treating those to whom I am speaking as stereotypes or caricatures and not as real people. Anytime I start speaking about or to “the gays”, “the Republicans”, “the Muslims”, “the Christians” or any other group, it is impossible not to speak to stereotypes. At least for me that is the case. Additionally if I feel the need to speak the truth in love to someone whom I have just met I am treating that person as a stereotype and not as an actual person. And I have to ask myself, am I really speaking out of love?
It is, I suppose, love of a sort. It is a love that says, I know better than you and because I “love” you, I want to be sure your behavior/thoughts/actions are correct. It’s a top down sort of love. There is judgment in that statement, whether intended or not. It is a love that often doesn’t do a very good job is listening, truly listening to others.
It is better to speak out of a humble, self giving love, you know, more like Jesus. When Jesus speaks to the rich young ruler (Mark 10:17-31), he speaks tough words, but he speaks them out of love and he speaks them to an individual. Jesus does speak hard words to groups of people, but they are groups he is in ongoing dialog with.
I’m not sure that any one of us can truly speak the truth in love unless we are in an actual relationship with the other person. My sense is that speaking the truth in love cannot be spoken by one person to a group. Speaking the truth in love can happen within a group but not to a group. I can speak the truth in love to my church because I know it. If I try to speak the truth in love to your church, I’d better be careful and do some serious thinking about my motives, I may not be as loving as I think I am. I may just want to tell people what to do and how to behave, thinking that I have the corner on truth.
Truth for Christians is not a set of behaviors. It is not a set of rules. It is not judgmental. Truth for Christians is a person, Jesus. Before we begin to “speak the truth in love”, perhaps we ought to ask ourselves, is it true, true like Jesus?