We never want to fail to mention the controlling agent in speaking the truth. Lest our speaking be harsh, mean-spirited, insensitive, or arrogant, Paul adds a principle in Ephesians 4:15 that must control our speaking—we are to speak the truth in love (see Jan. 19-21).
While Paul wrote many strong, sometimes even scathing, rebukes to the believers in Corinth, for example, no one there could have accused him of being unkind or unloving. Likewise, this will keep us from speaking rudely, unkindly, arrogantly, or overbearingly. A pastor must never “browbeat” God’s people; neither should any believer be arrogant, overbearing, or use “high-pressure techniques” in personal witnessing. Our goal is to humbly and lovingly point people to the Lord and His truth.
Further, love is the balancing agent of conviction and courage. When the child of God has convictions and courageously stands on them, he will be called “closed-minded,” “intolerant,” “hard-nosed,” and many other things, but when love is the balancing agent, people will take notice.
One commentator ably demonstrates the comparison of love and truth by pointing out that speaking the truth without love makes us ungracious, while speaking only love with no truth makes us unfaithful. In other words, “raw truth” can alienate the people we are trying to reach, while “uncontrolled love” can suppress the very truth we need to share.
The famous early nineteenth-century missionary to China and Bible translator Robert Morrison (1782-1834) tells the story of when as a young student, perhaps about sixteen years of age, he once ate breakfast with Caesar Malan, a Swiss Reformed preacher in Geneva. Upon discovering that Morrison was a young student of divinity, Malan said, “Well, my young friend, see that you hold up the lamp of truth to let the people see. Hold it up, hold it up, and trim it well. But remember this: You must not dash the lamp in people’s faces; that would not help them to see.” Morrison adds that he remembered those words often throughout his life, and so should we.
Jeffrey Dane Watson, A Word for the Day: Key Words from the New Testament, (Chattanooga, TN: AMG Publishers, 2006), WORDsearch CROSS e-book, 206-207.