Ephesians 4:11-16 – “And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.”
Roughly 80% of the churches in the United States are either stagnant or they are declining numerically. While numeric growth is not an automatic evidence of God at work, it can be an effective tool to measure health. If our calling as followers of Christ is to be making disciples of those who were not previously following Jesus and to be making disciple-makers of those who have been disciples yet have failed to see how they are called to multiply, then one of the marks of a healthy church will be that it is growing and multiplying.
Paul tells us in Ephesians 4 that God has established apostles, prophets, evangelists, shepherds, and teachers in order to help others mature to the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children.” One of the distinct methods he encourages us to employ is the strategy of speaking the truth in love. I am of the opinion that one of the reasons the church in the United States is primarily stagnant or declining is because we have failed to effectively speak the truth in love.
In 1 Thessalonians 5:14, Paul describes speaking the truth in love. “We urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.” Speaking the truth will include encouragement, help and patience, but it will also include admonishing the idle. To admonish means to warn and exhort. Speaking the truth will be admonishing those who are living to gratify temporal desires, failing to see how they are to be living as ambassadors of Christ in this alien world.
The problem with our understanding of speaking the truth in love is that we oftentimes pit speaking truth against loving someone. We think that it is loving to be kind and gentle to them instead of telling them the hard truth. Or we think that speaking the truth will only be speaking love, because Jesus was all about love right? He wasn’t about saying the hard thing, right? Or we think that we are to love God only while we bash people over the head with their sin. “You are a dirty, rotten sinner who will not be able to stand before the Holy God without being smitten on the spot. You better repent!” We say that sort of warning is love because it is respecting God as the only Holy One! Or maybe we say that we are speaking the whole counsel of God’s Word by laying the law down on them in our speaking, but we forget that the whole counsel of God’s Word includes grace, undeserved favor!
Church, we need to recognize what it means to speak the truth in love. People’s souls are at stake. The Church’s impact in society is at stake. Our maturity in Christ is at stake. Admonish the idle!