First Mennonite Church
March 12, 2017
Discipleship: The Task of Speaking Truth in Love
Text: Ephesians 4:1-16
Since recently, I have been speaking on two key corporate qualities necessary in the church to carry out the task of discipleship: complete humility and patience towards one another. Yet, I have not addressed the how-to in carrying out discipleship. For this reason, it is necessary to go back to our Ephesians passage we had two weeks ago. I admitted, then, that although I was reading the whole passage in Ephesians chapter four, it was only to introduce the topic. So, now I would like for us to look at Paul’s instruction on how “reaching unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and becoming mature in the fullness of Christ” happen. So once again, here is what Paul says in Ephesians, four, verses 1-16:
As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2 Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. 8 This is why it says:
“When he ascended on high,
he took many captives
and gave gifts to his people.”
9 (What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions[c]? 10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.
14 Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. 15 Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.
If you remember, I said that the task of discipleship is helping each member in the body to grow in the likeness of Jesus Christ. Discipleship helps the church avoid being permanent spiritual infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the craftiness of people. Therefore, discipleship means we have to allow ourselves be held accountable; it means we have to be willing to speak and to listen to each other. For discipleship to happen it means we have to allow people in our personal lives. And that is not easy. Some people have difficulty allowing others into their homes, how much less will they do in their personal lives. It is precisely for that reason that Paul urges “to speak the truth in love.” So today, I would like for us to reflect on what “speaking the truth in love” means and who should do the speaking.
So often we compare “speaking the truth in love” like when the doctor needs to give the patient the bad news of him or her having cancer. Speaking truth in love in that case would be the doctor’s empathy and careful wording with which he will break the terrible news to his or her patient, which although difficult for the doctor to give it and even more difficult for the patient to hear, the truth needs to be communicated. In other words it seems as if Paul is speaking what we call “tough love.” Or what people say, “I wish I do not have to tell you this, but for your own wellbeing, I have to.”
First what truth is Paul talking about? In chapter one, verse 13, Paul says that gospel of salvation is the message of truth. Paul uses the word truth in the letter to the Ephesians as a synonymous for the gospel of Jesus. In chapter 4, verse 21, Paul refers to Christian instruction as being taught in accordance with the truth in Jesus Christ. In that regard, when Paul calls Christians to speak truth in love, he is referring to the task of teaching, guiding, correcting one another according to the teaching of Jesus, but doing it in love. Therefore, truth is not doctrinal teaching of the church, nor church rules, or stated theological stances of the denomination, but the essence of Jesus’ teaching according to the Gospels. The truth we need to speak to each other requires a good degree of knowledge of Jesus. It is no wonder why when Paul gives this very same instruction to the Colossians he commands: Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts (Col. 3:16). Therefore, familiarity with scriptures is vital for the task of discipleship. The task of discipleship demands that we know our Bible, but more importantly, that we are very familiar and committed to the teachings of Jesus. For this reason the church has Sunday school and Bible study night. These activities have two main functions: facilitate familiarity with scriptures and at the same time provide a context for discipleship. But if we do not participate in these activities, how can we carry out the task of discipleship effectively? If the same few people sit around the Sunday school table and Bible study night how can we grow corporately? You might say, I would like to go but because of this or that I do not. Is it not because it is in these settings that our differences emerge? Is it not also because in these settings we sometimes find ourselves a little uncomfortable with the view of others? But are they not as well precisely the reason Paul in the first place exhorts us to be completely humble and patient towards one another? Here again, if we were not humble or patient with one another, we either would want to impose our views on others or we might run others away if they do not agree with us. On the other hand, if we are not patient or humble, and we know someone holds a different view than ours, is it not true that we would prefer staying away from that person to avoid conflict? We need to see that failing to participate in activities that increase our familiarity and understanding of scripture in the end affects the whole body. One way this is evidenced is when time comes for us to offer guidance and admonition, our guidance and admonition are not grounded on what Jesus teaches or in his spirit, but on our own views and our moral grounds. And so often we would do not in love.
This brings us to the heart of the problems we Christians often have with discipleship. Take for instance, what motivates you to wanting to correct, admonish, to offer guidance or advice to another believer? Let say, you believe the pastor is not carrying his task the right way and you think you know how he should do it. What would motivate you to tell him he is failing on his job? Will it be fear that he will just keep doing the same mistake and maybe begin to fail in other areas? Will it be because you’d say, “Well, we pay him and if he does not know how to do the job, we should get someone else to do it?” Or is it fear that he will embarrass himself and the church if others see his error? What I want us to see is that our motivations to wanting to correct another member in the church could be fear, not love.
In other cases the motivation could be legalism. If we have been doing something for a long time and while others seem not to care to get involved, would our approach to others be that they should also do their part? Legalism usually begins by keeping count of what and how much I do compared with how much others do. Therefore, if my motivation is because everyone should do as much as I do, then my effort to encourage participation is not love.
Very often church members want to correct others because they are afraid moral failure from a member gives the church a bad rap. In that case admonishing or exhorting another could based on the desire to preserve the “good name or reputation” of the church.
Let us remember that speaking truth in love requires us to be immersed in the words of Jesus. Every effort to guide others should be done out of genuine concern for the wellbeing of the brother or sister and in our desire to keep unity of the spirit.
Let us now look at who should do the speaking in love. Paul says in verse 7, “But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.” Paul is clear that Christ has given each of us grace according to his wisdom. To each of us has been given a diverse gift, which makes impossible to say to another member of the body, “I have everything. I do not need your help.” Because the body is made up of many members and each having diverse gift, Christ also place in the body people with special gifts to help each member achieve the final goal. And verses 11 and 12, “So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service.”
We should remember that the above mentioned gifts are not the only ones Paul speaks about in his letters. In Romans 12, verse 8, Paul adds to his list of gifts: the exhorter, the giver, the leader, and the compassionate. God has given these gifts to equip his people for the work of service. This means that if you are a teacher, church leader, someone who is always serving and expressing concern for others—those with the gift of compassion, we are to double our effort in building the body of Christ. We have been called to look after the unity of the Spirit and growth in the knowledge of Christ. But at the end Paul reemphasizes that unity and spiritual growth happen “as each member does its work.” Every member, including the leaders are called to work together. Every member is called to speak truth in love and to build each other in love. The spiritual work of discipleship begins with the leaders of the church but they like every member have a vital work to accomplish: to speak truth in love and to build each other in love.
Let us hear Paul’s words again:
Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Amen!