Paul tells us that the Lord himself gave ministries to the Church to equip the people of God for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 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. 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. 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. 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 (Eph 4:11-16).
If you are a Christian, born again through faith in Jesus Christ, you are a part of the Body of Christ. As a part of the Body, you have the marvellous capacity to help build up the Body in love. According to this passage, our growth in Christ is directly related to our reception of truth. As we speak the truth of Christ to one another, we help each other to mature spiritually and to resist error. The ministries enumerated here by Paul—apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers—had or have one principal thing in common: the speaking and impartation of God’s truth to the people of God. Speaking the truth in love with one another, in our assemblies, our homes, and everywhere else, is God’s “growth formula” for his Body. What it implies, and what we may find difficult to keep in view at times, is that in God’s Kingdom, truth is inseparable from love.
The truth we are to speak is God’s truth, which is his Word. As we share the truth of the Word with one another, it will cause us to grow up into Christ. The Word is the seed which, planted in good soil, produces a plentiful harvest (Luke 8:4-16). Jesus said, The words I speak to you are Spirit and they are life (John 6:63); as we plant them in one another and receive them from one another, they bring forth life and growth. Peter wrote, Like newborn babies, desire the pure spiritual milk of the word, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation (I Pet 2:2). It is in our nature that we need frequent teaching, exhortation, reminding and encouragement in order to keep receiving, believing and obeying the Word. And we need one another for these things!
The truth we are to speak is also plain “human” truth—that is, honest words. Speaking truth in this way is how we ought properly to deal with offences. It precludes hiding sin or bitterness with lies, flattering for advantage, and so on. We are to speak the truth with one another in matters great and small.
In all of our truth-speaking, however, love is essential. Words without love are but empty noise, which neither pleases God nor brings spiritual growth. As Paul says, If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal (1Cor 13:1).
So what we need are love and truth in balanced fullness. We see this gloriously manifested in Jesus, the Living Word, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14, emphasis added). Love and truth are completely and inextricably bound together in Jesus, and are to be so in us as well. We must not divide truth and love in our dealings with one another—nor, indeed, in our efforts to win unbelievers to Christ.
There seems to be a tendency among Christians, however, to lean toward one side or the other of the scale. For many believers, the words “truth” and “love” (and love’s offspring, “unity”) can be loaded. For some, “truth” is perceived (sometimes rightly so) as a club in the hands of unloving sectarians or judgemental legalists. For others, “love” and “unity” are perceived (sometimes rightly so) as buttery goo lubricating the infiltration of sin or error into the Church.
Whatever our particular sensitivities, an imbalance of truth and love hurts and deprives the Body and dims our light. Let us acknowledge that truth and love are not dirty words but Bible words, and affirm that God desires and is working always for us to grow up into a mature balance of the two. How does he do this? By having us . . . speak the truth—in love!
Doing this is often far from easy, but we can help bring about that pleasing fullness of truth and love that God desires to see in our personal lives, in our assemblies, and in the greater Body—by asking the Lord for it. In this, as with every good thing he intends for his people, God has through his Word provided the guidance to seek it effectually, in alignment with his perfect will.
Consider this wonderful prayer passage from Paul’s epistle to the Philippians: I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart; for whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus. And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God (Philippians 1:3-11).
Let’s note several important truths within this rich and deeply challenging text. First, Paul prays for all of the Philippians. He leaves none out. Does this mean that they are all sufficiently mature as to be somehow “worthy” of his prayer? Of course not. Paul says that God has begun a good work in them, not that he has finished it. No, Paul is praying for them because they need his prayer. Some of those Philippians may have been especially immature and “problematic,” even a complete nuisance, perhaps, but Paul prays for all of them. This is clearly part of his pattern of prayer for all the churches, a pattern which he exhorts us to emulate.
Second, Paul declares, in all seriousness—this is no empty platitude—even calling God as his witness, that he longs for all of the Philippians with the affection of Christ Jesus. Paul’s heart is filled with the tender love of Jesus Christ for the people he is writing to. How many of us can honestly profess such affection for all of the people of God, or even for all the Christians we know? I know I fall far, far short of this standard. But I have been asking the Lord to change me. Paul’s words, written in love, are provoking growth!
If Paul can be filled with such love, so can we. How did that love get into Paul’s heart? The Lord put it there, of course. How? I believe the Lord poured abundant love for God’s people into Paul as the apostle prayed for them. Effectual prayer—prayer according to God’s heart and purpose and Word, as demonstrated here in Philippians—brings forth love in both those praying and those being prayed for. This love will then shine forth in our truth-speaking!
Parents, church leaders, teachers, do you have trouble loving those under your care? Pray for them. Invest time in them at the throne of grace, seeking good for them, and love for them will spring up in your heart. Don’t leave anyone out. Believe that God is working in them and that your prayer will help them. Let your heart be drawn out, especially for any who have hurt you or caused you trouble. When the time comes to speak the truth—whether from the pulpit, or in any other setting—your words, spoken from a heart of love prepared through loving prayer, will be words of life and edification rather than empty noise.
Finally, see what Paul is praying for in particular here: And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God.
This is marvelous. Paul is praying that love will abound more and more among the Philippians. But he is not seeking “sloppy agape,” or indiscriminate tolerance (which is much mistaken for love in our day). No, he is praying for them to be filled with love that is knowing, discerning, wise, morally pure and truth-loving—which is precisely the character of his love for them.
The fruit of godly love is all one with the fruit of wisdom and righteousness! In such love we see the perfect balance found in Christ. The pure love of God loves truth! And God’s truth produces pure love! As Paul told Timothy, The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith (1Tim 1:5).
This prayer of Paul for God’s people is a wonderful prayer that we would do well to make our own. May we let it sink into our hearts and change us forever. Pastors and elders, let it challenge your attitudes toward your people (who are actually the Lord’s precious people). If you don’t really long for them with the affection of Jesus Christ, or if you exclude some of them from your love, be truthful and confess it to the Lord. Then ask him to change you, to fill your heart with love for all of them the way Paul loved the Philippians. Get this kind of love into your heart, and when you stand up to teach or preach it will be glorious. Your words—speaking the truth in love—will bring growth and change lives for the glory of God and to your eternal joy.
Denominationalists and sectarians, can you let the Word of God challenge your attitude toward those parts of the Body with whom you may recognize little connection, or whom you may relegate to an inferior spiritual rank? We are one Body; there will be no denominations or sects in Heaven. While seeking the success of your own, might you seek also the success of all of the people of God, so that we may all be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness, to the glory and praise of God?
This is the will of God. Paul knew it, and that is why he prayed as he did. We are invited and exhorted to pray in the very same manner. As we do, God will be pleased and will answer in wonderful ways!