1 I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2 with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3 eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. … 11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 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, 14 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. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 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. (Ephesians 4:1–3, 11–16 ESV)
Last week as a group we studied unity in the body of Christ. That included some time considering Ephesians 4. Out of that, grew a question: “How do we speak the truth in love?” This week, that is the question we addressed. The first observation made was that speaking the truth in love does not have to mean confrontation or correction. The members of our group agreed that we have usually heard this phrase taught in the context of Biblical correction. And it does appear after verse 14, which describes an immature walk. However, speaking the truth in love should be a way of life at all times for the believer, not just something to pull out when someone appears to need correction. We should remember that we are all on a journey toward maturity, all displaying some characteristics of an immature walk, and all having some distance to go to grow up into Christ. If we all practice speaking the truth in love in all of our relationships and interactions, we will all be well practiced when the time comes for correction in our lives and another’s.
Another general observation is that we are speaking the truth. We are believers in the Bible as the inspired Word of God, the source for ultimate truth. Therefore, speaking the truth in love should not refer to correcting someone for something that is not addressed in the Bible. A life conviction that one has developed, such as which movies are permissible to view, is not a Biblical truth. Therefore, it is not something we can put onto another believer to follow. This would not be speaking God’s truth, but only our own version of the truth. More on that later.
Finally, before diving into other Scripture on this topic, let us be reminded that speaking the truth in love as described in Ephesians 4:15 is preceded by Paul’s call in verse 2 to “humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love.” These attributes, available to the believer living by the Spirit, should precede any interaction or relationship in the body of Christ.
Having started with these thoughts, we returned to the question of correction. There are clear Biblical examples of discipline occurring in the church. Obedience does matter. Carrying the name “Christian” comes with some responsibility towards glorifying the name of Jesus. (1 Corinthians 10:31; Colossians 3:17) How do we best keep each other accountable to this? The first Scripture we studied was Matthew 18.
15 “If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. 16 But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector. (Matthew 18:15–17)
What does it mean to have a brother sin against you? One of our members brought a definition from a commentary by Matthew Henry:
“If your brother trespasses against you, by grieving your soul (1 Cor. 8:12), by affronting you, or putting contempt or abuse upon you; if he blemishes your good name by false reports or tale-bearing; if he encroaches on your rights, or be any way injurious to you in your estate; if he be guilty of any of those trespasses that are specified, Lev. 6:2, 3; if he transgress the laws of justice, charity, or relative duties; these are trespasses against us, and often happen among Christ’s disciples, and sometimes, for want of prudence, are of very mischievous consequence.”
There is a lot of trespassing going on in the body of Christ. We all do it. Each of us is a hurt person in some way and hurting people hurt others. Ephesians 4 describes an expectation that we are on a path to maturity, but we all need to live in acceptance of the fact that we are not there yet. Thankfully, God has shown us a way out in these verses in Matthew 18. The first step when someone hurts us is to go to the person directly. Tell him what happened and how you were hurt. If he listens and responds, “you have gained your brother.” The process is over and reconciliation is complete. If he doesn’t listen, take one or two others along with you, that “every charge” may be established by witnesses. If he refuses to listen to that, take it to the church. Note that isn’t the end. If he refuses to listen to even the church, “let him be as a Gentile and a tax collector.” Keep in mind this is Jesus teaching. This was before the gospel was fulfilled with His death and resurrection. Gentiles were not allowed in the Jewish temple. And tax collectors? Those were Jews, living in Israel, who were working for the Roman government and for themselves, at the expense of other Israelites. They took their own profit from the taxes, in addition to what the Romans took. Tax collectors were despised, not welcome amongst the Jews and, apparently, they were not allowed into the temple either. If someone is refusing to listen to anyone in this Matthew 18 process, they should be asked to leave the church. God has a process for reconciling His people with each other and this is it. Isn’t that a little harsh? Throwing someone out of the church? Aren’t we supposed to love one another?
When you are assembled in the name of the Lord Jesus and my spirit is present, with the power of our Lord Jesus, you are to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord. (1 Corinthians 5:4-5 ESV)
This 1 Corinthians verse is addressing the issue of a man in the Corinthian church caught in sexual immorality. Paul is telling the believers of Corinth to send him out of the church. Why? “So that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” It seems that sending the man out of the church, where he is no longer under its protection or family environment, is not a form of punishment, but a mechanism to save the man from himself.
By rejecting this, some have made shipwreck of their faith, among whom are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:19-20 ESV)
Here Paul is writing about some false teachers in the church who have rejected their faith and good conscience. Again, they are to be handed over to Satan (put out of the church). This time the goal is that they may learn something. This does seem pretty rough, being handed over to Satan for discipline. To put it in perspective with Paul’s own experience, we took a look at 2 Corinthians:
So to keep me from becoming conceited because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to harass me, to keep me from becoming conceited. (2 Corinthians 12:7 ESV)
It seems that Paul had some experience with being harassed by Satan and having God use it for discipline or instruction in his own life. When we keep that perspective of Paul in mind, the process of sending someone out of the church as a means of discipline seems like it could be a gesture of love, not punishment.
As we studied more Scripture regarding discipline, more insights became clear about how love and discipline meet.
Now we command you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you keep away from any brother who is walking in idleness and not in accord with the tradition that you received from us… If anyone does not obey what we say in this letter, take note of that person, and have nothing to do with him, that he may be ashamed. Do not regard him as an enemy, but warn him as a brother. (2 Thessalonians 3:6,15 ESV)
The goal here is shame, again something that seems harsh. Yet the definition of the Greek word used here for “ashamed” is: “to turn one’s attention to in a riveted way. This term is also used of recoiling (turning away) in shame, at times of a wholesome shame which leads a man to consideration of his condition.” This, in combination with “warn him as a brother,” suggests an attitude of love with a goal of leading him to repentance, as seen in the following verses from 2 Corinthians.
For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. (2 Corinthians 7:8-10 ESV)
The goal of this shame or grief is repentance that leads to salvation without regret. In other words, the shame should not last past the repentance.
“Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye? Or how can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when there is the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5 ESV)
In this Matthew 7 passage, a picture begins to emerge of an attitude of humility required for speaking the truth in love. A judgmental attitude does not help. The one who feels grieved and humbled over his own sin (the log) can help remove the speck from others. In addition, that log in our own eye is so big that it completely obscures our vision to help others. We found more evidence of the need for humility in this process in Galatians.
Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ. For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself. (Galatians 6:1-3 ESV)
“You who are spiritual” refers to those who have more maturity and experience in the Christian life, living and walking according to the Holy Spirit and displaying the fruit of the Spirit required for this process. “Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted… For if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” These verses refer to a spirit of humility. Anyone involved in guiding another to restoration should have the attitude, “I am capable of the same sin.”
We who are strong have an obligation to bear with the failings of the weak, and not to please ourselves. Let each of us please his neighbor for his good, to build him up. (Romans 15:1-2 ESV)
The goal is to build up the weak. A person driven by a gospel faith in Jesus Christ has maximum regard for strengthening others, not to magnify or please himself. Do we love Jesus to the extent that we will yield our own wishes for the sake of His body? The strong believers ought to love others who don’t have the capacity to love until the weak get to a more mature place where all get to see the piece that they bring of who God is.
And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, correcting his opponents with gentleness. God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth. (2 Timothy 2:24-25 ESV)
Notice that God grants repentance, our words of correction do not. The listener has free will to follow Jesus or not. The goal is never to get someone to agree with us, but to get us all to agree with Jesus. This concept can apply to believers and unbelievers alike and is confirmed by 1 Corinthians 13.
Love… does not insist on its own way. (1 Corinthians 13:5 ESV)
At this point in our group discussion, we were driven back to Matthew 18.
But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. (Matthew 18:16 ESV)
We wondered whether God’s infinite wisdom in this process has one or two others brought in as witnesses for the benefit of both parties. More often than not, difficult relationships involve hurt going in both directions. Is it possible that the witnesses are there, not to just act as witnesses to the failure to listen by the original offending party, but also to hold the offended accountable for communicating in love as well? Has God designed this process so that all parties learn something about themselves and grow as a result? This is convicting to one who has always seen this Scripture as a way to correct the other, not oneself.
From here, we moved on to an example of God’s discipline:
And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons?
“My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord,
nor be weary when reproved by him.
For the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and chastises every son whom he receives.”
It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons. Besides this, we have had earthly fathers who disciplined us and we respected them. Shall we not much more be subject to the Father of spirits and live? For they disciplined us for a short time as it seemed best to them, but he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.
Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed. (Hebrews 12:5-13 ESV)
God disciplines the ones He loves — those who are adopted as sons. Discipline is a privilege of being a son of God. God’s goal in discipline is to make us holy and healed. Any discipline that the church undertakes should be patterned after this example.
The final direction we took in our discussion was to look at the examples in Scripture of Jesus correcting those who had wrong thinking and actions. There are many examples.
And as he passed by, he saw Levi the son of Alphaeus sitting at the tax booth, and he said to him, “Follow me.” And he rose and followed him. And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:14-17 ESV)
Jesus put Matthew (Levi) on the right path simply by calling him to follow Him in relationship. Note that Matthew was a tax collector and remember that the Jews did not think highly of tax collectors — tax collectors took advantage of them. Matthew became Jesus’ disciple without any recorded evidence of being rebuked or corrected.
And the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” And he said to them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written,
“‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.’
You leave the commandment of God and hold to the tradition of men.” And he said to them, “You have a fine way of rejecting the commandment of God in order to establish your tradition! (Mark 7:5-9 ESV)
The Pharisees tried to correct Jesus and His disciples for not obeying the law. Jesus confronted their hypocritical religion — they were basing their correction on the traditions of men, not God’s law. Jesus turned around and rebuked them for their upside-down thinking! Here is a clear example for us that we have no place correcting others based on our additions to God’s truth. We are called to uphold God’s truth, not our supplements to it.
Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.
From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:13-23 ESV)
Jesus corrects Peter, rebuking Satan operating in Peter for “not setting your mind on the things of God, but the things of man.” This right after commending Peter, blessing Peter and telling him that he is the rock on which Jesus will build His church. Discipline for those He loves, but discipline in the context of a loving relationship.
And as he was setting out on his journey, a man ran up and knelt before him and asked him, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘Do not murder, Do not commit adultery, Do not steal, Do not bear false witness, Do not defraud, Honor your father and mother.’” And he said to him, “Teacher, all these I have kept from my youth.” And Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, “You lack one thing: go, sell all that you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” Disheartened by the saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions. (Mark 10:17-22 ESV)
In this story of the rich young ruler, Jesus gave him truth in the instructions to sell all he had, which would allow him to have a heart focused on God (keep in mind that Jesus could see his heart perfectly, while we cannot do the same). Jesus also loved him. Jesus offered truth and grace, but the man was not ready to accept. He exercised his free will, but went away in sorrow. Note that Jesus respected the man’s free will. Jesus did not run after the man, insisting that the man follow Him.
The scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery, and placing her in the midst they said to him, “Teacher, this woman has been caught in the act of adultery. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. So what do you say?” This they said to test him, that they might have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and wrote with his finger on the ground. And as they continued to ask him, he stood up and said to them, “Let him who is without sin among you be the first to throw a stone at her.” And once more he bent down and wrote on the ground. But when they heard it, they went away one by one, beginning with the older ones, and Jesus was left alone with the woman standing before him. Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?” She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” (John 8:3-11 ESV)
Again, Jesus offers love and grace (“neither do I condemn you”) and truth (“go, and from now on sin no more.”) The law of Moses allowed for her to be stoned, but instead Jesus called each of the accusers to look at their own sin.
But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:1-9 ESV)
Jesus confronted Saul the murderer with truth (“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting”) and sent him forward with instructions to follow Him in grace as Paul, who carried the gospel to the world. For three days Paul was blind and went without food and drink. That was all that was recorded of the discipline he received for playing a role in the murder of Christians. (see Acts 22:3–5; Acts 26:9–11 for Paul’s own account of his persecution of Christians.)
So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.
For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” (Acts 9:17-20 ESV)
After three days, Paul received his sight, the Holy Spirit, baptism, and immediately started preaching about Jesus! What would our reaction be if a proven member of ISIS who had murdered Christians had an experience like Saul did, repenting of his sin and converting to Christ? What would the man’s discipline be within the church? How would we treat him? (Please note that this is not an argument against justice. Romans 13 clearly outlines the responsibility of government as an authority to judge those who do wrong. This is an argument that God’s example for the church is that, once repentance takes place, fellowship should be restored.)
Another observation from one of our members on this passage was that we are called to be like Ananias. Ananias resisted going to Saul, having heard about the persecution and evil that Saul had led. But Ananias obeyed the Lord and went to minister to Saul, playing a role in his establishing Paul as God’s servant.
Jesus seems to have a very different way of confronting religious leaders who are putting on an appearance of righteousness as opposed to others He encountered that were caught in sin. His goal in the confrontation always seems to be to lead the person into right relationship with Him. Church discipline should always be aimed at repentance and renewing discipleship. Correction should happen in the context of relationship, characterized by love and humility and spiritual maturity, with the goal of repentance, restoration, and building each other up. It should be based in God’s truth, not our supplements to His truth. And those of us who would correct others must be prepared to be corrected ourselves in the process. Speaking the truth in love is a key ingredient in the process of the body of Christ working toward unity and maturity. It is our hope that this Bible study will be an environment to build relationships displaying love and humility as we grow toward spiritual maturity in Christ.