The False Dichotomy of Truth & Love

The Prophet Nathan rebukes King David by Eugene Siberdt

In my former corner of Christianity, sermons often pitted truth and love against each other because of a poor interpretation of Eph 4:15:

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.

The question was always, “Do you err too much in truth or too much in love?” I believe this to be a false dichotomy. Truth and love are not at odds with one another. Truth leads to love and love leads to truth. The pursuit of full truth and perfect love leads to God. (In my post Holy Tension, I explore the ways the truth and love found at the cross allows us to hold the tension of opposing ideas and extend grace to one another.) I find it helpful to think about “truth” as little “t” truth and big “T” truth. A “truth” that harms isn’t “Truth” in the fullest sense. If truth is not ushering in the Hebrew concept of shalom (which encompasses peace, harmony, wholeness, completeness, prosperity, welfare and tranquility), it’s not Truth.

This means speaking truth in love means speaking no more and no less truth than is loving in a particular conversation. For example, the conversations I have about sex with my youngest child and my oldest child are very different in the specifics, but I speak Truth to both. It would be wrong to give certain information to my youngest before they are ready, and it would be wrong to deny certain information to my oldest when they are ready. Sometimes speaking the truth in love means not saying anything at all – it would be wrong to share the specifics of sex with someone else’s child without their guardian’s permission.

God revealed himself partially to Moses in Exodus 33:19-23, because the full knowledge of God would harm Moses. God spoke the Truth in love.

And the Lord said, “I will cause all my goodness to pass in front of you, and I will proclaim my name, the Lord, in your presence. I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.” Then the Lord said, “There is a place near me where you may stand on a rock. When my glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove my hand and you will see my back; but my face must not be seen.”

Exodus 33:19-23

Humans are notoriously self-righteous and self-deceptive. We need to be sensitive and rely on the Holy Spirit to know when to speak, what and how much to speak, and when not to speak. When appropriate (in love), I should speak the truth as I understand it which also means I need to repent (also speaking truth in love) when I get it wrong because I frequently fumble both the truth and the love.


I believe Truth & Love are false dichotomies, but check out my Holy Tension post where I explore how we hold onto truth and love while exploring the many tensions that do exist and tend to divide us.

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