Previous article in this series: January 15, 2022, p. 187.
We have been considering the subject of Christian communication, and so far we have noted two important principles. First, our communication must be governed by the principle of truth; second, our communication must be governed by the principle of what is necessary, important, and helpful. Or, to use the illustration we have employed before, our words must pass through the truth-filter and the necessity-filter.
In this article we add to those two filters a third: the love-filter. All our communication must be governed by love.
A key passage of God’s Word that explicitly teaches this principle is Ephesians 4:15: “But speaking the truth in love, may grow up into him in all things, which is the head, even Christ.” This passage is directed to members of the church and exhorts them in dealing with fellow saints to speak the truth in love.
To love another means that we view that person as dear, precious, and delightful. It means that we desire to do good to that person and not evil, and that in doing good to that person we are ready to give of ourselves for him. True love is also unconditional, not based upon the worthiness of the object of our love.
If our communication is characterized by love, then it will be evident in our words that we view the other person as dear, precious, and delightful. If our communication is characterized by love, then it will be plain from how we communicate that we mean to do good to that person and not evil. If our communication is characterized by love, then the manner of our speech is not conditioned upon the other person first being kind to us.
To help in understanding the meaning and implications of loving communication, consider the following six things:
Hateful speech is filled with the blaspheming of God’s name and curse words, with sexual innuendo and dirty talk.
Hateful speech cuts another person to ribbons, bullies, and seeks to destroy another. It is speech that is abusive and murderous, that severely wounds another person emotionally, mentally, and spiritually, leaving them feeling as worthless as a piece of garbage.
Hateful speech lays bear what ought to be kept private, dredges up sins of the past in order to run another person down.
Hateful speech mocks, humiliates, shames, and needlessly ridicules another.
In contrast, loving speech means that “no corrupt communication proceed[s] out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying, that it may minister grace unto the hearers” (Eph. 4:29). Loving speech means that we “put off all these: anger, wrath, malice, blasphemy, filthy communication out of your mouth” (Col. 3:8). Loving speech is “alway with grace, seasoned with salt” (Col. 4:6).
The calling to speak loving words does not mean that we only ever say what other people want to hear. Flattery and men-pleasing is to be condemned just as much as hateful speech. Love for another person may require us to point out his sins, call him to repentance, and expose the false teaching he holds or the ungodly way of life he is promoting. In love we may have to speak words that are not popular, words that others do not want to hear.
Love dictates that not only the actual words we speak be true and proper, but also that the way in which we speak them convey our love for the other.
Some trivialize this aspect of communication. They say that such things as tone, attitude, and manner are unimportant. For example, some might adopt the attitude, “So long as I am saying what’s true and defending the truth, then it doesn’t matter how I say it. The ends justify the means.”
This is a falsehood. Sin is sin, no matter how vigorously it is defended. It is essential that we say what is true and defend the truth, but it is also important how we do so. How we say things is as important as what we say. The manner is as important as the content matter. Remember what Proverbs says about the manner of our speaking: “A soft answer turneth away wrath: but grievous words stir up anger” (15:1).
We ought not to conclude from this that all passion in communication is out of place. We ought to be passionate in how we speak about important matters, such as the truth of God’s Word. There is a place for righteous indignation and deep emotion.
But always we ought to be concerned that the tone in which we say something or the manner in which we write something gives clear evidence of proper concern for the other. We desire to communicate in such a way that the other person may hear what we want them to hear.
At all times we must guard our hearts and examine our motives, and that includes when we communicate. Very easily we speak out of impure motives. It is possible even to say things that are true and to do so in a proper manner but to do so from sinful motives. Our speech may be motivated by pride and the thinking that we are better than others. Our speech may be motivated by jealousy, when we despise another for the good that they enjoy. Our speech may be motivated by hatred for another and a desire for revenge. Our speech may be motivated by bitterness. Our speech may be motivated by self-promotion and self-seeking. And on and on the list could go.
To communicate lovingly, our speech must proceed from a heart that is characterized by love and by motives that are pure. Loving speech arises out of a sincere delight in and concern for another.
We all would do well to stop and consider the motives that stand behind the things we say: Why did I say that? Why did I write that? Out of love? Or from some sinful motive?
An aspect of communication is making judgments regarding others and what they are seeking to convey in their communication to us.
We sin against the neighbor when we judge him uncharitably, when we take what he says in the worst possible light, when we put the worst possible spin on what he wrote, when we come to the worst possible conclusion about him. According to Lord’s Day 43 of the Heidelberg Catechism, the ninth commandment requires that “I do not judge, nor join in condemning any man rashly or unheard.”
Love demands that we make charitable judgments about others. Unless we have sufficient evidence to the contrary, we take what they have said or written in the best possible light and come to the best possible conclusions.
It is unloving to talk about another’s sins and shortcomings with other people without ever speaking to the individual himself. It is unloving to address a person through an anonymous note stuffed in his mailbox at church or through an online post using an unidentifiable screen-name. It is unloving to say something in writing that we would never dare say face to face.
Love governs the approach that we take in dealing with another. If I have an issue with something you have done or said, then I ought to talk to you about it rather than talking to dozens of others about my gripe. If I have an issue with something you have done or said, then I ought to address you openly and honestly, personally and (preferably) face to face. This allows you the opportunity to see my face, hear my tone of voice, and take in my body language, and it also allows you the opportunity to respond to me.
We do not show proper concern for another when in arguing a point with him we do so illogically. Specifically, we fail to communicate in love when we use any number of logical fallacies. There are many, but I’ll mention just a few of the more common.
Logic is a reflection of who God is as a God of order, and without logic communication and life on earth would be impossible. Love is a spiritual concept and involves more than logic, but loving communication is not less than logical communication. We show love for the neighbor when we deal with him fairly, that is, logically.
Love is an indispensable principle of our communication as Christians. Proof is that the Holy Spirit places it alongside of truth in the passage quoted above from Ephesians 4. As important as it is that we speak the truth, equally important is that we do so in love. As wicked as it is to speak the lie, it is equally as wicked to speak in sinful hatred. Speak the truth! In love!
Note: Now that Rev. Engelsma has taken on his role as an editor, this article concludes his writing for “Strength of Youth.” We thank him for his profitable contributions for this rubric.