Speaking the Truth in Love

Ephesians 4

I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift. Therefore it is said, “When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive; he gave gifts to his people.” The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers, to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ. We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming. But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.

Something happened to me today that was a first in 28 years of ministry. A parishioner who attends a church I currently serve heard criticism of a decision I made in the past and told the person offering the critique that she did not agree, that this parishioner would have made the same decision I made. Needless to say the person offering criticism was not impressed and left in a huff. Why I do I share this experience? Certainly NOT because I think my decisions are flawless, I make many, many, many poor decisions. I work quickly, do a lot for a lot of people and in my haste, in my desire to respond to every kind of request for support I make mistakes, some small, some large, but mistakes they are. Others know it, and I know it too.

I have absolutely no problem with parishioners criticizing my decisions. If presented with my mistake, in a calm and proportionate tone, I am most likely to agree and ask the other to suggest ways I could do better. That is how I learn. No Minister should be immune from criticism. But what has always concerned me, disappointed me, is when the parishioner does not agree with the criticism being offered about me and remains silent, too timid, too afraid of being critiqued her/himself to utter a word. I don’t want a defense of me, I don’t want loyalty or affection. I am not disappointed because I feel “let down”, I feel disappointed because such silence is reflective of the need for approval and being liked as opposed to standing up for one’s own point of view. If the parishioner who agrees with me does not say so, then the critic will assume s/he agrees with her/him.

I have had people come up to me and say, “I can’t believe that person criticized you for doing this or not doing that” and when asked why they said nothing respond, “well I did not think it my place, after all the criticism was of you, not me.” Indeed. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians says, “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” If we choose to not speak the truth in love, we don’t grow in any way and our collective body is diminished. We are not building each other up in love.

Further Paul continues, “until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” We don’t grow to be mature by flattering others without merit or by standing silently while others criticize without just cause.

I was grateful, humble and delighted to hear today that someone thought enough of speaking the truth in love to tell my critic she thought I had made a good and fair decision. And even better, I know that same disciple would not hesitate, has never hesitated, to tell me when I was wrong. And I was grateful, humble and delighted to hear those words too. It’s what maturing looks like.