Ephesians 4: 25, 26
25So then, putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbours, for we are members of one another. 26Be angry but do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger,
This small passage comes in the middle of one of the most practical sections of a very practical letter. … … And it leads us to the question, ‘What does it mean to be truthful?’ Does it mean frankness to the point of being rude? Does it mean putting your opinion across forcefully when it is just your opinion and not founded on evidence? How do we decide? The first point to bear in mind is that this is a letter to a Church about how to be a Church. How to be the body of Christ living in a far from perfect world. Therefore when it talks about the need to ‘speak the truth to our neighbours’, it goes on to clarify it is not talking about our next door neighbours but rather our neighbours in Christ, other members of the Church.
The second thing to point out is that Paul has various different ways in which he speaks about things. One of these is the lawyers’ way, not surprising for someone who was for so many years a student of the Jewish Law. If he is speaking in ‘legal speak’, then the somewhat forensic answer is that we should always speak the absolute truth, no matter how much we hurt people or how much the timing might be wrong. However, i don’t think Paul is speaking like a lawyer here. When he became a Christian he discovered that grace and forgiveness and new beginnings had overcome the Law. So in a passage about relationships it looks much more likely that he would be speaking as an Evangelist who sought to build relationships based on truth and honesty and love.
Within a Christian community, there is a time to challenge, and even sometimes a time to ‘Be angry’. But that timing is everything! Otherwise you are likely to ‘let the sun go down on your anger’ So if you are wondering whether to say something that you think someone else in the Church needs to hear, the advice from this passage seems to be that you should, but that if you want it to be received in a positive way, you would do well to plan it as an Evangelist, concerned about the relationships we share with each other and with Jesus, rather than as a lawyer, more concerned with innocence and guilt.
The question this leaves me pondering is whether we can draw analogies between how we speak truth to fellow Christians and how we speak truth to the community in which we live. I’m not sure I have a answer! What do you think?
your Son Jesus Christ
is the way, the truth and the life for all creation;
grant us grace to walk in his way,
to rejoice in his truth,
and to share his risen life;
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God now and for ever.
This is apparantly a hymn (you can sing it to Ash Grove) but I offer it to you as a poem (you can change Savior to Saviour if you like!)
Christ, You Are the Savior
Christ, you are the Savior, the Way to the Father,
The Truth we depend on, the Life that we need.
We trust you, believing! We listen, receiving
The joy of the gospel by which we are freed.
Yet, Lord, you remind us: Through mercy you find us,
By grace you forgive us. The way home is yours!
We dare not judge others, our sisters and brothers
Whom you choose to welcome through love’s open doors.
With outcast and sinner you sat down to dinner;
You healed the Samaritans, Gentiles, too.
The poor knew your caring– the rich, your declaring
That God welcomes everyone, not just a few.
A conquering nation brought harsh occupation.
A soldier came asking; you offered a hand.
A thief saw your power in his final hour;
You welcomed him home to God’s heavenly land.
O Lord, all around us, your mercies astound us
As others discover the Way you reveal.
A man whispers, “Help me!” A woman cries, “Mercy!”
A doubter discovers your welcome is real.
O Way to the Father, your mercy is broader
Than we as your people have often proclaimed.
May we welcome others as sisters and brothers,
And treasure the life that we share in your name.