So you’re born again. Praise God! Now the hard work of growing up is at hand. Premier 20th century theologian J. I. Packer famously said, “American Christianity is 3,000 miles wide and one-half inch thick.” As Christians, too many of us have been (rightly) zealous about rebirth, yet lack equal zealousness about growth. Prolonged spiritual infancy is not just an American problem, though; the Apostle Paul had a few things to say about this challenge in Ephesus when he called the church to “grow up in Christ” (Ephesians 4:15).
There are many ways in which Paul calls us to grow up: in humility and patience with one another, through the renewal of our minds, in our ability to discern false doctrine, and in our ability - with the whole armor of God - to stand against the deceitful schemes of Satan. Paul also calls us to grow up in Christ by learning to “speak the truth in love” (4:15).
Sometimes we have misunderstood this to mean we are called to speak words of truth (correction and concern) and words of love (affirmation and encouragement), thinking Paul is referring to two kinds of speech. But there is only one kind of speech that is loving, and that is truthful speech.
Loving truth comes in many forms. It can often come through words of affirmation. Affirmation is the nutrient-rich soil in which our roots thrive. Don’t miss the opportunities you have to provide rich soil for one another. Consider how you can affirm your brothers and sisters. What do you see in others that is good and excellent? How do you see your peers using their gifts to bless others? Where do you see growth? Pay attention and don’t miss the opportunities you have to catch one another succeeding.
The loving truth can also come through words of correction or concern. Correction and concern are the pruning shears our branches need to remain vibrant and sustainable. These are difficult words for most of us to give and receive, but necessary words if we are to grow up into the full stature of Christ. Without a humble willingness to speak difficult words of truth to one another, we are left with a false community built on the pretense that we are already grown up in Christ.
Paul offers additional instruction on how to speak loving truth. He says, “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear” (4:29). Ask yourself if your words will be offered out of a desire to prove you’re right and to prove another wrong, or if your intent is to speak with love and grace. We are called to speak the loving truth in so much as it is useful for building up one another. This requires us to check our motives. Do you have the other’s best interests in mind? Do you want to see the other grow up in Christ, or do you just want to be right? We must ask these questions of ourselves if we are to speak the loving truth to one another.
Paul’s letter to the Ephesians is all about growing up in Christ and speaking the loving truth is integral to this process. Let’s commit to participate in our growth as disciples. That we may “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” (4:13). By God’s grace, the church will grow as deep as it is wide.
Peter Little is pastor of Community Presbyterian Church in Buckley and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.